Politics & Government

Lexington town hall is a sea of discontent for Andy Barr

Crowd boos U.S. Rep. Andy Barr at town hall

The crowd reacted with boos while waving "disagree" signs as US Rep Andy Barr, R-Lexington, mentioned the American Health Care Act during a town hall meeting at Lafayette High School in Lexington, Ky., Monday, April 24, 2017.
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The crowd reacted with boos while waving "disagree" signs as US Rep Andy Barr, R-Lexington, mentioned the American Health Care Act during a town hall meeting at Lafayette High School in Lexington, Ky., Monday, April 24, 2017.

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr was met with a sea of red at his town hall Monday night in Lexington, but the glow wasn’t from Make America Great Again hats.

The overwhelmingly Democratic audience had red and green signs to hold up when the Republican congressman made a comment they either liked or didn’t like — green for agree and red for disagree.

As Barr stood and adamantly defended the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act, he saw a whole lot of red.

“I believe that we can do better than what we have now,” Barr said, going through a slide show on health care. “Why? Because the ACA is in a death spiral.”

He was then booed for 12 seconds.

Barr is scheduled to return Tuesday to Washington, where Congress is facing a potential government shutdown and is trying to find compromise on health care reform, and where President Donald Trump plans to release a tax plan that would in part cut the corporate tax to 15 percent.

But dealing with those issues might be more pleasant than what Barr faced Monday in the Lafayette High School auditorium, his third town hall since January.

Throughout the night, Barr was booed, shouted at, heckled and occasionally cheered over the Republican replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act, a bill that was pulled from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in March because it did not have enough Republican support.

Each time, Barr defended the bill, highlighting some aspects of the bill he values. It saves the government money, he said. It adds work requirements to become eligible for care, it gives leeway to the states to set their own agendas and, he said, it would increase competition.

But most members of the audience didn’t like what they heard.

In the 6th Congressional District, a study by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy found that 69,724 people would lose coverage under the new health care proposal.

Barr referenced constituents who don’t like the law — some small business owners, doctors and patients that he has met with — as to why he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“We need to be in the business of keeping our promises,” Barr said. “I’m doing this because my constituents elected me because they wanted me to do it.”

Trump won the 6th Congressional District with 58 percent of the vote, but at the time, only 42 percent of Americans supported the Affordable Care Act in November; 55 percent support the bill now, according to a Gallup Poll conducted in April.

Even though Barr staunchly defended the bill Monday night, it might all be for naught.

House Republicans have indicated that they might have come to a compromise between moderate and conservative Republicans that could put people with pre-existing conditions at risk of being priced out of the market, but that compromise might not have enough support in the House.

And as a potential government shutdown looms, if Congress can’t agree on a budget, health care isn’t the top priority for Congress.

When asked whether the bill might not get heard this week, Barr said, “That’s true. That’s always possible.”

One issue is guaranteed to come up this week: the expiration of a bill that extended health care protections for coal miners. Barr said he supports finding a permanent solution for miners through government support, but he said the new bill might face some hurdles in both the House and the Senate.

Barr also expressed support for allocating money for Trump’s proposed wall on the border with Mexico, but he didn’t stop there.

“The wall is part, but not the complete answer to the problem of border immigration,” Barr said before being drowned out by groans and shouts. “We need to deploy our National Guard to the border, we need a better visa program, we need a better legal immigration system.”

A woman becomes vocal with a protester outside U.S. Rep. Andy Barr's town hall meeting at Lafayette High School in Lexington, Ky., Monday, April 24, 2017.

Daniel Desrochers: 502-875-3793, @drdesrochers, @BGPolitics

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