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Congress Taxes

Ady Barkan, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, speaks during a news conference with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., in opposition to the Republican tax bill, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Ady Barkan is dying, but he hopes his message will not. 

Barkan, a progressive activist, is in central New York Friday. He will lead a press conference outside of U.S. Rep. John Katko's Syracuse office to criticize the congressman's support for the Republicans' tax plan. 

The stop in Syracuse is part of Barkan's "Be a Hero" tour. The California man, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is traveling the country asking his fellow Americans to "save our democracy."

"I don't have a lot of time left to be sharing my message and urging people to get involved," Barkan said in an interview Friday. "We decided to do this tour as a whirlwind effort to reach as many people as possible and do everything I can to try to make our country a better place for my son and his children." 

Barkan also hopes to deliver a message to Katko, R-Camillus, who voted for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December. One of the provisions in the law, which was signed by President Donald Trump, eliminates the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate penalty. 

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that 13 million more Americans will be uninsured by 2027 due to the elimination of the penalty. The agency also projected that premiums for those buying insurance through the individual markets would spike. 

In New York, requested premium rates for the individual health insurance market are expected to increase by 24 percent in 2019. That's double the requested rate if the individual mandate penalty wasn't repealed. 

Katko has defended his vote and opposition to the individual mandate. During a telephone town hall meeting Tuesday, he offered a critique of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate.

"I think it's inherently un-American to say you must do something or you will be penalized, and that's what the (Affordable Care Act) did for young adults," he said. 

Later in the call, Katko said the individual mandate "wasn't really working anyways" and downplayed the significance of the repeal provision in the tax law. 

When asked about Katko's comments, Barkan said the premium increases amount to an additional tax. 

"We don't call it a tax, but that's what it is," he said. "Working families paying more so that Katko's millionaire contributors can get a tax break." 

With the election a little more than three months away, Barkan is encouraging those who are politically active to organize their family and friends. He also wants those who typically only vote in presidential elections to understand why midterm elections are important, too. 

The voters who only cast ballots in presidential election years need to vote this year, Barkan explained, because "their health care and their democracy is at stake." 

"This is really a moment for all of us to step up and take responsibility for our democracy," he said. 

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