Democratic Lawmakers Get an Earful on Health Care Reform

White House calls the anger "manufactured"; protestors say it's quite real.

August 4, 2009, 6:08 PM

Aug. 4, 2009— -- At a town hall meeting today on health care reform, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., got an earful.

"You're lying to me!" yelled Don Jeror, a local conservative activist in the upstate New York district, where Hoyer was visiting.

The same scene of visceral anger has been playing out all over the country, as Members of the House hold town-hall meetings during their recess and are confronted by voters unhappy with President Obama's push for health care reform.

Some Members of Congress have found it exasperating. Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., canceled town-hall meetings after a particularly unruly group prompted him to get a police escort back to his car. Rep. Frank Kratovil, D-Md., was hung in effigy.

In Austin, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, was shouted down before he could even speak by a crowd of huddle protestors chanting, "Just say no!"

Doggett says there's nothing authentic about these protests.

"This notion of a grass-roots campaign is totally and completely phony," Doggett said in an interview with ABC News. "The Republican Party has coordinated this apparent outrage and stirred it up."

Doggett said that he's happy for dialogue, but "there's no way you can change the legislation to satisfy any of these Republicans and their insurance allies."

In fact, that's the Democratic line -- rallying against insurance companies.

"In spite of the loud, shrill voices trying to interrupt town-hall meetings and just throwing a monkey wrench into everything, we're going to continue to be positive and work hard," Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said today after a visit with President Obama.

Democrats say this public anger is largely bogus -- organized by conservative groups funded by corporate interests, such as the group Conservatives for Patients Rights.

"I think what you've seen is they have bragged about manufacturing, to some degree, that anger," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said today.

There's clearly some organization and strategy. But Bob MacGuffie, a grass-roots libertarian activist from Connecticut, insists that the anger is not manufactured and is "most assuredly real."

Conservatives Insist the Anger is Real

MacGuffie wrote a widely circulated memo advising other conservatives at town meetings to put their congressman "on the defensive with your questions and follow-up." The goal, he wrote, "is to rattle him."

"We're organizing those voices, but it's a real emotion, coast to coast," MacGuffie said.

Max Papas, an official from FreedomWorks, which is run by corporate lobbyist and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, says his organization's role is almost beside the point

"Those inside the Beltway need to know that you can't fake this sort of outrage outside the Beltway," said Papas. "It only happens when they are very concerned about what is going on inside of Washington, and it's a clear sign that people are very concerned.

Polls indicate that these protestors are not representative of the public at large, which overwhelmingly supports provisions such as "requiring insurance companies to sell health coverage to people, even if they have pre-existing medical conditions" and "requiring that all Americans have health insurance, with the government providing financial help for those who can't afford it."

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Penn., were treated to some not-quite-brotherly love in Philadelphia over the weekend.

"You want me to believe that a government that can't even run a Cash for Clunkers program can run one-seventh of the economy?" yelled a Philadelphia town-hall attendee. "No sir, no!"

Specter today told ABC News that "the town-hall meeting was really orchestrated with people there to raise objections and really to create a fuss. But we were able to bring it under control and have quite a number of questions and answers, and I thought over all it was constructive. There was some people who wanted to demonstrate a little, but we could handle them in stride."

Avery Miller, Stephanie Smith, Sarah Tobianski and Steve Portnoy contributed to this story.

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