ShareThis Page

Town hall meeting at Pittsburgh's Station Square targets new health care law

Tom Fontaine
| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 11:46 p.m.
Former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, President of The Heritage Foundation, talks to Tribune-Review reporters on Aug. 28, 2013, at the Trib offices on the North Shore.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, President of The Heritage Foundation, talks to Tribune-Review reporters on Aug. 28, 2013, at the Trib offices on the North Shore.
Former Sen. Jim DeMint speaks at The Heritage Foundation's Defund Obamacare meeting at the Sheraton, Station Square on Aug. 28, 2013.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Former Sen. Jim DeMint speaks at The Heritage Foundation's Defund Obamacare meeting at the Sheraton, Station Square on Aug. 28, 2013.

The head of a conservative think tank said Wednesday that withholding funding for President Obama's health care overhaul could halt some government services, but it's worth the political risk.

“The reason we're not wincing on that is because the alternative is really, really serious,” former South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, president of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said during a meeting with Tribune-Review editors and reporters.

On Wednesday night, DeMint headlined a lively town hall meeting in Station Square to pan the Affordable Care Act, which has become known as Obamacare — the eighth such stop in a national tour. It drew about 700 people.

The event also attracted about a dozen supporters of Obama's health care law. One man dropped a paper reading, “Vote Yes Obamacare,” at the crowded conference room's entrance and walked away briskly, while event organizers asked the rest to leave after they stood holding signs supporting Obama's plan.

“I think Obamacare is a very good thing,” said Jeff Harris of Squirrel Hill, who dropped the paper. “It will give everyone the opportunity to get insurance and protect people from what insurance companies can do,” such as denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

DeMint thinks it will drive up health care costs and insurance premiums.

He said the national tour is the largest effort of its kind by Heritage. Its political arm, Heritage Action for America, is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads targeting several Republican congressmen who have not gotten on board with plans to defund the health care law — including Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who called defunding the plan the “dumbest idea I've ever heard.”

The effort is being tied to a government funding bill that expires Sept. 30. Congress needs to pass legislation, including money for the law, or risk letting parts of the federal government shut down.

“I don't care if the government shuts down. It's no good anyway. Obamacare has to go,” said Michele Zolnier, who drove from Hermitage in Mercer County, to attend the town hall meeting.

DeMint wants Congress to OK funding for everything but the law, preventing major provisions from taking effect. People not covered by an employer-sponsored health care plan, Medicare, Medicaid or some other public program can start enrolling in plans offered through a new state insurance exchange on Oct. 1. The subsidized plans will take effect Jan. 1.

Republican detractors have said the Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House won't support withholding money for the law in a government funding bill, and the GOP could take blame for any government shutdown. The best way to get rid of the overhaul, they contend, is to win back the White House and Senate and repeal the law.

“I think they have to play hardball now. If Republicans don't fight for this, what will they fight for?” asked Paul Dixon, 60, of Bethel Park.

A survey released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation shows just 37 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the law, yet 57 percent oppose cutting off funding.

“The thought that we could let (Obamacare) be totally implemented and it's going to show what a mess it is, and that will help Republicans win the next election, is an almost inexcusable strategy. We know once people get moved to this, there's not going to be a place for them to come back,” DeMint said.

The Heritage Foundation estimates the federal government will spend $48 billion subsidizing plans in 2014. In Pennsylvania, an estimated 1.2 million people are uninsured, and more than 90 percent are expected to qualify for subsidies, according to Health and Human Services data.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.