Democrats Orchestrate Town-Hall Counterpunch

Democrats on Thursday mounted a broad counteroffensive against Republicans to try to reverse growing opposition to their health care plans and win back an electorate increasingly sympathetic to town-hall protesters. Americans for Stable Quality Care — which is funded by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the American Medical Association and the Service Employees International Union, among others — Thursday also launched a massive $12 million ad campaign defending President Barack Obama’s and other Democrats’ efforts to reform the health care system.The White House and the Democratic National Committee sought to downplay the significance and scope of the protests. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Thursday argued that despite extensive media coverage of the protests at some lawmakers’ town halls, “I hate to break it to you: I don’t think all the town halls are as you’re seeing them on TV. ... While I appreciate that you all have decided that every town-hall meeting ends in pushing, shoving and yelling, I don’t think many, well, I don’t know how many town halls you all have been to. They’re not completely indicative of what’s going on in America.—The DNC released a statement arguing that “outside the echo chamber of 24-hour cable news, Americans all across the country are attending town halls, holding coffee shop conversations and engaging in respectful, honest debates about the best way to achieve health insurance reform.—The DNC release pointed to events in North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Indiana, Ohio, Washington state and other areas that have not featured the kind of ugly protests that have been the focus on national news reports.Similarly, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (Calif.) office Thursday afternoon released a similar “fact sheet— detailing events where no protests occurred.Democrats’ counteroffensive appeared aimed at blunting the effect that the town halls appear to be having on the public’s opinion of the health care plans.A USA Today/Gallup Poll released Thursday showed that 34 percent of respondents were more sympathetic to the protesters’ views after having viewed coverage of the town-hall meetings. The poll also found that by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio — 35 percent to 16 percent — independents were becoming more sympathetic to the demonstrators. The poll of 1,000 adults, conducted Tuesday, had a margin of error of 4 points.The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee took aim at a handful of Senate Republicans whom, they argued, have shunned public forums in favor of more-controlled meetings with invited guests. “Republicans presided over the huge rise in health care costs, and now they’ve gone into hiding when it comes to fixing the problem. Instead of meeting with constituents and offering their own plans for reforming health care, Republicans choose to meet behind closed doors with special interests and say no to everything President Obama proposes,— DSCC Communications Director Eric Schultz said in a statement.Several prominent Democrats have also eschewed town-hall forums this recess, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), who is up for re-election next year. In the statement, the DSCC accused Republican Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.) and David Vitter (La.), as well as candidates Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Rep. Mark Kirk (Ill.) of either not holding town halls or participating in carefully orchestrated events that would minimize the likelihood of protests. All four are seeking re-election or election to the Senate next year.The DNC also weighed in, circulating news reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not yet read the House health care bill despite his harsh criticism of the legislation.WYMT-TV in Hazard, Ky., first reported that during a meeting with constituents, McConnell said he had not read the entire bill but had read enough to decide he didn’t support it. Bloggers quickly picked up on the story and highlighted repeated Republican complaints that Democrats were voting for health care legislation they had not read.Senate Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) defended his criticism of “end-of-life— provisions included in the House bill, which he has warned could result in rationing of health care to the elderly and other segments of the population.On Wednesday, Grassley was asked at a public meeting about claims by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and others that the legislation would include a “death panel— and mandatory euthanasia provisions for the elderly.While not endorsing that interpretation of the bill, which has been debunked by outside analysts, Grassley did not dismiss it either, saying, “If you’ve got a government-run health care program and you have crowding out ... when you couple this with all of other fears people have and what they do in England, then you get the idea that somebody is going to decide grandma has lived too long.—Democrats and others immediately pounced on the statement, arguing that it amounted to fear-mongering.But in a statement released by Grassley’s office on Thursday, the Iowa Republican argued it was because of these kinds of fears that the Finance Committee has left an end-of-life provision out of its bill.“The bill passed by the House committees is so poorly cobbled together that it will have all kinds of unintended consequences, including making taxpayers fund health care subsidies for illegal immigrants,— Grassley said. “On the end-of-life issue, there’s a big difference between a simple educational campaign, as some advocates want, and the way the House committee-passed bill pays physicians to advise patients ... while at the same time creating a government-run program that is likely to lead to the rationing of care for everyone,— he said. “We dropped end-of-life provisions from consideration entirely because of the way they could be misinterpreted and implemented incorrectly. Maybe others can defend a bill like the Pelosi bill that leaves major issues open to interpretation, but I can’t.—

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