In the run up to the election the congressman from the 8th congressional district is facing criticism for not meeting the public to discuss legislation on medical legislation and the safety net. The race, between a former county commissioner and an Iraq War veteran, is heating up. Sound familiar? It should. Only it's not 2010 and health care reform and Congressman Patrick Murphy, it's 2006 and Social Security, Medicare and Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick. Many of the complaints being lobbed in 2010 at Patrick Murphy in his rematch with Mike Fitzpatrick, were lobbed against Fitzpatrick in their first election battle in 2006, which Murphy won by a sliver. It should be noted that Murphy maintained a consistent support for health care reform, and has held a number of public meetings where people talked about the topic.
In June, 2005 at an "emotionally charged" townhall meeting to discuss Pres. Bush's plan to privatize social security, organizers wanted Congressman Fitzpatrick to take a stand on the issue. Fitzpatrick did not attend and his staff said he was still studying the various proposals (Scheid, 6/07/05). Only a few months before, though, he said he favored private accounts (Hawkes 4/10/2005). In March, 2005, he again was unwilling to commit to a stance (DeCoursey, 03/06/2005). Earlier in the year, he had not held any meetings to discuss it:
Unlike Santorum, none of Pennsylvania's GOP House members held town hall meetings on Social Security during the weeklong congressional recess, although they have been hearing from constituents in other forums and through mail and e-mail to their offices. (Miller, 2/28/05)
Fitzpatrick could not be reached for comment for that article. He had, though, volunteered to be on the GOP's "press affairs team for healthcare issues, which means he'll be speaking at press conferences and before Congress when changes to Medicare are instituted, among other issues" (Hawkes 4/10/2005).
Later in April, 2005, he again expresses his support for the plan:
And he defended President George Bush's efforts to revamp Social Security. There are too many seniors receiving and too few young workers to support the program, he said. (McGinnis, 4/23/2005)
Closer to the election, August 2006, he had come out against Bush’s plan to privatize social security, although his objection does not seem to have been ideological but chronological. He said with other pressing issues facing the country, “now was not the time to focus on Social Security” (Scheid, 8/01/2006)
His stance on Social Security had been bouncing around during his first run for office in 2004 and early in his term. In September of 2004 he said:
The Republican candidate said he won't even consider revamping Social Security if the retirement age is raised, benefits are cut, the payroll tax increases or if the program is privatized. (Finley, 9/30/2004)
In January, 2005 he said:
Fitzpatrick also said the much-buzzed-about idea of allowing people to invest some of their Social Security money in private accounts would move forward, though he didn't know that it would pass in 2005.
"That's a prediction I wouldn't want to make," he said. "I'm predicting a discussion of getting something done."(Callaway, 01/01/2005)
There was also concern about the Medicare prescription drug program and the "donut hole." In a letter to the editor on 10/02/2006 members of PaAction.org complained that Fitzpatrick had not shown up for a meeting with them (McCauley), although according to a Morning Call editorial he had meet with over 3000 senior citizens in 12 townhall meetings in 2005 ("Healthcare in America"). Participants at a January, 2006 meeting on Medicare were also disappointed when Fitzpatrick, who had been expected to attend, was elsewhere that day (Savana, 1/18/2006).
Fitzpatrick did introduce legislation to delay the deadline for signing on to a prescription drug program, as noted:
Fitzpatrick is among the congressional lawmakers seeking to extend the deadline, an effort that has failed largely because the Bush administration wants healthy seniors who have low drug costs to be part of the risk pool to make coverage affordable. (Ciavaglia 5/14/2006)
Fitzpatrick was also the first 8th district congressional representative to use teletownhall meetings:
The technology, never used before in this district, costs taxpayers bout $2,000 for every bulk telephone meeting, [Fitzpatrick's chief of staff Mike]Conallen said. That's a fraction of hosting an in-person town hall, Conallen said. That could costs $10,000 to $14,000, while a mass mailing on legislation could cost more thatn $30,000, he said. (Scheid 7/30/2006)
Callaway, Brian, “A lawmaker looks ahead,” Bucks County Courier Times, 01/01/2005
Ciavaglia, Jo, "Some putting off signing up for drug plan," Bucks County Courier Times 5/14/2006
DeCoursey, Peter, “State GOP lawmakers hold off on Bush plan,” Patriot News (03/06/2005).
Finley, Ben, “Fitzpatrick defends acceptance of money,” Bucks County Courier Times 9/30/2004.
Hawkes, Allison, "Lawmaker tackles contentious issues," Bucks County Courier Times 4/10/2005
"Healthcare in America," [editorial] Morning Call 12/05/2005
McCauley, "The 'donut hole' disaster," [letter to the editor] Bucks County Courier Times 10/02/2006
McGinnis, James, “Fitzpatrick hears questions, concerns,” Bucks County Courier Times 4/23/2005
Miller, Jeff, "House members slow to commit on Social Security," Morning Call 02/28/2005
Savana, Freda "Some area seniors still say they can't get their medications," Intelligencer 1/18/2006
Scheid, Brian, "Fitzpatrick gets voters on party line," Intelligencer 7/30/2006
Scheid, Brian, “Fitzpatrick says Bush wrong on Social Security, 08/01/2006
Scheid, Brian, "Privatization plan assailed," Bucks County Courier Times 6/07/2005