Health Care Town Hall Debates Stoke Outrage

Obama works to debunk myths that plan promotes euthanasia, cuts Medicaid.

August 8, 2009, 8:35 PM

Aug. 8. 2009, 2009 -- The debate over health care reform is getting louder on both sides.

At a meet-and-greet held by Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., outside Denver, hundreds of opponents and supporters of President Obama's health care overhaul gathered to make their voices heard. Jay Folk was one of them.

He's a Denver resident, a cancer survivor, and he has some very real fears about what health reform could mean for him.

"I don't want some government bureaucrat telling me what kind of care I'm going to receive down the road," he said.

It's a fear echoed at town halls around the country, and stoked by conservative pundits such as radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh who have racheted up the rhetoric in this debate by likening Obama's health care plans to something in-line with dictatorships, like those of Mussolini or Hitler.

And now, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has entered the fray. On a Facebook posting, Palin wrote that she's afraid of what she calls "Obama's Death Panel," a group of government officials she claims would decide who, under the Obama health plan, would get treatment and who wouldn't.

The president tried to debunk myths like that one in his weekly address. He said, "Let me start by dispelling the outlandish rumors that reform will promote euthanasia, cut Medicaid or bring about a government takeover of health care. That's simply not true."

Many Democratic lawmakers say these protests against health care reform have been ginned up by right wing groups that are arming people with agressive tactics and talking points. But Matt Kibbe, the president of Freedomworks, one of the groups organizing the movement, says there is a double standard.

"It almost seems to me like when the left does this it's celebrated as the best of democracy, community organizing," he says. "When conservative, free market activists show up, they're called mobs."

Civil Discourse or Chaos?

Still, the debate over health care reform has provoked anger, arrests and violence. Some Democratic lawmakers have even received death threats, including Congressman Brian Baird, D-Wash. He says these town halls have deteriorated into all out chaos.

"How can one have a civil discourse if people are making death threats," he said.

Baird and other members of Congress are staying away from live gatherings with constituents and instead are holding telephone town halls, which they say can include more people, are far more productive and far less volatile.

"It's perfectly American to disagree and ask tough questions of your congressman," he says. "But to intentionally try to shout people down, endanger them, threaten them is not acceptable on either side -- left or right."

The AFL-CIO and other labor unions are urging their members to show up in force at congressional town halls around the country and voice their support of health care reform, as a counterpoint to the conservative protesters. And the liberal group is using the conservative protests as a rallying cry to their membership in an effort to raise money to fight back.

Meanwhile, stakeholders on both sides of this issue say there are real concerns out there that need to be addressed about the pace and the scope of the health care reform bill. But lawmakers say they can't give answers, if they can't hear the questions.

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