Ellmers defends stances while protesters gather

By Geoffrey Cooper - Rocky Mount Telegraph

June 30, 2011 - 063011ellemers3.jpgU.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers joined Twin Counties leaders for a legislative forum Wednesday to explain what Congress has been doing about the economy.

But about 15 area protesters had a different agenda, as they gathered in the heat clutching posters and banners that chided Ellmers for her votes to restructure Medicare and other federal programs.

Ellmers, R-2nd District, spoke to more than 80 local business and civic leaders at the forum sponsored by The Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce and the Golden East Chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management.

A registered nurse and part owner of a health clinic in Dunn, Ellmers said many small businesses are struggling due to the economic downturn. She said businesses like hers need tax reductions and less red tape. She said with that increased confidence in the private sector, hiring will increase.

“Our business owners are those individuals that are being targeted,” Ellmers said. “If one more mandate, one more tax is added to what they are already doing, more jobs are going to be lost.”

Ellmers campaigned as a critic of President Barack Obama and the national health care law.

One of Ellmers’ initial votes in the U.S. House was to repeal the health care reform law.

Ellmers also voted for a congressional budget proposed by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., that would change Medicare for residents 54 or younger to a voucher system. A majority of Republicans in Congress, including Ellmers, have embraced the proposal because they said it is a bold step toward reducing the nation’s debt.

Democrats argue that residents would have to pay higher costs in the long term under Ryan’s plan.

Gwen Wilkins — 1st vice chair of the N.C. Democratic Party — stood and turned her back on Ellmers during the Dunn Republican’s address on health care reform in silent protest.

“It does not take a rocket scientist to see that (Ellmers) and other Republicans are looking out for the insurance companies more than they are for the hard working citizens of this state and this country,” Wilkins said in a written statement.

Ellmers said Medicare coverage for those 55 and older would not change, and that Ryan’s budget was criticized because Congress did not explain the benefits of the changes in Medicare very well. She said the changes are drastic, but necessary to bring the debt under control.

“We’ve kicked the can down the road long enough,” Ellmers said. “It’s time to deal with the problem because we are simply running out of time.”

Nashville resident Patty Kennedy was one of the protestors at the front entrance of the Gateway Convention Center demanding that Congress keep entitlement programs such as Medicare in tact. She hoisted a poster that read, “I’m a senior and I vote! No health care vouchers!”

“It’s not going to impact me as much, but what about the people that are younger than me,” Kennedy said. “Medicare’s a lifesaver for so many seniors. ... A voucher won’t begin to cover the costs necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

Tom Adams, 61, said America’s debate regarding equal health care access has been “bogged down” with discussions based on feelings, not facts. He said taxpayers are not getting quality health care for the money they are spending.

“We’re debating around the fringes. We don’t get nearly as much bang for our buck like the rest of the world,” Adams said. “I think we’re as smart; I think we’re as hard working. ... The only thing that’s missing is really enlightened debate, which has been colored by emotions.”