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Politics & Government

Rose talks Medicare, Green New Deal, Omar storm at town hall

Democratic U.S. Rep. Max Rose came out against Medicare-For-All, bucking a left-leaning trend in his party, telling residents at a Bay Ridge town hall that he preferred fixing the current health care system.

“I’m not a believer that Medicare-For-All is the best way,” Rose told an audience of 200 people at the town hall he held at Fort Hamilton High School on Saturday.

Several Democratic presidential candidates, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, have pushed for all Americans to be covered by Medicare.

Rose quickly added that he does support universal health care. “We have to build upon our current system,” he said, adding that he would be in favor of lowering the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 50.

But a man in the audience wasn’t satisfied with Rose’s answer, telling the congress member that a study funded by the Koch Brothers found that Medicare-For-All would cost $2 trillion less than the current system of relying on private insurance coverage.

It would be too difficult to transition 180 million Americans who currently rely on private insurance to a government-run system, Rose countered.

Instead, Rose advocated other fixes, including lowering the cost of prescription drugs and offering a public option for those who can’t afford private coverage.

Rose, who represents southwest Brooklyn and Staten Island, repeatedly promised when he ran for Congress that he would regularly hold town halls. His Republican predecessor, Dan Donovan, was criticized for not doing so.

Constituents asked Rose questions on a variety of issues including everything from national controversies like U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s remarks about Jews to local issues like whether two-way tolls should be re-instated on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. The questions were submitted in writing and read aloud by a moderator.

Rose favors bringing back two-way tolls on the bridge. The one-way toll was installed through congressional action approximately 25 years ago. “At the time, it made sense,” he said. But now, drivers “toll shop,” he said, explaining that motorists drive into Brooklyn for free and then find a way to return for free.

Both sides of his congressional district face commuting nightmares, whether by car or by public transportation, Rose said. Some constituents have two-hour commutes. “That’s less time people are spending with their families,” he said.

He called for increased funding to repair the city’s deteriorating transit system. “We need to put our money where our mouth is,” he said.

The MTA should also explore out-of-the-box solutions, like bifurcating R train service, Rose said. Rose and other local lawmakers originally called for service to run in two parts – from 95th Street to Court Street and then from Whitehall Street to Continental Avenue in Queens.

Rose acknowledged, however, that the lawmakers got fierce push-back from riders who have to travel from Brooklyn to Manhattan for work or school and did not relish the idea of changing trains. He added that running the first leg of the R train from 95th Street to Canal Street might be a better option.

Rose defended public statements he made on the Omar controversy. Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, made national headlines after she charged that U.S. support for Israel is based strictly on money. She also asserted that pro-Israeli lobbyists have too much influence on U.S. foreign policy.

“I very publicly criticized her,” he said. He is a big believer in free speech, he said. “But I ask that they do it without causing Jewish people pain,” he added.

Still, he expressed sympathy for his colleague Omar, who has been subjected to death threats.

Rose called for the Trump Administration’s travel ban to be lifted “as quickly as possible,” citing a local example of how Muslim families are being torn apart. He said a Yemeni man undergoing medical treatment can’t get his wife into the U.S. “We are seeing the effects of the travel ban up close and personal,” Rose said.

The problem of illegal immigration should be handled differently, he said, adding that Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) has “significantly overstepped its bounds.”

Rose, who supports sanctuary cities, called for ICE to be held accountable. “There are children who are afraid to go to school. There are people who are afraid to report crimes,” he said.

Rose opposes the Green New Deal proposed by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, although he said the country cannot afford to ignore the dangers of climate change.

The Green New Deal is problematic, he said, because it contains a provision guaranteeing jobs for all Americans. That’s virtually impossible to do, he said. “I don’t think you should over-promise,” he said.

To combat climate change, Rose advocated that the U.S. return to the Paris Agreement. President Donald Trump decided last year to leave the agreement, reversing Obama Administration policy.

Fight Back Bay Ridge criticizes town hall format

The grass-roots advocacy group Fight Back Bay Ridge was highly critical of the format of the town hall, charging that the arrangement of having audience members’ questions read aloud by a moderator stifled discussion on important issues.

Residents attending the event “wrote out questions which were submitted and then chosen to be asked by a moderator,” Fight Back Bay Ridge leaders said on Twitter. “While there was a disclaimer that they weren’t screened, the questions were revised & shortened by the moderator and lost important meaning which lobbed Rose a few softballs,” leaders contended.

“Very disappointed that questions were not asked as written at #RoseTownHallBK but condensed/generalized. This allowed @RepMaxRose to generalize as well & avoid tough questions. Suggestion: choose names and let questioners ask their question AS WRITTEN. Allow one rebuttal,” the group suggested.

A spokesperson for Rose defended the format and said constituents who submitted written questions will still be able to get answers from the lawmaker’s office after the town hall.

“We appreciated all who came out to share their thoughts and questions with the Congressman in what was a robust town hall. While not every question may have been answered, everyone will get a written response to their questions, and we appreciate the feedback as we plan future town halls,” the spokesperson told this newspaper Monday.

The spokesperson also pointed out that after reading each question, the moderator asked if his reading represented a fair summary of the question, giving the constituent the chance to set the record straight.

Correction (March 26 at 12:15 p.m.): An earlier version of this article mistakenly quoted an audience member as charging that Medicare-For-All would cost $2 billion less than the current system. He said $2 trillion.

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