Street Heat in Aliquippa:
Pushed to Change Stand,
Abandon Insurance Bigwigs
By Carl Davidson
Beaver County Blue
McLean Street in Aliquippa got plenty of heat of the sunny afternoon of March 16, as opposing rallies on the issue of health care gathered out the office of Jason Altmire, the 4th CD’s Democratic ‘Blue Dog’ representative in Congress.
The first rally was at noon, when a crowd of 120 people, organized largely by trade unions, retiree groups and health care workers and activists made a last-ditch effort to get a ‘Yes’ vote on the current insurance reform proposal. But at 4pm, a crowd of more than 300 GOP, Tea Party and anti-reform forces showed up demanding a ‘No’ vote. Earlier, the anti-reformers had tried to disrupt the progressive rally with a horn-blasting truck behind the speakers stand, but they were shooed away. “Remember to turn in your Medicare card,” shouted one of the rally attendees to the departing horn blasters. Both efforts got wide coverage in regional media.
Altmire wasn’t present. But if he is at all astute and his staff took careful notes, one critical political fact will stand out: those calling for a ‘Yes’ vote were the hard core of his most active supporters in the past, while those calling for a ‘No’ vote are largely unlikely to vote for him over a Republican no matter what his vote is on this issue.
“You fight for us, and we’ll fight for you!” was a chant that repeatedly swept through the pro-reform rally from its beginning until its end at 1pm. The group had a clearly pro-union flavor. Marion Prasjner, President of the local Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees came with a sizable group. “We really need Medicare for All,” he said, “but we don’t want this bill defeated by the right.” Prasjner is also a leader of the 4th CD Progressive Democrats of America.
Other clusters in the rally were from SEIU, United Food and Commercial Workers, and several local churches. “Our teaching,” said Sister Jeanette Bussen of the Peace and Justice Ministry of the Sisters of St Joseph in Baden, PA, “is that quality, affordable health care is both a social good and a human right.” Denying care, especially to the most vulnerable was unjust and sinful, she concluded.
Other speakers were more directly political. “Jason really alienated his base by voting against it in the last round,” said Georgia Berner, of New Castle, a business leader with women in Public Policy. She was referring to Altmire’s past efforts to weaken the bills prior to voting against them anyway.
“We’re here today to be on the history train that’s about to leave the station, to be on the right side of history,” summed up David Ninehouser of Pennsylvania Health Access Network. “It’s really an effort to make the economy more beneficial to workers and middle class folks.”
Afterward’s Altmire’s staff stood around with clipboards taking comments. I got in line behind one guy who was giving the young woman an earful about how labor had helped put Altmire where his is, and he was upset that single payer was off the table, and now very angry that the Congressman couldn’t even go along with this. “You tell him he’ll get zero from me if he doesn’t come through.” My turn was next. “I’ll make it short,” I said. “Ditto on everything he just said, plus end the wars and get out of that Blue Dog caucus. We don’t need any Blue Dogs in Beaver County.”
Where Altmire will stand when the votes are taken is still open, and he needs to be pushed right up until the last minute. He claims to be a “deficit hawk,’ but he needs to be reminder that there’s plenty or resources, not to mention lives, to be saved by ending two wars, and plenty of revenue to be had in a financial transaction tax of Wall St. speculators. Unfortunately, he’s been taking his ques from his past work as a lobbyist for the medical industry.