Anger At Town Halls Continues, Sides Trade Barbs
Lawmakers home for August recess ran into still more anger at town halls over the proposed health care overhaul.
The New York Times: "The queries hurled at legislators from the Atlantic Seaboard to the nation's midsection reflected deep-seated fears, a general suspicion of government and, in some cases, a lack of knowledge on the part of the questioners. At the White House, President Obama's chief spokesman, Robert Gibbs, was asked again on Wednesday if, perhaps, the administration had not done a good enough job explaining and selling the proposed health care overhaul. Mr. Gibbs suggested that the media bore some of the blame, for doing too many 'X said this, Y said this' stories, without rooting out, and pointing out, unambiguous falsehoods" (Stout, 8/12).
In the meantime, the FBI is looking into who spray painted a swastika at the office of Rep. David Scott, a black Democrat from Georgia, CQ Politics reports (Allen, 8/12).
NPR: "The act of vandalism came 10 days after Scott engaged in a verbal confrontation with protesters at a town hall debate where President Obama's health care overhaul plan was discussed. Scott says race has become the undertone of the health care debate. 'Racism, unfortunately, is part of the fabric of America's society,' Scott said" (8/12).
Roll Call reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada accused opponents of health care reform of making robocalls to other lawmakers' offices spoofing his phone number to make it appear as if he was calling. The calls play a recording that is critical of reform (Stanton, 8/12).
Politico reports that anger at town halls aren't new, according to House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.: "But she did admit that those past fights weren't 'quite as severe' as this year's version, in which lawmakers from both parties have been shouted down at usually staid town hall meetings by opponents of the Democrats' comprehensive health care plan" (O'Connor, 8/12).
There are some sympathetic crowds out there, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer: About 650 people - diverse in age, race, and occupation, but nearly all supporters of a health-care overhaul - last night crowded into a Center City church for a town meeting with (Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa.) that, in sharp contrast to recent gatherings across the country, was overwhelmingly civil (Vitez, Matza and Sullivan, 8/13).
In a second story, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., said in State College, Pa., Wednesday that "the people interrupting the gatherings to protest proposals to overhaul the health-care system 'are not representative of the American people' but deserve to be heard" (Fitzgerald, 8/12).
And protests don't look like they're going to stop anytime soon, as The Associated Press reports that Montana citizens are readying their own protests ahead of a visit there Friday by Obama: "Organizers expect as many as 500 people at a rally outside the Gallatin Field Airport hangar in Belgrade where Obama will hold the event. Patients First said the protest is intended to show leaders the public is not happy with the expensive reform proposals. The group is affiliated with the Americans for Prosperity activists who came together during the "Tea Party" anti-big-government protests" (Gouras, 8/12).
The White House played down the protests as not-representative of larger opinion, according to NPR: "During his press briefing Wednesday, White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs downplayed the protests. 'I doubt we're seeing anything that's representative of town hall meetings, despite the food fight' being shown on cable news, he said (Halloran, 8/13).
Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, burst out laughing when he watched a video of Specter's comments later, Politico reports in a separate story: Asked to respond to the clip during an interview with Fox News' Neil Cavuto, Steele had to gather himself just to answer the question. 'I'm sorry, I'm laughing, I'm sorry,' Steele said as he tried to respond to Specter. 'Not representative of America? Well, then who are they representative of?' Steele asked. 'This is part of the craziness that we're hearing from the left on this issue. They're trying to obfuscate the fact that the American people ticked off, as one of the participants said yesterday, and they're very concerned'" (Barr, 8/12).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.