U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway told small groups of constituents with whom he met in Early, Bangs and Brownwood on Thursday the health care reform bill that narrowly passed the house last week is “ill-conceived and too expensive” and will “hand to future generations a problem they will never be able to unwind from.”

But, Conaway said, “This bill is a long way from passing.”

Conaway, who represents the 11th District which includes Brown County and a good part of Central and West Texas, was one of 215 in the house who voted against the bill, which a majority of 220 passed.

The house bill, Conaway said, was “a little like two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for lunch. Now, with the bill in the senate we’re going to begin to see the debate play out.”

Conaway said his issues with the 2,000 page bill approved by the house were that “it is an abrupt and manipulative change.” However, he added, “It’s not enough to be against something, if you can’t replace it with something that’s an improvement.”

And Conaway said a second plan he and others preferred was a 218-page document which placed greater emphasis on tort reform, allowed for the purchase of insurance across state lines and dealt with pre-existing conditions.

“Immigration doesn’t hold a candle to health care right now,” Conaway said, shaking his head. “We have estimated that if the bill passes, it will cost this country 5 1/2 million jobs. When you have a bill that is 2,000 pages long, people don’t trust the writing on the paper.

“It has become habit to take the future’s money to handle today’s problems, and as a federal government we simply cannot do that any longer.”

Spending about an hour at each of his three Brown County stops on Thursday, Conaway spoke first about health care, then invited questions from the fairly small audience groups. Questions asked ranged from regulations; to the president’s appointments of “czars”; to the economy and bail outs; and to the shooting attack at Fort Hood.

“I don’t think we yet understand the betrayal of someone who is American born, American educated, turning so radical as to take up arms and kill soldiers in uniform on our own military base,” Conaway said.

Though Conaway did not say the name of the suspected killer, Maj. Nidal Hasan, the congressman did stress that since the suspect will apparently survive his injuries, as a “true Jihadist, he will brag about it. He will confess which means we will have him. He won’t get off.”

Conaway also told the groups of having gone to Fort Hood on Friday, the day after the shootings, and the day the 13 victims’ flag-draped coffins were transported from Fort Hood to Dover Air Force Base, where the bodies of the fallen will be autopsied and prepared for burial.

Each of the 13 coffins were taken from a hearse down a long runway bordered by “at least 300 soldiers,” Conaway said. Three honor guards escorted each casket, marching slowly and ceremoniously beside it to the C-17, which is a giant cargo aircraft.

“The last of the 13 took the exact same amount of time as the first,” Conaway said.

After the 13th coffin had been loaded on the aircraft, Conaway was one of a small group to go aboard.

“I was crying, by then,” Conaway said. “To see those 13 flag-draped coffins; to think a little more than 24 hours before these had been men and women planning their weekends, doing their jobs. One woman was pregnant; one man was going to his kid’s soccer game on Saturday; that these things were taken away from them by the heinous acts of someone worshiping a god that does not exist …

“That scene will be forever etched in my mind.”

Bulletin staff writer Rick Phelps contributed to this report.