Posted on 12 Aug 2009
What began as debate swiftly turned to angry confrontation over President Barack Obama's health care reform plan at town halls yesterday.
Jeers and taunts drowned out Democrats calling for a health care overhaul, and one lawmaker found a swastika spray-painted on a sign in front of his office. The president himself was treated more respectfully.
"You'll be gone, by God the bureaucrats will still be here," one man told Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) at a town hall in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
"If they don't let us vent our frustrations out, they will have a revolution," Mary Ann Fieser of Hillsboro, Missouri, told Sen. Claire McCaskill at her Missouri health care forum.
McCaskill admonished the rowdy crowd of some 1,500. "I don't understand this rudeness," she said. "I honestly don't get it."
The bitter sessions underscored the challenge for the administration as it tries to win over an increasingly skeptical public on the costly and far-reaching task of revamping the nation's health care system. In an effort to stop a hardening opposition, the White House created a Web site to dispel what it says are smears and House Democrats set up a health care "war room" out of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office to help lawmakers handle questions.
Obama answered his critics indirectly. At his town hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he urged Americans to ignore those who try to "scare and mislead the American people," telling a cordial audience, "For all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary is if we do nothing."
Obama is repeatedly trying to make the case to the public for passage of comprehensive legislation this year to bring down costs and extend coverage to many of the 50 million uninsured.
Obama's questions bore no resemblance to what Specter got.
At a crowded community college in Pennsylvania, Specter heard from speaker after speaker who accused him of trampling on their Constitutional rights, adding to the federal deficit or allowing government bureaucrats to take over health care.
"My children and grandchildren are going to pay for this," said another.
"One day God will stand before you and judge you!" shouted a man before security guards approached and he left the room.
Specter gamely tried to explain his positions - and on occasion mediate among shouting constituents - saying he wouldn't vote for a bill that adds to the deficit. He also said he wouldn't support a bill that extends coverage to illegal immigrants. None of the bills in Congress would provide health insurance to illegal immigrants.
One woman tried to make it personal for Specter, alleging that the Democrats' plan would not provide care to a man in his 70s with cancer, like Specter had.
"You're here because of the plan we have now," she said.
Specter, 79, who has battled cancer twice since 2005, showed some heat at that. "Well, you're just not right," he said. He called her claim a "vicious, malicious" rumor.
The passions of the crowd illustrated the problems for Democratic lawmakers around the country as they try to use the month-long August recess to promote Obama's agenda. There's not a single plan to promote, which Specter later told reporters made his job harder, along with the complexity of the issue. The House bill is more than 1,000 pages.
And, Specter said, "The objectors have gotten ahead of the curve." Asked why, he cited talk radio, among other factors.
Specter said that in a long life in politics he hadn't seen anything like what he witnessed Tuesday and at a town hall last weekend that turned even uglier.
"There is more anger in America today than at any time I can remember," Specter said.