Health care reform battle heats up ahead of Obama visit

August 10, 2009
photo - U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin speaks to a crowd gather for a Health Care forum at  Peoples Community Health Clinic Monday, Aug. 10, 2009 in Waterloo, Iowa. Photo by The Associated Press
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin speaks to a crowd gather for a Health Care forum at Peoples Community Health Clinic Monday, Aug. 10, 2009 in Waterloo, Iowa. Photo by The Associated Press 

After more than a year preparing to host her party’s national convention and helping its candidates win the White House and boost their majority in Congress, Pat Waak wanted August to be what it usually is — a quiet time when the political static recedes.

“It certainly has not been like that at all so far,” the chairwoman of the Colorado Democratic Party said Monday.

Partisans on both sides have turned the August congressional recess into a running battle in the war over health care reform. The issue will be part of the message President Barack Obama brings to Colorado on Saturday when he visits Grand Junction as part of a four-state Western swing.

Sensing they may have found the issue to break the Obama administration’s long legislative winning streak, Republican organizers and conservative talk radio hosts are urging their sympathizers to call, e-mail and visit their representatives’ offices and town hall meetings to register their opposition to proposals to make health insurance mandatory and create a government-run option to provide it.

At some events, the protesters have turned abusive. Members of Congress have been shouted down at town-hall meetings in Michigan, Missouri and Florida.

“I’m a little bit shocked at the degree of nastiness,” Waak said. She said right-wing rabble-rousers were exploiting a climate of anxiety created by the recession.

Dick Wadhams, chairman of the Colorado GOP, said the reaction by “public-spirited citizens” was fully justified. “The more the public has locked in on the details of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi health care reform plan, the more the public doesn’t like it,” he said Monday. “That’s why you’re seeing an outpouring of public opposition.”

Liberal groups aren’t exactly sitting on their hands. Organizing for America, the successor group to the Obama campaign, is sending customized e-mails to its supporters encouraging them to visit the local offices of members of Congress this week to voice their support for health care reform. E-mails in the Colorado Springs area provide directions to the local offices of Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, a foe of the health-care proposals, and Sen. Michael Bennet, who supports a public-option health care plan but insists that it not increase the budget deficit.

Colorado’s congressional delegation has been spared any ugly scenes, so far.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, drew a crowd of at least 250 to his face-the-voters meeting in Brighton Saturday. Most such meetings draw “anywhere between five and 25,” his spokeswoman said. Supporters and opponents of the health care proposals waved signs and banners at the meeting, but it went off peacefully.

Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, has a busy town-hall dance card, with one event last week and five more scheduled before Congress reconvenes Sept. 8.

But other Colorado Democrats haven’t yet risked public confrontation. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, conducted a “telephone town hall” last week but has scheduled no face-to-face meetings open to the public. Neither has Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa. Staffers for Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Fort Collins, were reported to be weighing “security concerns” before scheduling any town-hall meetings this month.

Lamborn has tentatively scheduled two town-hall meetings, in Woodland Park on Aug. 18 and a week later in Cañon City.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, is scheduled to meet with the public on Wednesday in Littleton, and his Web site promises two more town hall meetings during the recess.

Contact the writer at 476-1654


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