Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin started and ended Saturday’s Sugar Grove town-hall meeting talking about health-care policy.
But much of the 75-minute public meeting at Waubonsee Community College also focused on the nation’s ailing political health.
There’s no immediate solution to fixing or even saving the Affordable Care Act in the face of persistent efforts to end it.
“The likelihood of anything happening with this president is negligible,” Durbin said.
But closing the rancorous divide between Republicans and Democrats, might be less difficult to bridge.
“It starts with us, the way we treat one another and address one another and civility in our undertaking(s),” said Durbin, the state’s senior senator and part of the Senate’s Democratic leadership team.
“I was lucky, I got started in politics with (the late Sen.) Paul Simon. Simon was outspoken on the issues, but he always went out of his way to be civil, kind and to talk about his Republican colleagues in a positive way. … I think people are so hungry for that. The voters would like to see us get into constructive dialogue.”
More than 100 people attended the town hall, held in the Waubonsee College auditorium. It was part of a busy weekend away from Washington for Durbin, including appearances in Chicago on Friday, Saturday’s political event with Lauren Underwood, the 14th District Democratic candidate for Congress, and even a rumored stop at the nearby Sugar Grove Corn Boil festival.
Several in the town-hall audience shared health-care and insurance concerns with a clearly sympathetic Durbin.
But he also reminded them that outside of Congress, switching from Republican to Democratic control, it’s likely that the Affordable Care Act will remain under assault.
One questioner said he favored a Medicare for all approach, a step Durbin isn’t quite ready to make.
“There’s some validity to that claim and a reason is, of course, is that Medicare works,” he said. “It is a system that millions of Americans rely on, it is a system that brings quality care to those that are eligible to those who are eligible and has wild approval ratings across the United States.
“But to move from where we are to an all-Medicare system is a big leap. “(Approximately) 140 million Americans get their health insurance from their employer and most of them are happy with what they have.”
An interim approach could be a public option, a not-for-profit plan that would be less expensive and serve as a transition to a broader Medicare system.
Complicating health care is soaring prescription drugs prices, now a main driver in higher costs.
“It is now more expensive than (insurance company) payouts to in-patient hospital care, that’s how big it is and it’s growing dramatically,” Durbin said. “You can go across the border into Canada and buy exactly the same drug for a fraction of the (American) cost. It’s because the Canadian health-care system says ‘we’re not going to pay your inflated costs.’ … That is an illustration of when the government does something in Canada and does nothing in the United States.”
On other issues, Durbin:
- Cited the increased dominance of special-interest money and the resulting corrosion of the political system. “It’s a disaster,” he said. “Citizen’s United was a terrible decision and it ended up making contributions unlimited and corporations treated as if they were human beings and political persons. Now we have so much dark money in the system, which means no means to trace it.”
- Condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin and reported Russian attacks on the American election process in 2016 and warned it will happen again. “I have no use for the man, this is not the kind of leader the United States should be putting its arm around,” Durbin said. “We learned yesterday that Claire McCaskill, my colleague from Missouri, is being hacked by the Russians. I’m not surprised and nobody should be. The intelligence communities said that’s exactly what they’re going to do.”
- Criticized the Trump Administration’s policy to separate children from parents who sought asylum here and subsequent difficulties reuniting families following a series of court orders. “It’s inconceivable to me that we can order a package from Amazon today and tomorrow want to know where it is, put in tracking number and know immediately where to find it,” Durbin said. “In this case, children as young as infants were being separated and no record was kept. … It was a mess.”
- Said impeachment proceedings against Trump are unlikely. “I don’t believe that is a topic that is viable politically at this point,” Durbin said. “I don’t believe there is a stomach or sentiment for it among Republicans who are in control of the House and Senate. It takes 67 votes in the Senate to (remove) a President. … The U.S. Constitution not only has an impeachment clause but it also has clear guidance for us every two years to speak up for this democracy. There’s an election coming up and that’s when the American people have their voice and that’s where they can make a difference.”