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Republicans intend to use the fight over health care reform to “break” President Obama, says at least one Republican senator. Jim DeMint (R-SC) joins other Republican lawmakers in a conference call with so-called “tea party” organizers (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009) to plan how to use town hall confrontations with Democratic lawmakers to help stall any health care reform bill from being voted on in Congress until at least after the August recess. The call was organized by the lobbying organization Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR). “I can almost guarantee you this thing won’t pass before August, and if we can hold it back until we go home for a month’s break in August,” members of Congress will hear from “outraged” constituents, DeMint says. “Senators and Congressmen will come back in September afraid to vote against the American people.… [T]his health care issue is D-Day for freedom in America. If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.” One of the talking points from CPR is to characterize the reform package as a “government takeover” of health care. (Smith 7/17/2009) When Obama says on PBS that “[w]hat they [DeMint and other Republicans] don’t recognize is, this isn’t about me; it’s about the American people… [a]nd things have gotten worse since 1993,” DeMint takes to Fox News to say the argument is about “socialism versus freedom,” and challenge Obama to a debate. “So, I’m glad to have the debate with him,” DeMint says, “but frankly, I’ve been working on health care for over 10 years. I think I know a lot more about how it works than he does. So I’m ready.” (Corley 7/22/2009)
Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR), an anti-health care reform lobbying organization owned by former health care industry executive Rick Scott (see August 4, 2009), sends an e-mail to a listserv called the Tea Party Patriots Health Care Reform Committee detailing over 100 “town hall” meetings to take place during the August recess. All are to be hosted by Democratic members of Congress, and most will feature discussions of the White House/Congressional Democrats’ health care reform proposals. (Beutler 8/3/2009) The Tea Party Patriots Health Care Reform Committee has hundreds of members on its mailing list, and cross-connects to other, larger mailing lists for anti-reform groups such as Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR), Patients First, Patients United Now (an affiliate of Americans for Prosperity), and FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). CPR features the same list of town hall meetings on its own Web site. The liberal news site TPMDC notes that the same listservs have featured blatantly racist messages such as pictures of President Obama with a bone through his nose (see July 28, 2009). (Conservatives for Patients' Rights 7/2009; Beutler 8/3/2009)
Some Democratic politicians accuse Republicans of organizing “angry mobs” to disrupt town hall meetings around the country (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 5, 2009). Conservatives retort that the protests are spontaneous outbursts of anger and concern from ordinary citizens who oppose the White House’s health care reform proposals. According to a Democratic National Committee (DNC) ad, Republicans “have no plan for moving our country forward, so they’ve called out the mob.… [D]esperate Republicans and their well-funded allies” are trying to “destroy President Obama.” Senator Arlen Specter, who took part in a contentious town hall three days ago (see August 2, 2009), says: “I think that a fair amount of the activity was orchestrated. I think a fair amount of it was involved individuals who came without being orchestrated. But it was a battleground.” And White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says some of the anger from the crowds is manufactured: “In fact, I think you’ve had groups today, Conservatives for Patients Rights [CPR], that have bragged about organizing and manufacturing that anger” (see August 4, 2009). In return, CPR spokesman Brian Burgess says, “The White House is desperate for a scapegoat to blame for their failure to convince Americans to let the government take over health care.” A Democratic organization with connections to the Obama administration, Organizing for America, is planning strategy for upcoming events, including a Michigan appearance by Vice President Joe Biden. An e-mail from the organization encourages Michigan Democrats to “stand with the vice president and against the angry mobs being directed by Republican operatives in Washington to disrupt events throughout the month of August.” DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse says that mobs of right-wing activists are being transported from one rally to another by “well-funded, highly organized groups run by Republican operatives and funded by the special interests who are desperately trying to stop the agenda for change the president was elected to bring to Washington.… This type of anger and discord did not serve Republicans well in 2008—and it is bound to backfire again.” Republican National Committee (RNC) spokeswoman Gail Gitcho responds: “In a remarkable example of callousness, the White House and Democrats have reduced the concerns and opinions of millions of Americans to ‘manufactured’ and have labeled them as ‘angry extremists,’ for voicing their opposition to President Obama’s government-run health care experiment.… Are Democrats so out of touch that they are shocked to learn that Americans are concerned about their $1.6 trillion government-run health care experiment?” CNN political analyst Bill Schneider observes: “On issues like this, intensity of opinion matters as much as numbers. Opponents of the president’s health care reform seem to feel more intensely about it than Obama’s supporters.” (CNN 8/5/2009) Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says he believes the use of intimidation and extreme tactics—including displays of overtly Nazi symbols and hanging representatives in effigy—will “backfire in a big way” because their aim is to keep people from talking about health care. “When you’ve got people shouting and hanging members of Congress in effigy,” he says, “most people are going to react badly to that. I think most people want to have a civil discussion.” Van Hollen says that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and other Republican leaders “are actively involved in sort of fueling the fire of these disruptions. They’ve got to be careful what they ask for here.… If Republicans want to continue to ally themselves with these fringe groups, it will continue to discredit them.” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain counters: “Democrats have gone from blaming Republican obstruction, to the insurance industry, to Matt Drudge, and now they are even blaming the voters who are registering their opposition at town halls across the country. At what point are they going to get the message that people simply don’t want a government takeover of health care?” (Bendery and Kucinich 8/5/2009)
Tim Phillips, the president of the corporate lobbying firm Americans for Prosperity (AFP), is interviewed by progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. AFP, like FreedomWorks, Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR), and other organizations, is responsible for what Maddow calls “astroturfing” the health care reform debate—creating “fake grassroots organizations” such as Patients First and Patients United Now that purport to represent ordinary citizens, but are in fact entities created and controlled by corporate and/or political interests (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009).
Representing 'Real Folks' - Phillips is jovial with Maddow, insisting that AFP merely represents the interests of “real folks.” When asked who funds AFP’s “grassroots” offshoot, Patients First, instead of answering, Phillips tells Maddow that the organization is made up of patients “just like us. I’m a patient. Rachel, you’re a parent. So I think we’re all patients in this issue. And we all have something at stake here.” Phillips even denies being a Washington lobbyist, but instead calls himself “a community organizer” similar to the position once held by President Obama. “What do you think about that?” he asks. “Maybe I’m qualified to be president.” He finally claims that AFP is funded by citizen donors, though he admits that the bulk of its money comes from foundations such as the Koch Industries Foundations, the grant-giving arm of Koch Industries, the largest privately held oil company in the US. Maddow says, “[I]t seems odd to just call yourself patients like us when you’re a huge recipient of funding from a big company, and you’re trying to distinguish yourself from lobbyists and big companies.” Phillips in turn says that to label groups like AFP anything but citizen organizations is “demeaning” to the ordinary citizens who turn out at the rallies and forums. Maddow responds: “I’m not calling anybody, any individual American, a front group. I’m calling Americans for Prosperity’s subgroups a front group for the corporate interest that funds you, guys. Honestly, I mean, that’s the allegation that we’re making here.”
'We Would Love to Have More Corporate Funding' - Phillips says: “[C]orporate interests are a minuscule part of our funding.… And by the way, we would love to have more corporate funding. So if there’s more corporations watching us, feel free to give to us. We’ll be happy to have their support as well. We will get the message out on this health care issue.” He denies ever taking money from Exxon, but says AFP would be more than happy to accept Exxon and other such funding. Maddow notes that Exxon has listed AFP as a recipient of large amounts of money, and Phillips qualifies his statement: “This year, we haven’t had any Exxon money.… But again, though, we’re happy to take corporate money.” Maddow says that she isn’t sure the protesters showing up at the town halls at the behest of AFP know that the organization is funded by oil and health care corporations.
'Gotcha Politics' - After Maddow notes Phillips’s involvement with several Republican political and lobbying campaigns, Phillips accuses her of playing “gotcha politics.” Maddow retorts that Americans “want to know who the players are in this fight and who’s organizing what are being maintained as if they’re just spontaneous efforts happening organically by Americans who are angry and they’re aren’t being coordinated by industry and by lobbyists and by political campaign groups associated with the Republican Party. And that’s why I want to talk about who you are, because you have such an important role in coordinating these events and I think the American people are curious.” In his turn, Phillips says that it is “gotcha politics” that is helping the anti-reform movement win the issue. Before Maddow ends the interview, Phillips invites her to join AFP on the bus tour “as my guest to see these real Americans. Would you do that?” Maddow replies, “I can’t bear the conflict of interest with your corporate funders.” (MSNBC 8/7/2009)
The St. Petersburg Times’s “PolitiFact” debunks a recent claim that the Democrats’ health care reform proposal would let citizens die if keeping them alive would cost more than $22,000. The conservative Club for Growth has budgeted $1.2 million for advertisements opposing health care reform. One ad claims, “The health care reform plan would set limits similar to the ‘socialized’ system in Britain, where people are allowed to die if their treatment would cost more than $22,000.” It depicts a man weeping over another person lying in a hospital bed, while a voiceover says: ”$22,750. In England, government health officials decided that’s how much six months of life is worth. Under their socialized system if a medical treatment costs more, you’re out of luck. That’s wrong for America.” While the ad does not directly state that the Obama administration would put such a price tag on the lives of the elderly and dying, as PolitiFact writes: “[T]he implication is clear: The reform plan will lead to callous decisions that would allow people to die if they face a costly treatment.” The ad is based on “comparative effectiveness research,” which aims to find the most effective treatments for the lowest cost. Other conservative groups such as Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR) have portrayed the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research (FCCCER), a new board created by the stimulus bill to find the best health treatments, as being modeled after the British system. Unfortunately for the CPR claim, the proposed American system would be nothing like its British counterpart, which is run by government entities. In Britain, a government board, the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), decides whether particular treatments are covered or not. The Democrats’ proposal says that the FCCCER will not “mandate coverage, reimbursement, or other policies for any public or private payer.” Nor will its reports or recommendations “be construed as mandates or clinical guidelines for payment, coverage, or treatment.” PolitiFact notes that several prominent Republicans, such as Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), have made unsubstantiated claims that elderly people would be denied care in favor of younger patients if they were in Britain. Michael Cannon of the libertarian Cato Institute says that while the Club for Growth’s claim about a price limit of $22,750 for extending the life of the patient is not completely inaccurate (it is based on a single unusual case), the Democrats’ legislation does not “say it’s going to do what Britain is doing.” Dr. Sean Tunis, a former top Medicare and Medicaid official in the Bush adminstration, calls the ad “misleading” and “fallacious.” PolitiFact concludes: “[T]he ad’s main point about cost limits is incorrect. There is no such practice in the comparative effectiveness program, nor is it part of the current health reform proposals pending in Congress. The House and Senate bills under consideration would not require the government to decide how much a person’s life is worth.” It terms the ad “False.” (St. Petersburg Times 8/6/2009)
Conservative Fox News and radio talk show host Sean Hannity urges fellow conservatives to turn out in force at town halls in their area to protest health care reform. On his Web site, Hannity urges protesters to “Become a part of the mob! Attend an Obama Care Townhall near you!” Hannity’s site lists a number of town halls; at the bottom of the page, he credits the “Astroturf” lobbying group Conservatives for Patients Rights (see August 4, 2009) as the source of the list. (Sean Hannity 8/2009; Urbina 8/7/2009)
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