GOP Turns Up Heat as Health Care Vote Nears

Posted November 2, 2009 at 6:34pm

House Republicans are planning a series of attacks and initiatives this week to highlight the shortcomings of the Democratic health care package in hopes of rekindling the fervor of August’s town hall protests and giving fence-sitting House Democrats incentive to reject their leadership’s plan.

GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters Monday that they have encouraged Members to use “every opportunity,— be it on the airwaves or on the House floor, to talk about their opposition to the “Pelosi health care bill.—

On Tuesday, Republicans will open a GOP-sponsored “reading room— in the Longworth House Office Building staffed with policy analysts to help Members navigate through the 1,990-page legislation.

Pence said Republicans will continue to make the case through press events and policy papers that the Democratic bill represents an expensive government takeover of the American health care system.

Boehner reiterated on Monday that Republicans would release their alternative to the Democratic bill within the next few days.

“We are hopeful that Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] will allow us time to debate and vote on our substitute,— Boehner said.

The GOP plan relies on low-cost proposals such as allowing insurance to be purchased across state lines, allowing small businesses to band together to get cheaper rates and limiting medical malpractice lawsuits, according to an outline given to reporters Monday.

Republicans will also propose additional federal funding to beef up high-risk pools run by state governments for people who have pre-existing conditions. Most states have such pools, but they often are much more expensive than regular insurance and have had only limited success in reducing the ranks of the uninsured.

Republicans also hope to use the week to target their message to women.

“It is a fact that 85 percent of heath care decisions in this country are made by American women,— Pence said.

Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) and Republican women will launch a series of events this week targeting the Democratic health care bill, including an online health care video Wednesday.

[IMGCAP(1)]This week’s events will culminate with a 12-hour town hall hosted by House Republicans and sponsored by the Republican National Committee. The online meeting will run from 1 p.m. Thursday to 1 a.m. Friday so voters from coast to coast can again wade into the health care debate.

Democrats dismissed the Republican tactics as “stunts— that would do little to lower the cost of heath care.

“The reason we are dealing with this health care crisis now is because House Republicans ignored it for the 12 years they were in the majority,— said Doug Thornell, a spokesman for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.). “Now, it’s been nearly 140 days since the GOP leadership promised the American people a health care bill. Where is it?—

In addition to a series of policy maneuvers inside the Capitol, several GOP Members will participate in a rally Thursday with thousands of Tea Party protesters who are expected to descend on the West Front in a final attempt to express their discontent with the Democratic bill. The anti-tax tea parties created a surge of enthusiasm among Republicans earlier this year.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and other members of the Republican Study Committee will hold a press conference and rally in front of the Capitol at noon on Thursday — one week after their Democratic counterparts stood in the same place and announced the introduction of their health care overhaul plan.

“We expect conservative commentators to help us get out the word, but this is a Member-driven event so we’re encouraging Members to invite folks from their district and state to come to Washington,— a GOP aide said. “With the short notice we are not expecting a large rally, but rather are looking for an opportunity for average folks to have their voices heard and join together with the House GOP on this important issue.—

The aide said a number of “non-Congressional well-known conservatives— will speak at the event but added that details had yet to be finalized.

Bachmann made a plea Friday for people to join the rally during an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News.

“This is the crown jewel of socialism, and we only have next week to stop it,— Bachmann said.

Bachmann then encouraged viewers to come to Washington, D.C., to walk with her through “Cannon, Longworth and Rayburn, walk through the Capitol [and] sit in the gallery— to protest the Democratic bill.

Brendan Steinhauser, a spokesman for FreedomWorks, which is helping to coordinate the event, said the rally was a “last-ditch effort— to persuade Blue Dog Democrats and other fence-sitters to vote against the Democratic health care reform package.

Steinhauser said they are encouraging attendees to visit their Members as well as the offices of Blue Dogs and other Members who may still be undecided on the bill.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.