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Doug Thompson: Town hall puts some starch in Cotton

Springdale rally may be a factor

Maybe -- just maybe -- that rowdy town hall in Springdale is making a difference.

Sen. Tom Cotton is giving harsh and spot-on criticism of House Speaker Paul Ryan's health care bill and its chances. Few like that bill, but Cotton's punches are notably hard.

Much of this is dismissed as Cotton raising his profile while sniping at a presidential rival. Maybe so, but I like to think the senator remembers Kati McFarland of Springdale when he says things like this on TV:

"As it's written today, this bill in the House of Representatives cannot pass the Senate. And I believe it would have adverse consequences for millions of Americans, and it wouldn't deliver on our promises to reduce the cost of health insurance for Americans."

More about McFarland in a minute. On radio, Cotton said this about Ryan's claim that the bill was just one step in a three-step process:

"There is no three-phase process. There is no three-step plan. That is just political talk. It's just politicians engaging in spin. This is why. Step one is a bill that can pass with 51 votes in the Senate. That's what we're working on right now. Step two, as-yet-unwritten regulations by [health secretary] Tom Price, which is going to be subject to court challenge, and therefore, perhaps the whims of the most liberal judge in America. But step three, some mythical legislation in the future that is going to garner Democratic support and help us get over 60 votes in the Senate. If we had those Democratic votes, we wouldn't need three steps."

Such scorn has Washington watchers all atwitter, especially since the scorn is almost indisputably accurate. "Cotton goes after Ryan agenda in battle of GOP heavyweights," said the headline on Politico on Thursday. The article quoted the senator's even harsher criticism of Ryan's proposed border adjustment tax. Ryan's whole budget plan does not work without that tax to replace the other taxes he wants cut. Cotton's assessment: "Some ideas are so stupid only an intellectual could believe them."

The article quotes some tut-tutting by staunch insiders like Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. He said Cotton's comments on the health care bill's dim prospects -- and the election risks to House members who support it -- are not "helpful."

I am just a wiseguy from Arkansas, but I think telling an emperor he is naked is very helpful. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., is not just gone. He is forgotten. Cantor was the first House majority leader to lose his seat. He was very "helpful" in Washington, though, before that 2014 primary.

Readers may recall that Cotton and Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers were two of the very few GOP congressmen to show up in person at town halls last month. They both got an earful, particularly Cotton. Ryan did not show up anywhere at home. His constituents hosted a town hall in Kenosha, Wisc., and talked to an empty chair, a la Clint Eastwood.

There are two kinds of congressmen: Those who look angry constituents in the eye and those who do not.

One constituent Cotton looked in the eye was the aforementioned McFarland, 26. She has a condition that is fatal if untreated. She was just one of the 2,000 people at that town hall on Feb. 22, but the most effective. Certainly, her condition added weight to every question she asked, but her questions were very good. I have been a full-time reporter longer than McFarland has been alive. I wish I could pin someone down in an interview as well as she does.

There is plenty to criticize in Ryan's bill without reflecting any of the anger Cotton saw and heard that night in Springdale. But seeing and hearing it certainly did not discourage him.

Some say that journalists at the rally concentrated too much on the anger of the crowd and not enough on Cotton's mushy replies. That is balderdash. GOP pols give mushy answers on what they want to do about health care every day. A conservative icon getting roughed up in Springdale, though, was news.

In closing, I will not pass up my first chance to agree with Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the band of zealots that calls itself House Freedom Caucus. Cotton is, "just expressing the reality of what we've known for weeks. There are multiple senators over there who are not going to vote for this House plan," he told Politico.

Commentary on 03/18/2017

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