WASHINGTON -- Moments after preaching extreme self-reliance to one of his constituents, a Georgia Republican told a gathering in his district that he will continue to rely on government-subsidized health care "because it's free."
Freshman Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.), who served as chief of staff to his predecessor, made national news earlier this week for comments he made, captured on video by Patch.com, to a retired constituent who told him her company does not provide retiree benefits.
"Hear yourself, ma'am. Hear yourself," Woodall told the woman. "You want the government to take care of you, because your employer decided not to take care of you. My question is, 'When do I decide I'm going to take care of me?'"
The exchange continued. In video provided to HuffPost by another constituent, Woodall was asked why -- if he believes in such self reliance -- he doesn't forgo his government health care plan.
"I have a question about taking care of you. You have government subsidized health care, but you are not obligated to take that if you don't want to. Why aren't you going out on the fee market in the state where you're a resident and buy your own health care? Be an example," said a constituent in the new video.
"Your question is," Woodall responded, "my government's willing to give me lots and lots of stuff for free and why don't I take it?"
The woman followed up. "Why aren't you leading by example, and go and get it in a single-subscriber plan, like you want everybody else to have, because you want to end employer-sponsored health plans and government-sponsored health plans. You said so in a letter to me, that your goal is to get rid of the employer-sponsored health care [system]. So why aren't you leading by example and go out yourself, decline the government health plan and go to Blue Cross/Blue Shield or whoever, and get one for yourself and see how tough it is," she said. "You don't have any pre-existing conditions, I guess, you haven't had any life-threatening illnesses like I had last year."
Woodall responded that "this is why it's good to have these conversations, because there's some bad information out there."
But his constituent presses him further. "Answer the question: Why haven't you gone out and got it?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. I thought I did. It's because it's free. It's because it's free," he said. "The same reason I went out to Walgreen's and bought ActivOn and I don't have any arthritis pain: Because it's free. Folks, if you give people things for free, don't blame them for taking them."
On Tuesday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded to the initial Woodall video by telling the Washington Post that the congressman "lays bare" the GOP approach to health care. "No matter how hard you've worked your whole life, no matter how severe your medical hardship, the Republican motto is clear: You're on your own. This lays bare the ideology behind their goal of ending of Medicare as we know it," he said.
Democrats are seizing on Woodall's comments. The Democratic National Committee made sure that national reporters were aware of his remarks on Tuesday.
While Woodall is committed to accepting coverage as long as taxpayers provide it, HuffPost asked him whether he thinks members of Congress should not get health care benefits as a matter of policy. "Absolutely, federal health care options in Congress should mirror those offered in the private sector," said Woodall in an e-mailed response to HuffPost. "If these options are not available in the private sector, then folks working for the federal government should not have them either. There are bills being discussed to raise the amount that Members of Congress pay in to their benefits and I support these pieces of legislation. You might also be interested to know--and if you watched the entire Town Hall video you would have heard this as well--that I chose the cheapest health care plan available to Members of Congress--meaning that this is the plan in which the least amount of taxpayer money will be on the line for my health benefits."
When asked what he would say to a person 54 or under who didn't have a private or government retirement health care plan and was left to search the market with a voucher covering only a portion of costs if Paul Ryan's Medicare plan was enacted, Woodall responded: "The House-passed FY2012 Budget Resolution does two very important things: it ensures that seniors 55 and older will continue to receive the same Medicare benefits they received in 2010, and it ensures Medicare for individuals under age 55 by saving Medicare from insolvency and providing, for the first time, a real choice for the future."