MUSKOGEE — Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 3-1 in Muskogee County, but the sole Democrat in Oklahoma’s congressional delegation at times seemed to be on the defensive during his town hall meeting. U.S. Rep. Dan Boren got his largest ovation when he told a hometown crowd of more than 300 Tuesday he would vote against the House Democrats’ health care bill. "I am a no vote,” said Boren, D-Muskogee, of the proposed health care reform measure by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Boren was asked what could be done, besides Democrats losing control of the House, to remove Pelosi from the leadership position. Many in the crowd cheered. As Boren talked about how seniority played a large role in leadership positions, several in the crowd shouted, "Term limits.” Boren drew criticism for his votes for the economic stimulus bill earlier this year and a large bailout bill last fall. He said the measures were seen as a way to boost the economy and to prevent unemployment numbers not seen since the Great Depression. "This economy is still very fragile,” he said. The growing national deficit, the federal economic stimulus bill and the federal bailout of several insurance companies, banks and two automobile companies were brought up during the two-hour meeting at the Muskogee Civic Center. But it was health care that brought most attendees out. Boren said the U.S. has the best health care system in the world, "but the system has its flaws.” Boren said he’s concerned people with pre-existing medical conditions can’t get health insurance, and he said it might be time for insurance companies to be required to cover such medical procedures as colonoscopies. "There are a lot of other proposals out there,” he said. "We’ve got to slow this down.” The standing-room-only crowd was behaved but boisterous, with people shouting back and forth several times on the topic of the public health insurance option. More than 30 lined up to ask questions of Boren. The Rev. Bryan Brooks, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Muskogee, said he opposes any health care reform measure that would include paying for abortions. "Federal tax dollars should not go toward abortion,” Boren said. The crowd groaned when Boren said health care reform was needed to help the estimated 47 million without health care insurance in the United States. Several questioners claimed that number was inflated because it included illegal immigrants, as well as young people and others who could afford insurance but opt not to pay for it. "I don’t support giving free health care to illegal immigrants,” Boren said, drawing applause. But he said Americans are paying for the health care of illegal immigrants going to emergency rooms. "Get them out!” two men yelled. Several said they worried about the growing role of the federal government and that the country was losing its values and traditions and heading for socialism. Phyllis Fallen of Wagoner, whose husband operates a small trucking business, said small businesses can’t afford additional tax increases that government-run health care would require. Tax increases usually result in businesses having to eliminate jobs, she said. "Do you want jobs or do you want to run businesses completely out of business?” she asked him. Boren said he opposed any increases in taxes, either to pay for changes in the health care system or for other programs. The meeting had a light moment when Edward Brody of Poteau stopped asking his question to Boren to answer his ringing cell phone. "Honey, I am busy,” Brody said into the phone as the crowd laughed.
The Muskogee meeting was one of three, two-hour forums U.S. Rep. Dan Boren held Tuesday in eastern Oklahoma, with the others in McAlester and Pryor. In Pryor, two people who said they intend to run against Boren next year took the microphone. Also, a member of the audience wearing a shirt bearing the logo of Rush Limbaugh’s EIB network tried to turn antagonism toward House Speaker Nancy Pelosi against Boren by asking if he would caucus with the Republicans next year. "No,” Boren said. "I’m a Democrat. I don’t believe in switching.” But Boren defended very little what his party has been doing in Washington. Randy Krehbiel, Tulsa World