For 24 years, Congressman Jim McDermott has been representing voters in the heavily Democratic, Seattle-dominated 7th District — and winning re-election handily along the way. But redistricting has put McDermott in some new territory: 30 percent of the voters he will represent if he is re-elected this fall are new to the 7th District, including those in Edmonds and Woodway.
So on Saturday morning, one of Edmonds’ best-known residents — Europe Through the Back Door founder Rick Steves — hosted the 11-term congressman for a question-and-answer session at the Edmonds Theater. Steves, who said he has known McDermott for more than 20 years, gave a ringing endorsement for the congressman during the hour-long event, which was attended by about 100 people.
“Jim’s a physician and there is going to be a lot of discussion about health care,” Steves said. “Jim understands health, he knows the economic back story of it all and with 24 years in Congress he really knows how it works.
Indeed, McDermott — a psychiatrist — spent much of his time talking about the pending U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding the Accountable Care Act passed by Congress and supported by President Barack Obama, calling it “probably the most important Supreme Court decision in 75 years.”
“The single most contentious issue in all that bill is the question of the individual mandate,” that requires everyone to have health insurance, McDermott said. He cited a recent article he wrote that described the Accountable Care Act as the “Obama House of Health,” which the president has invited everyone into. “We’ve put up the shell,” McDermott said. “Now what we are going to do in 2013 — and the reason why I’m running again — is because this is the year we will decide on what are the floor coverings, and what is the paint and what are the light fixtures and what are the counter tops — all the details of the health care bill will be taken care of between now and 2014, when this goes into effect.”
The question before the court — should the government require all people to buy health insurance — is really a matter of fairness, McDermott said, noting that people without insurance ending up going to the emergency room, which in the long run is covered by “all the rest of you folks. They are free riders on our health care system.”
McDermott said he spent time listening to the arguments before the Supreme Court, and in particular observed the court’s two swing votes — John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy. “After watching them struggle and ask their questions and twist and turn in their chairs, I think it’s going to be a 6-3 support of the president’s plan,” McDermott said to enthusiastic audience applause.
“And if I’m wrong I know I know you’ll all call me up and say what the hell do you know?” he added.
Health care affects everyone at some point in their lives and it’s the number-one cause of bankruptcy in the U.S., with 60 percent of bankruptcies filed because of health care costs, he said. “In order to give people economic security and social justice in this country, we have to have a health care system,” McDermott said.
When President Franklin Roosevelt pushed for the passage of social initiatives such as Social Security and unemployment in the late 1930s, health care was supposed to be a part of that effort, McDermott said. Roosevelt decided to wait until later to address it, but then World War II happened. “So we’ve been talking about having a national health plan in this country since 1935,” McDermott said. “Every president except I think Eisenhower made a proposal. So we have really been struggling with this and it is tough because everybody comes at it from their own position.”
Taking questions from the audience, McDermott admitted that — assuming the Supreme Court upholds the Affordable Care Act — it won’t be easy to continue building out the plan given the fractious nature of the current Congress. “It will be possible because you folks are going to demand it — the American public is going to demand that Congress produce something,” he said. “In the health care area, people are going to have to sit down and simply come up with an answer that works.”
Seventeen states, including Washington, are already working on ways to implement the law, while 33 are waiting on the Supreme Court ruling, McDermott said. “So it is going to be a real big deal this next couple of weeks when the Court comes down and decides. Because if they…say get to work, then the Congress and the (state) legislatures are really going to be under the gun to begin the process.”