Republican Lee Terry got the push-pull treatment Thursday as people on both ends of the political spectrum urged the Omaha congressman to either embrace or ratchet up his opposition to the new federal health care law.
Conservatives urged Terry to back a high-stakes proposal to shut down the federal government unless funding for the Affordable Care Act is stripped.
Others criticized Terry for joining efforts to repeal the law passed in 2010, saying they didn't want to go back to a time when insurance companies could deny coverage for mental health or pre-existing conditions.
“Republicans have had opportunities galore to fix (the health care system), and they have not done it,” one supporter of the law told Terry.
Terry, who is on the fence about the government shutdown scenario, is holding a series of town hall meetings across the Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District over the August congressional recess.
His latest was held in Papillion, where about 150 people packed into a room at Sump Memorial Library to grill Terry on everything from health care to immigration.
One of the top issues in the room — and one of the most divisive — was a push by conservatives in Washington to bring the federal government to a halt next month unless funding is choked off for the health care law.
One man at the town hall meeting got a huge round of applause when he told Terry he saw no “problem” with shutting down the federal government.
For his part, Terry was clearly lukewarm to the idea. However, he left open the possibility he could support such a hardball measure, if it could be effectively used to repeal the law.
“I don't want it to happen, but we've got to make a statement,” Terry said.
However, despite his refusal to shut the door on a federal shutdown, Terry spent far more time talking about why such a shutdown should be avoided. He noted that if the federal government is closed, the nation's military personnel may not get paid.
“My first goal is to keep the government open,” Terry said. “There are real consequences” to a shutdown.
Terry is the only congressman in Nebraska who represents a true swing district, where the electorate is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
That political diversity was on display Thursday in a room that appeared to be evenly divided between those who supported Terry's conservative bent and those who wanted him to take a leftward tack.
For example, the room appeared to be split on immigration. Some applauded Terry and his tough stance on illegal immigration, while others urged him to have more compassion.
Terry opposes a pathway to citizenship for anyone who has entered this country illegally.
Terry said he does not believe people should be given the “brass ring” — a chance at citizenship — if they violated this country's law by entering illegally.
His hard-line stance extends to the “Dreamers,” or those young immigrants who were brought into this country illegally as children and who now face deportation as adults.
Terry said he would not consider any effort to extend citizenship to these young people until the border is secured.
“The Dreamers are really a difficult group because they really tug at my heartstrings, because they came here not of their own free will but because of their parents,” Terry said.
Terry is running for re-election in 2014. In every election cycle he faces one of the toughest re-election battles in the state. This year could be one of his toughest. Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen, a Democrat with a moderate voting record and deep connections to the Omaha business community, is seriously considering a run.
Festersen, who is being wooed by national Democrats, has said he will decide by mid-September whether to run against Terry.