Lawmakers Try To Cope With Very Strong Opinions On Health Overhaul

Town hall meeting fracases continue, as members of Congress 'feel the heat' of very strong opinions on health reform.

Rep. Baron P. Hill, D-Ind., the leader of the Blue Dogs, "came home on recess to find himself a target of groups that want to steer the August conversation and the autumn vote," The Washington Post reports. "Conservative opponents are accusing him of ducking honest debate. Obama supporters by the dozen are using tactics more typical of a political campaign to keep him on board. So many people are calling and writing Hill that the telephone lines in his Bloomington office are often jammed." But "one thing Hill is not doing is holding public town-hall meetings like those at which opponents have heckled members of Congress. He held at least six unannounced meetings with constituents last week and is mulling a day-long series of one-on-one meetings or a telephone conference call" (Slevin, 8/10).

In an interview with NPR, Heather Liggett, who organized the July 4th "anti-tax tea party" in Austin, said the accusations that protestors are paid or bused in is "offensive" and "insulting." She says her Representative, Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, is "not listening to us. He's disrespecting us. And he's out there saying that he was shouted down and not allowed to speak. And that's actually false. He came, he gave a five to seven minute speech and then there was about a 40-minute question and answer session" (Block, 8/7).

CQ Politics: "Reports of town hall tumult from the day before lit up the blogosphere Friday with bloggers on the right decrying the tactics of 'union thugs' and those on the left accusing anti-overhaul activists of 'incitement.' Protesters chanting 'You work for us! You work for us!' appeared to dominate if not drown out the start of a town hall meeting in Tampa held by House Democrat Kathy Castor of Florida. Conservative blogger Matt Drudge ran a video of the event with the headline 'Union Thugs Unleashed,' suggesting the disruption was caused by union members denying protesters access to the room where the meeting was held" (Reichard, 8/8).

USA Today reports on Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Va.: "At Perriello's forum, there were signs that some members of the audience were talking as much to YouTube as each other. Video cameras and cellphones were trained on every exchange with the congressman. One questioner, Justin Smith, 27, who told Perriello that his Social Security money is 'being stolen from me,' carried a book by conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck. Beck's website carries a list of congressional forums and urges fans to 'join the health care debate.' Perriello dismissed the notion that he was the victim of an organized ambush. 'We helped organize it,' he said after the meeting. 'We sent out cards'" (Kiely and Fritze, 8/10).

When Rep. Frank Kratovil Jr., D-Md., was hanged in effigy outside his district office and later confronted "angry conservatives" in an elementary school cafeteria, it was "part of a phenomenon that swept the country last week, with increasingly ugly scenes of partisan screaming matches, scuffles, threats and even arrests," The New York Times reports. "The traditional town hall meeting, a staple of Congressional constituent relations, had been hijacked, overrun by sophisticated social-networking campaigns -- those on the right protesting so loudly as to shut down public discourse and those on the left springing into action to shut down the shutdowns."

Members of Congress cannot "be certain that their questioners are truly constituents," nor that "the complaining constituent" is who he seems to be. "Instead of each side's holding rallies and protests, the activism seemed directed personally at lawmakers, with the aim of overwhelming them ... Some might call it democracy in action, but there is a risk. If the pattern continues, lawmakers could grow suspicious, refusing to believe that their encounters with voters are genuine" (Stolberg, 8/8).

The Hill: "House Democratic leaders have set up a healthcare 'war room' to help their rank-and-file members navigate a tumultuous August in which they find themselves on the defensive on their signature issue. The effort is being run out of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's (D-Md.) office, but is being manned around-the-clock by a rotation of leadership and key committee staff members, according to leadership aides" (Allen, 8/10).

ABC News: "Supporters of President Obama, formerly signed up as members of 'Obama for America,' received an email today from Mitch Stewart, the director of the group's current incarnation, Organizing for America, to show up at town halls and congressional offices as a counter to the protestors against the president's health care reform push" (Tapper, 8/9).

The News & Observer: "Across the country and the state, the debate over health-care reform is being played out in noisy protests that denounce 'socialized medicine.' But on Saturday morning in Johnston County, U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge got a taste of the argument's quieter side. A group of his constituents gathered around plates of biscuits and eggs to tell Etheridge, a Lillington Democrat, that they want a national health insurance plan" (Collins, 8/9).

CBS News reports on a town hall meeting in Mississippi. "The summer recess is no holiday for Mississippi Congressman Gene Taylor - conservative, or blue dog Democrat." A town hall meeting that "usually draws two dozen brought 200 or more this week." Some were "part of an organized grassroots campaign against the president's health care reform and his party in general" (Cobiella, 8/9).

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