Then came Amanda Duzak, and Steele's evening just got a whole lot worse.
Duzak, a 23 year old Towson University grad, stood up, against the rules and out of turn.
"My mother died of cancer 6 months ago because she could only afford three of her six prescription chemotherapy medications," she projected. "There are 50 million people in this country who could end up like my mom, suffering or dying because they do not have adequate health care. Everyone in this room and everyone in this country should have access to good health care."
The room woke up and other than those glaring from the front, the applause was wall to wall...
At this point, Steele should have emphasized that Republicans were committed to achieving good health care for all. He should have stated what reforms they were amenable to and then reiterated his stance that excessive government involvement would create its own problems. Instead, he said this:
But it's Steele's response that makes this moment both newsworthy and a terrible comment on his character. After saying that he believed in a mature, honest discussion and not in shouting, Steele said, "People are coming to these town meetings and they're like [he then shakes]." He then looked and gestured right at Ms. Duzak and said, "It makes for great TV. You'll probably make it tonight, enjoy it." He then turned his back to her, as the crowd clapped.
Think about what Steele did. He didn't only turn his back and rudely dismiss a young woman whose mother just died of cancer. He used the shameful recent behavior of the right wing town hall screamers -- his own party's base -- to try and turn the crowd against Ms. Duzak.
Damian Smith, a after school counselor and Prince George's County resident, also weighed in about how his aunt is losing her home because of her medical bills. Other people started to shout out as well.
But Steele was worse than non-responsive. He was dismissive and profoundly disrespectful. As Smith said to me afterward, "I couldn't believe he acted that way toward her... toward all of us. He was just mean."
It doesn't help Michael Steele that the existing Republican health reform plan is a non-solution. First, the Patients' Choice Act, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), does not institute the market reforms that are absolutely crucial to getting people insured: it does require the use of guaranteed issue, but it does not require community rating, where premiums are set regardless of a person's health status. If I have a chronic illness, an insurer would have to offer me a plan but not to set the premiums at an affordable rate. In fact, the Act actually prohibits states from restricting premiums or cost sharing. Admittedly, states might choose to implement the necessary market reforms, but forbidding them from regulating prices may render the reform meaningless.
Second It also includes measures that could weaken, and perhaps destroy, the employer sponsored insurance market. It would eliminate the tax exclusion for health insurance and give everyone a refundable tax credit. Young people like me, then, will actually get money back if they leave their employer sponsored plan and buy a cheap plan on the individual market. That leaves sicker people in the employer plans. Employers then have to raise the cost, which will drive more people out of their plans. Over the long haul, employer plans could go into a death spiral, and people would not have a viable individual market to go to.
Last, the Act severely weakens Medicaid and offers insufficient subsidies for most people to purchase insurance.
The Republicans need a better plan. For the most part, they are offering good theater but poor governance. Michael Steele also needs to apologize immediately.