McNerney’s office reports 5,000 callers on the line for the discussion, while Miller says he had about 1,500 respond tonight and about the same number last night.
What’s a telephone town hall? It’s an automated system that puts out calls to a congressmember’s constituents and invites them to participate in a large conference call. The legislator takes questions and everyone on the call hears the questions and the answers.
McNerney answered about a dozen questions while Miller addressed about 20. (Why the difference? Miller’s staff did not interupt the call repeatedly with the congressman’s office phone numbers and instructions on how to get a tour of the White House. But I digress.)
Callers could also leave questions on a voice mail system at the end of the telephone town hall. Miller’s office receive about 100 messages on Tuesday night and expects a similar number tonight. The legislative staffers will transcribe the questions,find the answers and return the calls in the next few days.
Of all the calls to both congressmen, only about 10 expressed outright opposition to the Democrats’ bill and a similar number said they favored the legislation. The others asked a variety of questions and may or may not have been critics of the bill.
As chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Miller is one of the principal authors of the legislation and he clearly had very strong grasp on the details of the 1,000-page bill.
Questions ranged from how the legislation will impact small businesses and skepticism about its promise of reduced costs and greater access. The legislators heard from folks concerned about the future of Medicare, too, and Miller repeatedly reassured them that the new bill will have little to no impact on the national insurance for the elderly.
Miller also directly addressed the controversy over the rowdy eruptions at many of his colleague’s health care town hall meetings across the country.
Knowing that people were potentially planning to come and disrupt any town hall meetings he might have held, Miller told those on the call that he switched to the telephone town hall format so that he could hear from his constituents and answer their questions rather than subject folks to a mob intent on shutting down the debate and attracting television cameras.
He said much the same to me earlier in the day when I met with him in his office to talk about health care.
And frankly, anyone who thinks Miller is hiding from his critics on this issue doesn’t know the guy.