Parties Ratchet Up Rhetoric on Health Care Town Halls

Posted August 14, 2009 at 4:37pm

Senate Republicans fired back Friday at Democratic claims that GOP leaders are eschewing public forums and town halls to avoid difficult questions on health care reform, arguing that Democrats are abandoning the time-honored August recess practice while looking to demonize their opponents.In a memo circulated by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Republicans accuse Senate Democrats of engaging in a campaign of “brutal name-calling, downplaying voters’ concerns, collecting the email addresses for possible White House dissenters, confusing voters to believe they have meetings with their congressional leaders, and refusing to answer legitimate health care questions in August.—The attack on Democrats comes in response to a renewed offensive by the White House and Democrats to push back against Republicans and conservative opponents to their health care reform plans. On Thursday the White House and Democrats began arguing that the town-hall protests against health care reform have been largely limited to a handful of well-publicized events — while at the same time arguing that Republican leaders and those up for re-election have avoided town-hall meetings.But the NRSC points to the fact that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have decided to not hold public meetings on health care.Other Senate Democrats, like New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, are still holding public meetings in their states but are not participating in town-hall forums on health care like many of their colleagues.In the memo, the NRSC also takes Reid to task for calling reform opponents “evil-mongers— and derided Durbin’s characterization of the meetings as “sucker-punch town-hall meetings.—“As Senate Democrats prepare for the rest of the August recess, the real question is whether they will continue counterpunching’ Americans by calling them names such as evil-mongers’ and un-American,’ refusing to answer their constituents’ questions, and downplaying voters’ very real concerns about health care,— the memo argues.Meanwhile, the health care debate continues to claim a series of high-profile casualties. For instance, Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s (D-Ark.) campaign Friday was forced to shoot down a claim by Organizing for America — the Democratic National Committee’s grass-roots arm that grew out of President Barack Obama’s White House campaign — the she was holding a public health care event Saturday in Benton County.The OFA had urged its members to come to the event to support Democratic health care plans — which Lincoln has not yet signed on to — while conservatives were planning their own effort to bring in protesters.However the event — an annual rally of county Democrats — is a fundraiser for the Benton County Democratic Party Committee and is not connected to health care.But with the possibility of protesters from both sides of the debate swamping the event, Lincoln’s campaign Friday sought to clarify the situation.“An email dispatched to Arkansans by a Washington-based group called Organizing for America incorrectly describes Saturday’s annual Benton County Democratic Rally as a Health Care Public Event.’ Senator Lincoln is pleased that she was invited by the Benton County Democrats to attend their annual rally, formerly known as the Little Flock Picnic, which is an annual fund raiser for the Benton County Democratic Party Committee,— the campaign said in a release, adding that, “Senator Lincoln believes it is unfortunate that the erroneous email by Organizing for America has misstated its purpose. We have contacted representatives of the organization and requested that they email the same list to correct the record.—Meanwhile, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) on Friday stepped down from his position with DLA Piper law firm in the wake of questions about his role in fomenting protests against the Democratic reform legislation. Armey is the founder of FreedomWorks, one of the groups that has helped organize protesters, and has worked with the group on its health care strategy even as DLA Piper was employed by health insurance clients.