Listening to America

Rep. Joseph R. Pitts Congressman, Pennsylvania 16th District
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In August 2009, Americans across the country showed up at Congressional townhall meetings to express their opposition to the Democrats’ healthcare reform bill, bank bailouts and wasteful stimulus spending. Thousands of people attended single events. The meetings I held last summer were more widely attended than they ever were before.

It was exciting to see the American people so engaged in what was going on in Washington. Even traditionally left-leaning Massachusetts elected a Senator who ran explicitly against the healthcare bill. Unfortunately, the outcry wasn’t enough to stop the Democratic leadership from moving their bill forward by the slimmest of margins.

Speaker Pelosi hoped that public opinion would turn around after her bill became law, that people would change their mind after they found out what was in it. But the most recent polls show that the new law is even more unpopular now than when it was signed by the President a few months ago.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has been asking the American people what they think about the bill regularly since the beginning of debate. In the latest poll, approval of the bill fell seven points to 43 percent. At the same time, disapproval rose ten points to 45 percent.

The Kaiser Family Foundation results are backed up by CNN, Gallup and Rasmussen polls all showing that 56 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the new law.

It’s no wonder then that Congressional approval is at record lows. Should Congress be guided purely by polls? Certainly not, but its large disconnect from the American people leads many to believe that Congress simply doesn’t care. That Congress isn’t listening.

This is only reinforced by the fact that many members of Congress who voted for the healthcare and cap-and-trade bills declined to hold townhall meetings during the August district work period. I’ve held a number of townhall meetings including one recently at Solanco High School in Quarryville, and I’ve also had the opportunity to speak with seniors living in several retirement communities in the 16th District.

More broadly, House Republicans have launched the America Speaking Out website, an online forum where ideas can be proposed, debated and voted on. America Speaking Out isn’t a campaign platform. We are introducing legislation and forcing the House to vote on ideas brought up through the website.

It’s easy to participate. The address is www.AmericaSpeakingOut.com and you can either create a new user login or use an existing Facebook account to sign into the website. After signing in, you can vote on other users’ ideas and propose your own new ideas.

Some of the America Speaking Out ideas that Republicans have brought to the House floor include repealing a burdensome paperwork mandate on small businesses, posting bills online 72 hours before a vote and providing transparency for the Federal Reserve.

I recently introduced legislation of my own, the COBRA Affordability Act, after hearing about the problems many of my constituents have paying for COBRA extended healthcare benefits. My bill would allow Americans to save for future payments tax free by contributing to a new COBRA Premium Payment Account with pre-tax dollars.

I also hear consistently from my constituents that they want Republicans and Democrats to work together to solve the nation’s problems. This Congress, I’ve worked with Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) to introduce legislation to allow small businesses to pool together to purchase health insurance for their employees. I’ve also welcomed the support of Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA) on my SAFE Nuclear Act to expand nuclear power in the U.S.

Members of Congress have a responsibility to lead our country and propose solutions to our tough problems. But sometimes before you can lead, you have to listen. Republicans are doing our best to listen through traditional townhalls and meetings, but we’re also expanding the conversation onto the Internet. Every American has a voice and deserves to be heard in the halls of Congress.

Rep. Joe Pitts represents Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional District.