Sen. Brophy’s Aide Gets Press For “Student Obama Debate Challenge”

From ABC News’ Political Punch blog:

After a weekend of relatively tame town halls President Obama found one vocal skeptic in a college student who challenged the President to an Oxford debate over the public option at his Grand Junction, Colo., town hall this evening.

Zach Lahn, a 23-year-old student at the University of Colorado got the President’s attention after shouting out during the Q and A a few times. [Pols emphasis] The President finally called on him during the end of the town hall.

“I just want proof here that I’m happy to get a good debate going,” the President said, knowing that he could be wading into harsher waters than he is used to.

“I’d love to have a debate, just all out, anytime, Oxford-style, if you’d like,” Lahn said to President Obama and then proceeded on with his question. “How in the world can a private corporation providing insurance compete with an entity that does not have to worry about making a profit, does not have to pay local property taxes — they do not have to — they’re not subject to local regulations? How can a company compete with that?”

Lahn said he didn’t want any generalities, or philosophical arguments from the President as a response…

“It’s good to see a young person who’s very engaged and confident challenging the President to a Oxford-style debate, I think this is good,” he said. “You know, this is good. You know, I like that. You got to have a little chutzpah, you know.”

It also takes some “chutzpah” to fail to disclose to either the President or to reporters interviewing you afterward that you’re a staffer for one of the hardest-right Republicans in the Colorado Senate, Sen. Greg “Obama’s Gonna Take Yer Guns” Brophy, wouldn’t you say? It’s not like that should have disqualified him from asking the question–much like the infamous Brooks Brothers riot of Florida 2000 legend, though, it would have helped explain why he was so, um, “passionate.”


90 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Yokel says:

    “How in the world can a private corporation providing insurance compete with an entity that does not have to worry about making a profit, does not have to pay local property taxes — they do not have to — they’re not subject to local regulations? How can a company compete with that?”

    It is a fair question, is it not?

    • harrydoby says:

      The whole point is that insurance companies have become vast, unresponsive, overpriced near-monopolies.  

      Neither their suppliers — hospitals and doctors, nor their customers — the insured, are very happy with their products and services at the moment.

      As the insurance giants can set prices and limit supply at will to sustain their profitability, they have no incentive to lower overhead, cut red tape or improve their service.

      It’s time they joined the rest of American business and realize that they need to work harder, better, faster too, if they expect to maintain market share.

      • Yokel says:

        Insurance companies suck.  But if you think putting something as responsive as the DMV and as interested in your well-being as the IRS in charge instead, I’m afraid you’re making things worse, rather than better.  

        If you think insurance companies are so inherently inefficient and screw so many people over, why don’t you start your own?  Surely there’s a market for an insurance company that doesn’t suck.

        Also, for your reply below, you’ll note that the universities in question are run by states, not the feds.  Honestly, I’d trust the state to handle this much more effectively and efficiently than the feds.  

        And if a particular state fails, people move.  See: Michigan’s economy.  

        But you did find the heart of my objection:  There is no authority in the Constitution for neither Congress nor the Executive to give us health care.  That, according to the 10th Amendment, is reserved to the states, or to the people.  If the people can’t accomplish it without burning society to the ground, it’s on the states.  

        Which I think is cool, because, if the states are where the solution is found, a college kid with a good question has much better access to the guy who would actually be in writing the program and debating it in that situation than he does in this one (where he has to yell and make himself known to be heard).  

        Don’t you think?

        • harrydoby says:

          … as SSG_Dan has pointed out in numerous posts, both Tri-Care and Medicare are rated much higher in efficiency and customer satisfaction than say, UHC and other large health insurance providers.  Cherry-picking State (DMV) or Federal (IRS) agencies for customer satisfaction examples makes for fun conversation, but are just strawmen arguments.

          Your point about starting a small insurance company is actually borne out by these survey results:

          Smaller is Better  United Healthcare is rated the worst, with declining numbers in the past 7 years.  The overall industry average (which is a dismal 76% satisfaction) is pulled up by the smaller, more efficient and agile providers, because they have to compete with the elephants that dominate the market.

          As for the constitutional argument, there was a terrific article in the Wash Post a day or two ago that addressed that very point.  The conclusion was that “Yes we can”.  I’m not a constitutional authority, so I’ll leave it at that (plus the fact that I can’t find it at the moment — anyone else see it besides me?).  

          The practical argument for having policies and programs established at the federal level is the economies of scale, and negotiating parity with multibillion dollar players in this market.  Big states could certainly accomplish much of this, but the smaller ones (Wyoming, Montana, etc.) probably couldn’t get quite the leverage or funding needed.  But I agree, they should do everything they can to compliment and leverage any federal programs.

          • Yokel says:

            Let me say it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.  I’m sure it’s no worse than Big Insurance, but methinks SSG Dan’s got some rose-colored glasses when it comes to his days of getting fixed up in the medical hobby shop and dealing with the entitlement attitudes of GS-type workers.  

            The cherry-picking is not a straw man argument.  I’m merely emphasizing that not all government programs are an unmitigated good.  Will government health care be the same?  I don’t know.  But considering that once we go down that road there’s no coming back, I don’t think we should find out.  At least not without fully exploring our options.  Options like the market solution of smaller, more responsive insurance companies that you mentioned above.  

            And, speaking of, how is it that smaller insurance companies do better, but smaller states can’t have successful insurance programs?  It doesn’t necessarily work that way in other issues; after all the 5th largest economy in the world is completely broke.  

            Is it not more practical that if we’re going to have government health care, it be run by people we can actually influence?  The kid in the article is a perfect example: young kid, politically-minded, gets involved with a state senator.  He gets a look at sausage-making and may even be able to input a few ideas himself.  Take that same kid up to the next level of representative government, and he has to shout to get a word in edge-wise with The Man, and even then he’s only noted because of who he is (or works for) and not what he said.

            Call me an idealist.

            But that’s the defining concept of my Constitutional argument; It doesn’t explicitly allow for health care in Article I, Section 8.  But it DOES explicitly allow for whatever you want when it comes to the states or to the people in the 10th Amendment.  

            You can wrangle and word-smith “interstate commerce” to mean intrastate commerce all you want, but the simple fact remains that government is more responsive, and therefore more responsible, when the authority over our lives and fortunes is kept at the lowest levels possible.  The Feds have great power, and, though we may disagree on the eras in question, I think you’d agree with me when I say there have been a lot of years where they haven’t used that power very wisely.  

            • sxp151 says:

              And it’s actually hard to get the President to talk to you. I tried when Bush was President, but they wouldn’t let me within one mile of him since I wasn’t a registered Republican donor. When did we all become entitled to yell at the President until he offers to debate us “Oxford-style”?

              The Republican sense of entitlement is almost as mind-boggling as the Republican inability to remember even recent history.

            • Road Runner says:

              your random assertions may be, actual

              comparative studies of government run and private-sector health care systems tell a more precise and accurate story.

            • SSG_Dan says:

              I suspect your issues with TriCare probably relate to the fact that you’re one of many who piss and moan about the responsiveness and courtesy of government services, all while being an insufferable ass anytime someone asks you for an ID card or your copayment.

              I’m sure you mumble about Federal Intrusion into your life, all while receiving health care on the gov’t dime.

              I’ve had 5 surgeries on both of my feet for a Service-connected injury – 2 VA, 3 Private. I’ll take the socialist health care system any day. Also,I’ve had to deal with TriCare in it’s early dark days in 90’s..and then it WAS broke.

              They’ve had a few years to fix it, provided you treat the person on the Other End of the Counter like a human being. I suspect all of your issues with TriCare may relate to the attitude you take while receiving your government-provided health care.

              Try not being a shrieking, arrogant ass while denouncing the benefits of this giant Federal Government program you seem to have such hatred for.

            • parsingreality says:

              Or other, for that matter.

        • Ralphie says:

          I won’t use it.

          Plain and simple.

          That’s how private companies can compete.

          Right now, my private insurance is about as responsive as the DMV.  No, worse.

    • harrydoby says:

      They seem to be able to compete with public universities quite well, thank you.

      And that’s no knock on public institutions — I’ve attended my share and it’s worked out pretty well for me.

      • Libertad says:

        DPS budgeting its way to more cash for “programs” while growing its dropout rate to +50%.

        Now I’m starting to re-think my desire for the public option.  I’m not so sure I want a 50% success rate for my healthcare.

        • PERA hopeful says:

          By my count, 56 school districts in Colorado had a 90% or higher graduation rate.  I bet my insurance company doesn’t have a 90% success rate, unless it got it by kicking people out of coverage when they’re diagnosed with an actual illness.

          Of course, I’m a product of public schools (including my two graduate degrees), so I might have counted wrong.  

    • sxp151 says:

      or you believe government can do things better and more effectively than the private sector.

      Some conservatives believe private for-profit corporations will always provide services more efficiently than a competing government agency, and that the only thing government can ever do to help is get out of their way.

      Glad to see you’re on our side.

      Seriously, didn’t conservatives used to have some consistent ideology or something? I remember hearing about it when I was growing up.

    • MADCO says:

      a) government run health insurance would suck

      b) private health insurance is and will be the greatest in the world

      American consumers have proved over and over that we will pay for quality.  So if the private insurance is so great- we’ll pay more for it.

  2. Littletonian says:

    If Senator Brophy were asking the question, I guess I could see a need for him to disclose his identity.

    But aides are part-time employees of the state, they make, what, $10/hour, and they are frequently college students simply interested in the political process at the state level. Moreover, aides often apply to a partisan staffperson in their chamber and are assigned to a senator or a representative based on existing vacancies.

    And, to reiterate, they’re employees of the state, not an individual legislator. And they aren’t being paid during the interim.

    As a college student (and a Democrat, I might add) considering applying for an aide’s position in the 2010 session, I think it’s a bit of a reach to front page a diary calling out Sen. Brophy’s aide for not properly identifying himself. If I were to ask a question of the president, I would be much more likely to identify myself as a college student interested in politics than as a legislative intern. But I’d probably do what Lahn did – spend my time on the substantive issues that concern me.

    • sxp151 says:

      It just makes it easy for any reasonable person to dismiss Lahn’s question (and extremely childish behavior) as that of yet another plant who’s paid to scream at a town hall over an issue he doesn’t really care about.

      That may not be the case, but that’s certainly how it looks. If there’s really a groundswell of grassroots opposition to health care, shouldn’t you be able to find people who AREN’T being paid to be there?

      And I always find it amusing how many “get-the-government-out-of-my-way” types are incapable of starting a business and instead just looking for cushy government jobs.

      • Yokel says:

        Ignoring the post to which you’re replying, continuing with the “substance” of the politics of personal destruction and ad hominem attacks.  Well done, sir.  

        • sxp151 says:

          As for “substance,” I notice you have nothing to say to anyone who was interested in discussing the substance of the paid hack’s question. You got three different answers. Do you agree with them? Do you disagree with them? Do you have anything intelligent to say on the matter?

          And “the politics of personal destruction” wasn’t a particularly elegant phrase when the Clintons came up with it; I don’t know how it became a Republican trope.

          • Yokel says:

            We resort to the left wing barbarism of name-calling, attacking the messenger, and attacking people rather than policies.  

            Funny, I had thought civilized class would keep us from that, but here we are.  

            Also, I replied, for what it’s worth.  Have you offered substance, or is “And Obama would have gotten away with it, if it hadn’t been for that meddling kid” all you’ve got?  Thanks for playing.

            • sxp151 says:

              is worried about civilized debate as of ten minutes ago.

              It is to laugh. Though I like your Scooby Doo reference, nicely played.

              • Cartesian Doubt says:

                after insulting “lefties” and calling us out for not adding substance after he insults anyone who disagrees with him, and  is Yokel’s MO. I’m surprised anyone replies to his posts.

                • Libertad says:

                  In the Grand Junction town-hall meeting marked by civility and a loudly applauding crowd, President Barack Obama touted health care reform as a way to lower the massive federal deficit.

                • Yokel says:

                  I don’t care.  

                  My point is that this post is the embodiment of the Left’s MO: Kid may or may not have a point, but don’t pay attention to that.  He may or may not have some connection that might or might not implement a higher level Republican, who may or may not have another connection, and so on, all the way to The Marching Orders he got from Rush.

                  It’s just another ad hominem argument.  More subtle, yes, but that’s all it is.  (In fact, it’s more so than using the word “leftie” or “rightie.”)  And when you read all of the arguments, you find they’re all along similar lines, whether it’s evil astroturfed conspiracies or moronic rubes who don’t know what’s good for them.  Don’t argue the issue, attack the messenger.  

                  Sure you can claim you’ve got facts, and numbers, but when the linchpin of the argument is “these guys are idiots and only we know what to do,” it’s still a fallacious argument.  And it, rather cleverly, allows you to conveniently ignore the actual arguments against government having authority over peoples’ bodies (where have I heard that one?), or in favor of state solutions, or smaller market solutions instead of having Congress unconstitutionally stack the deck.  

                  Like I said, clever, yes.  Subtle, yes.  But nothing more than just another personal attack posing as reason and logic, also yes.  

      • Littletonian says:

        In fact, he’s not being paid at all. Unless he’s on Brophy’s campaign staff, in which case this becomes a slightly different deal.

        My point is that people willing to take on the enormous amount of work that comes with being an aide at the very low level of income it brings tend to be among the most passionate politicos in the state. So, yeah, I’d imagine that if Lahn got the opportunity to ask a question of the president, he’d take it.

        The “childish behavior” question is a separate one, but that’s not the focus of the diary. If Lahn had behaved childishly, that gives him more reason not to associate himself with his boss.

        • BoulderRepublican says:

          …and I can assure you he wasn’t paid.  That’s where he lives.  And he’s one of the cockiest people you’ll ever meet.  I would’ve been a bit  more demure, but he asked a valid question that I think the President ignored for the most part.  Although he was friendly and good spirited about it…

          • sxp151 says:

            That’s not too surprising, considering his behavior there.

            But how do you know he wasn’t paid? I don’t doubt he lives there, but it’s not too surprising that a politician would send an intern to do something on a weekend as part of his job.

          • ThillyWabbit says:

            According to his Twitter profile he lives in Lafayette, about 250 miles to the east. He is from Iowa.

            And rumor has it he actually works for Cory Gardner’s campaign now.

    • Littletonian says:

      If Lahn identifies himself as a Brophy aide, he could create the illusion that he speaks for the Senator, which doesn’t seem to have been the case. Even if I took the time to think about it, I probably wouldn’t associate myself with my boss. Otherwise, we could get a front page diary entitled, “Brophy Sends College Aide to Challenge Obama to Debate.” Much more potential downside for a senator.

      Ok, I’m done now.

      • Cartesian Doubt says:

        But it still looks like he was planted to challenge the president. His question was very pointed, and looked rehearsed. Seems a bit dodgy to me.

        You do have a point about distance from the Senator, but I still think it’s suspicious, especially since he shouted out throughout the town-hall to get the president’s attention.

        And does he really think he’d do better than John McCain or Hillary Clinton in a debate with the president? He’s 23, maybe a year removed from receiving hi Bachelor’s Degree, challenging the president to an “Oxford-style debate.” I think he’d be intellectually outgunned from the outset.

    • JeffcoBlue says:

      A staffer for a GOP elected official who attempts to repeatedly disrupt the President’s event, then goes out to waiting reporters to read them a scripted denunciation that no response from Obama could have changed, never once identifying himself as a staffer for a Republican elected official, is committing a very dishonest act. That’s about the purest form of “astroturf” there is.

      • dukeco1 says:

        I was there and observed the mans’ actions. I found it curious that he should be so demonstrative (continuing to stand and taunt the President by waving his hands in a “bring it on” gesture) until his identity was revealed to me this morning, here.

        Now it makes sense. The man had a plan to get the reporters to talk to him, which would not have happened unless the President selected him to ask a question (hence his “over the top” behavior to get the Presidents’ attention). I understand the political implications of his actions and do not disapprove of what he did. But to perpetrate such a plan which, again, is just politics, without disclosing his political affiliations is very bad form at best and downright disingenuous at worst.

        Had the man identified himself as an aide to Brophy, I think it fair to suggest the media would not have been nearly as interested in interviewing him.  

  3. Libertad says:

    Enter the SEIU non profit insurance plan.  We’ve all been waiting for this negotiation to fall to the non profit sector.  Enter the SEIU … taking a page out of the AARP book and developing a new billion dollar membership business.

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s health secretary is suggesting the White House is ready to accept nonprofit insurance cooperatives instead of a government-run public option in a health overhaul plan. A Republican senator says that is worth looking at.

    Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Obama still believes there should be choice and competition” in the health insurance market — but that a public option is “not the essential element.”

  4. sxp151 says:

    (thus breaking your link above) and also his Twitter page.

    For a guy so very desperate for publicity, he sure looks like a coward once he gets a little attention.

    • Yokel says:

      Attack the messenger.  Ignore the message.  

      • sxp151 says:

        It wasn’t a particularly deep message, so there wasn’t much to say in response. The basic premise of his question is that government is so awesome that private companies can’t possibly compete with them, even on a level playing field. I agree with that. What else do you want me to say?

        Now I’m just making fun of him for screaming at and patronizing the President.

        • BoulderRepublican says:

          …exactly what the president did.  You ignored the question.  It wasn’t “Oh, woe is me, how will the private sector ever compete with the model of efficiency that is the federal government?”  He asked how the private sector was supposed to compete with the federal government when it is subject to tons of regulations that the federal government isn’t.  And that’s just under EXISTING law.  We all know if the public option passed, the more liberal leaders of congress would do everything in their power to mold it into single-payer…faster.

          • harrydoby says:

            RedGreen already posted the YouTube video on the Obama/Grand Junction thread.  But the kid probably didn’t listen, or care for the answer, as his agenda was already preplanned.

  5. DavidThi808 says:

    I wasn’t there so I don’t know how much he shouted up, but the MSM reports that the townhall was well behaved so I’ll take that as evidence that he wasn’t too over the top.

    Yes he made noise to get called on. I think most of us here will do that at least a bit if we have a question we would like to see the politician speaking answer.

    To his point about how he identified himself – what should he have said? Depends on if he was there on his own initiative or with guidance from Brophy. I think he gave a fair answer. Not complete, but fair.

    Finally, he asked a damn good question. And I have yet to see a single person aside from Yokel speak to that question. Yet if we here “focus on the issues” rather than the histronics, then the question is what we should be discussing.

    • DavidThi808 says:

      “How in the world can a private corporation providing insurance compete with an entity that does not have to worry about making a profit, does not have to pay local property taxes — they do not have to — they’re not subject to local regulations? How can a company compete with that?”

      Lets take these points one at a time:

      1) Non-profit advantage. First off, the alternative proposed is CO-OPs and they have this same advantage. But yes, there is that advantage. So the private plans would have to be say 5% more efficient.

      2) This would be a new bureaucracy and so almost certainly would be housed in rented offices. Those offices, as they are privately owned, do pay property tax. So no advantage here.

      3) The only regulation you can be speaking of is insurance regulation. My guess is that the federal system will face the same constraints as the private plans. And if not, they absolutely should be put on equal footing here.

      What’s interesting is the same people that say the government would be horribly inefficient at running an insurance system are also scared to death that some slight advantage to the government means private business can’t compete.

      • sxp151 says:

        (his a little more serious than mine), and I made the point in your last paragraph already.

        This is all in the public record; anyone can scroll up to the top of the page and see that what you’re saying is wrong. Granted, Yokel and I filled up a lot of the page with silly back-and-forth, but disclosure is not a trivial issue, and the question was not ignored. (Nor is this thread the first place it was brought up or discussed.)

      • ThillyWabbit says:

        The public option is subject to the same regulations as any other exchange-participating plan, including state-based coverage mandates, as long as the states reimburse the exchange (regardless public or private status) for any mandated coverage that is not already included in the federal legislation. (HR 3200 Sec 203 (d)). Currently, large group employee benefit plans are covered under ERISA and are already exempt from most local regulation, and I doubt that will change.

        The property tax thing is bullshit. How much property tax does United Healthcare pay as a percentage of its revenue?

        United Healthcare rents Suite 300 at 6465 Greenwood Plaza Blvd. The total building’s property tax is $1.2 million. United’s share of that, if it’s not built into the lease, is so small that it wasn’t even itemized on the last state audit in 2003. Besides, administration of the public option will most likely be contracted to a private contractor anyway, just as Medicare already is.

        There is no requirement that private plans be for-profit. Never was. In fact, until quite recently, most insurance was nonprofit. Kaiser still is. Blue Cross still is in many parts of the country (but not Colorado). Yet United Healthcare still maintains a virtual monopoly in Denver. There is no nonprofit advantage.

        Basically the kid is full of ideological shit. His question was not substantive. He just thought it would be neat to try to serve the President of the United States.

    • harrydoby says:

      … that’s the only explanation.  My keyboard must using invisible ink…

      And I have yet to see a single person aside from Yokel speak to that question.

      • DavidThi808 says:


        I just read yours and SXP’s posts again and I didn’t see you speak to the three specific points this kid brought up.

        You did both speak to the general competitive issues between the insurance companies and a govt run system – and how service, prive, etc are the competitive field where the private companies will get their asses kicked.

        But that does not speak to the three specific items brought up – what am I missing?

        • harrydoby says:

          Great question, in fact.  But not the 3 objections used as examples.

          I thought it was important to respond to the actual question, not so much the 3 factors that aren’t that significant.

          The insurance companies don’t have much control over them anyway, and as  your analysis correctly proved, they are marginal factors at best, even if legislative relief were forthcoming.

          Why waste time fighting minor side-skirmishes when the main battle is in addressing the critical problems causing insurance companie’s vulnerability to real competition — waste, bureaucracy and poor customer satisfaction?  Which are very much under the control of the insurance companies to address, and would lead to better results for the companies and consumers alike.

          Yokel didn’t speak to those three items either, thus my confusion over your complaint until I read your followup analysis dismissing the relevance of the 3 factors.

          Apologies for going all Steve Harvey on you (and apologies to Steve for using his name in vain 😉


    • Ralphie says:

      However, he didn’t behave himself particularly well at the event and I think he was very disrespectful, almost contemptuous, of the President.

      I guess that’s a polite way to call him an asshole.

  6. redstateblues says:

    Everything I’ve seen today seems to indicate the public option is dead.

    And real reform along with it.

  7. sufimarie says:

    when @Zach_Lahn, who holds nothing but contempt for the poor can bully his way into a town hall and get press like this.

    I’ve been back and forth w/ Zach on twitter. I find him entertaining, particularly the choice of such an effeminate shot of him literally teabagging the crowd in his profile pic.

  8. Stagarite says:

    …who looked up the dolls’ dresses. (Oh, and Joe the Plumber was the one who got the other kiddies hooked on paint chips.)

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