An overflow crowd packed the Pleasant Hill Elementary School auditorium for Rep. George Miller's "town hall meeting, in which he discussed a variety of issues, and the audience made the Affordable Care Act a hot topic.
It was the last of three hourlong "town hall" public meetings over which Miller presided Saturday; he made appearances in Walnut Creek (Las Lomas High School) and Orinda (library auditorium) earlier.
Normally Miller, D-Martinez, receives a warm reception in Pleasant Hill, but it chilled slightly when shouts of "You are a liar" rang out while he described successful ACA sign-ups in California and Oregon.
Disputing that, a man in the back of the room said, "Eighty-seven percent of them signed up for Medicare."
Those seated nearby turned on the man, telling him to him to "shut up!" over a comment he made that 150,000 people in Oregon have lost their health coverage.
When Miller was asked why Congress did not have to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, he said that Congress did sign up for Obamacare.
Miller's Washington, D.C., office later confirmed that in January, members of Congress and their staffs will no longer receive their existing federal employee insurance plan, in which the federal government pays an employer contribution.
"The ACA was unclear as to whether or not members and their staff remained eligible for the contribution that they currently qualify for as federal government employees," Miller's press secretary Peter Whippy explained.
Consequently, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management issued a rule that was needed to allow members and their staffs to shop and select a plan in the new insurance marketplace with the same employer contribution that they now receive.
After more interruptions at the Saturday town hall, someone exclaimed, "I thought you came here to answer questions, not for rhetoric ... The president lied to me."
At that point, a couple of people were escorted out of the forum by police.
In the wide-ranging discussion, the congressman said he favors a $10.10 minimum wage with a cost-of-living index attached, and revealed his desire for a "rewrite of Title 1," the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to improve academic performance of disadvantaged kids.
Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said he expects to introduce an early childhood education act soon.
There was applause for his plan to allocate more money for the federal government to partner with the state and local levels on opportunities for grades 1-12.
Miller expressed his opposition to the proposed $14 billion plan to distribute water to Southern California and reportedly improve the Delta ecosystem, even if Gov. Jerry Brown is "wedded to the three-pipe plan."
Miller spoke at length about current affairs. He said the Senate immigration bill is "important to the economy and to individuals;" and said about federal government data collection and acquisition, "It isn't a revelation that we spy on other governments."
After a ripple of laughter, Miller added, "It does raise questions about privacy and oversight."
"We do not monitor conversations of Americans," he said. "It's the constant sweeping of data. Congress has got to get serious about this ... "
On other international issues, Miller said, "The president of Iran is open to conversation about a nuclear weapon," and noted that talks with Israel on a two-state solution have restarted, and he expressed his opposition to armed intervention there.
A question about a Veterans Affairs claim denial had Miller acknowledging there are problems with claims and budgets. He noted that claims resulting from the Vietnam War have been addressed -- "we just passed the hump" -- and he predicted a $5 trillion cost for veteran care resulting from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I voted for Afghanistan. I didn't vote for Iraq," he said.
A self-identified Lawrence Lab employee who was furloughed complained about the recent government shutdown.
"If I were doing this with my credit card, I would be out on the street ... I feel like my voice isn't being heard."
"It's tough to knit together the United States of America," Miller replied. "The shutdown may have destroyed the Republican party."
That remark garnered a smattering of partisan applause.
"Why don't you vote for a balanced budget?" an audience member called out. "You are spending our children's money."
Miller conceded that he had voted to raise the debt limit, but favors a balanced budget, and blames the size of the deficit on "two wars and the (Medicare) drug plan."
One person asked, "Where do entitlements come in?" Another suggested that a modified CPI (Consumer Price Index) could be put in place for very elderly Social Security recipients.
Miller said, "There are more plans (for Social Security) than members of Congress."
Reach Dana Guzzetti at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 925-202-9292.