For the first time in the 3000-words-a-week, almost-4-year history of this blog, I’m going to confess to a crime.
Sort of. But before that…
Speaking of firsts, for the first time let’s talk about the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the Senate’s current bill that means to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). I’m not a big fan. I have that in common with about 83% of Americans.
But my personal connection is different than most. My child has severe autism. He’s a walking, non-talking pre-existing condition.
Now, my child is luckier than many autism sufferers in that our insurance covers most of the considerable price of trying to get him anywhere near normal. Oh, sure, the annual share paid by my wife and I could buy a small car, but it could be far worse. And if we lost our jobs, well then what?
It would be nice to believe that California won’t let the feds take away our health care. And it may even be true. Nonetheless, it’s still possible. It’s also possible that our autistic child may eventually rely on Medicaid.
The BCRA, as proposed, will make savage cuts to Medicaid, directly hurting kids like my kid who aren’t lucky enough to have our insurance. As for my kid, depending on what version of the bill hits the floor, his pre-existing condition could prevent my child from getting insured sometime before he even becomes an adult, never mind the difficulty he’ll have after he turns 25.
So yeah, this isn’t exactly Congress considering whether or not to put a stop sign at State and Main. This is personal to me.
So I did what people tell you to do, and I called my two Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris (the latter attended the elementary school where Dar is now!). Experts say that of all the ways to contact your elected representatives – text, email, snail mail, carrier pigeon, what-have-you – a personal phone call is the most effective. As a former Capitol Hill intern I can confirm that voice mails take the most time to sort out (because you can barely understand half the people who leave messages). I have also heard experts claim that since November, at least 80% of the personal phone calls to Capitol Hill have come from women. My extraneous Y-chromosome isn’t always an advantage, but in this case, I’m happy to deploy it for a good cause. Wifey and I long ago discovered that Dar is more intimidated at my voice than hers; we have NO idea why; we don’t question it, we just use it. So it is with calling the Senate.
But here’s the rub: both my Senators are fully on board with saving Obamacare. I’m sure they appreciated hearing from me; I know it from their very polite automated replies. But I also know that calling them didn’t really make any difference. My two Senators are Democrats, and Republicans are the ones dedicated to destroying Obamacare and hurting my child’s life.
As it turns out, though, not all Republicans are on board with the BCRA. Several were described in the press as “wavering” or “having concerns.” And with a thin 52-48 majority in the Senate, defections from just three unsteady Republicans are enough to kill the bill. The problem is that I don’t live in the states that elected those Republicans.
Now, about that crime.
Ever heard of “If I Did It”? It’s O.J. Simpson’s “confession” of how he did, or coyly didn’t, kill his ex-wife Nicole and Ron Goldman. After various legal maneuvers, HarperCollins printed 400,000 copies, then retracted all of them, then printed them again with the Goldman family listed as authors. While ostensibly answering the most pressing question of the 1990s, O.J.’s “fictional memoir” brings up an entirely new one: why would O.J. confess to a crime he’d already been exculpated from?
Maybe because everywhere he went, people asked him to confess? Or maybe because confession feels good? Maybe everyone wants to be seen, found, caught. Call it caught-ism.
Now call THIS caught-ism on behalf of autism. In what follows, I attempt to adopt the tone of, ahem, O.J.’s fictional memoir. Sort of. Let’s just say that I’m making up everything that follows. Yes. Let’s say that. Let’s definitely say that.
So I learn the names of the wobbly Republican Senators: Dean Heller of Nevada, Shelley Capito of West Virginia, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. I look up their numbers, which is easy as apple pie.
First up is Nevada, because that’s my neighbor. Zero chance that I’m gonna pull an East-Coaster faux pas and call it Nevahda. I even did some political work there in 2008, ringing doorbells for Obama. Plus, I have friends from Nevada. I have one from Reno that now lives in Washington State. I google some zip codes in Reno.
I call. A live person answers the phone: “Senator Dean Heller’s office.” I hang up. I’m shy, deep down. Or cowardly.
I call later, when I figure the office will be closed. Sure enough, I am prompted to leave a voice mail. “Hi, my name is Chris Champlain on behalf of Reno, zip code 89433. I just want to thank the Senator for his service and also register my strong support for Obamacare. Please do not pass the BCRA, please do not take my health care away. Thank you.”
Notice the verbiage “on behalf of.” This is how I avoid directly lying about where I’m calling from. I mean, I’m calling with an assumed name, but hey, maybe I’m hiding my identity for my own safety because a stalker is after me. I don’t have to be the ONLY Chris Champlain from Reno, but it’s nice for there to be one in case they check. By the contemporary truth standards of the Trump Era, I’m practically George Washington!
Next up is Arizona, another neighbor. This time I decide to be Marshall Flores, a VERY liberal friend of mine from Phoenix who I know wouldn’t mind minor identity theft…the larger potential problem being that he may have already called. Well, it’s hardly the end of the world if Senator Flake gets two phone calls from the same constituent. I look up a zip code in Phoenix. This time, when they answer the phone, I maintain my courage and don’t hang up. I pretty much stick to the same script. The guy on the phone, who sounds like I did way-back-when, thanks me nicely for calling.
With Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, I look up the zip codes in Seward and then I pretend to have the name of someone we met in Seward last summer. As it turns out, I get a voice mail prompt anyway, so it goes easy. At this point I’m itemizing reasons I don’t like the BCRA, talking about reverse Robin-Hood-ism, taking from the poor to give to the rich, who haven’t proven that they actually spend their tax cuts. I’m on fi-yah.
Now I’m on to Susan Collins of Maine. I look up the cousin of my aunt by marriage, both of whom happen to descend from the founder of the Bank of Maine. Who knows, maybe that name carries weight in the other Portland. And again, who knows, maybe I’m just using an alias and calling “on behalf of.” This time, the intern doesn’t ask for a zip code, but I’m in so deep I provide it to her anyway. Nice chat. These do get easier as you go.
When I finally get to Shelley Moore Capito, of West Virginia, I do something crazy: I use my real name (more or less), Daniel Rowsey. Thanks to the wonder that is Facebook, I have recently befriended the only Rowsey I have ever heard of outside my family. He comes from West Virginia and told me that there are a lot of Rowseys in West Virginia. I liked the specificity of Rowsey on a call to Congress; clearly it’s not “Bobby McGee” or a name that sounds made-up. So what the heck, I decided to be me, ostensibly from the area that my new friend is from. I almost put on an accent, but then figured I couldn’t pull it off. I got through my shpiel. The intern on the other end of the line was very nice but seemed to be trying to get rid of me.
I ask, “Do you want to know where I’m from?”
He goes, “Oh, I can see you’re calling from California.”
I say indignantly, “That’s just the prefix of this cell phone,” and hang up. Okay, that probably didn’t work. Whatever.
So yeah, if I did it, I would have done that. And I encourage everyone else to not-do as I have not-done. On behalf of real kids like my son.