This past Saturday afternoon, Congressman John Barrow held a conference call with more than 50 African American faith and community leaders from Savannah and Augusta. The call, which lasted nearly an hour, was to discuss his planned vote against healthcare reform the following day.
Barrow tried to explain his position to the group, who simultaneously made a plea for him to change his mind.
"I want y'all to understand my position, but I don't expect you to support it or agree with it," Barrow told the group.
He said the bill failed to include provisions for maintaining health care providers who accept Medicaid in rural areas. The chance that some people in rural areas would lose access to healthcare, for him, outweighed any potential good the bill might have done for those without access to health care or health insurance. He also said the bill will raise taxes on the middle class.
According to Barrow, 60 percent of his district, Georgia's 12th District, which stretches from Savannah north to Augusta and west to Milledgeville, would be affected adversely by Medicaid cuts, as opposed to 40 percent living in Savannah and Augusta who wanted to improve accessibility to health insurance.
"We have more people who have no voice in this," said Barrow. "We're not growing Medicaid in this state. We're operating on 2005 revenue with one million more people on Medicaid in the state."
Several callers said they would pray for him to change his mind and told him stories of their own struggles with the current healthcare system.
"I'm not against the bill, but I can't vote on a concept. I have to vote on specific legislation," Barrow told the group. "I want the good that's in this to pass, but I'm not willing to accept the collateral damage."
Most of those in attendance were unwilling to accept his reasoning.
"You're voting to hurt people by doing nothing," said one caller who explained how she lost her benefits after leaving her last job, and hadn't been able to afford to get them back since opening a small business.
Savannah City Council members Mary Osborne and Van Johnson were part of the call as well.
"You've got districts suffering from persistent poverty," Alderman Johnson told Barrow. "Unless you have another plan, we need you to support this."
Despite the debate and testimonials from callers reinforcing the dire need for healthcare reform, Barrow stuck to his position: He would only support a bill that had no negative consequences.
"If you're asking me to turn off life support for one in order to turn it on for nine more, I won't do that," Barrow said.
Several ministers in on the call said they would be asking their congregations to pray for the congressman that Sunday morning.
By the end of the call, the hopefulness of some callers had turned to frustration.
"Do you expect us to support you in the next general election?" one caller asked about 45 minutes into the conversation.
Barrow responded by reiterating that he hoped they would understand his reasoning, but that he didn't expect them to support his decision.
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