White House Confronts False Claims About Health Care Reform

On "This Week": HHS Sec. Kathleen Sebelius, Sens. Arlen Specter and Orrin Hatch

Aug. 16, 2009 — -- It is evident the White House is trying to regain hold of its messaging on health care, as we saw President Obama barn-storming the country this week hosting several campaign-style town halls.

With the continued chatter regarding former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's discerning claims on her Facebook page that Obama's health care reform proposals would promote "death panels" for end-of-life counseling, the fallout this week has proved the health care debate has gotten out of control.

Now, the White House is fighting back its critics and recent false claims that have surfaced. It recently introduced a new Web site to debunk the myths and misinformation that have floated around lately regarding the Obama administration's health care reform proposals.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Obama's top Cabinet official in charge of health reform, appeared this morning on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" to clear up the falsities surrounding current health care proposals.

In regards to recent claims made by Palin and other conservatives, Sebelius said it's "horrific" twisting of facts to say that "death panels" would be part of Obama's proposed health care overhaul.

"I think it's really horrific that some opponents of the health reform bill have used painful personal moments to scare people about what is in the bill," Sebelius told guest-host Jake Tapper on "This Week."

Sebelius criticized opponents of the Democrats' plans for health reform for using scare tactics to try to derail an overhaul saying, "Nothing could be farther from the truth.

"If anything, [senior citizens] should welcome the fact that doctors would have a payment provided to sit down with family members if they choose and have a discussion," she said.

Sebelius noted that the end-of-life provision would "probably be off the table" in final health care reform legislation.

It is likely that come this fall, Congress will push a more modest legislation on health care reform, such as legislation currently being debated in the Senate, settling for what some are aiming for as a "half a loaf," or lowering expectations on what is actually achievable in passing health care reform.

End-of-Life Debate Gets Personal

On "This Week," Sebelius brought up a personal connection to end-of-life decisions, mentioning her experiences with her own mother, who spent 10 weeks in three different hospitals before she died.

"I think end-of-life decisions are very, very personal and very difficult for family members, very difficult for people to confront," Sebelius said. "What every family wants is good information and the ability to make a decision that suits their loved ones the best way."

Recent talk about "death panels" have even prompted President Obama to speak out about his own family experience this week during Saturday night's town hall in Grand Junction, Colo.

The president said, "I just lost my grandmother last year. I know what it's like to watch somebody you love, who's aging, deteriorate, and have to struggle with that. So the notion that somehow I ran for public office, or members of Congress are in this so that they can go around pulling the plug on grandma? I mean, when you start making arguments like that, that's simply dishonest."

Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter said in an interview on "This Week" that he supports Americans' right to organize, but warned that recent town hall ruckus from critics of the Democrats' health care proposals are not representative of the public's view on the issue.

"I think we have to bear in mind that although those people need to be heard and have a right to be heard that they are not really representative of America, in my opinion," Specter said on ABC's "This Week."

He noted, "We have to be careful here not to let those town meetings make the scene that influences what we do on health policy."

Town Halls: A Wide Represention of America

Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch was quick to disagree with Specter, saying the heat surrounding town halls recently represent people who are "up in arms" with anger.

During a head-to-head debate between the two senators on "This Week," Hatch complimented Specter on his handling of the town halls but said recent uprising was genuine.

"Having listened to Arlen, I have to say that I thought Arlen handled his town meetings very, very well," said Hatch. "I disagree with Arlen that they're not representative of the American people. I think they are. I've found people just up in arms everywhere I've gone on health care."

Specter has been in the crossfires this week during town hall debates in his own district. He pointed out recent comments by John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, referring to efforts from critics to make this the president's 'Waterloo' issue.

"We also can't allow these kinds of town hall meetings to dominate the political process," Hatch said. "That would be destructive of what we need to do to figure out what is the best approach."

White House Is "Off the Mark"

Democratic strategist and ABC contributor Donna Brazile criticized the White House's messaging center today during the roundtable discussion on "This Week", saying "the administration has been "off the mark" for several weeks" but added that "there's signs now that they have gotten control of their message and with this op-ed, but more importantly with the town hall meetings."

Ed Gillespie, former White House counselor to President George W. Bush, joined Brazile, Ron Brownstein of the National Journal and the Washington Post's Anne Kornblut.

Kornblut said she agrees that the White House lost its control of messaging, especially with the media attention former vice presidential Republican nominee Palin received from her posting about "death panels" on her Facebook page.

"At the end of the day, they were responding to her, not the other way around," Kornblut said.

Sarah Palin May 'Contribute to Her Long-Term Marginalization'

The National Journal's Brownstein also agreed with Kornblut about her assessment of Palin, but went even further. He said, "The basic problem Sarah Palin has as a political figure is that she is kind of the king or queen of a narrowing island and this does that further."

Brownstein went on to say, "I think in many ways this will contribute to her long-term marginalization as a potential president if not a potential leader of the Republican Party."

In response to Sarah Palin and her claims of "death panels," Brazile quoted John Adams, saying, "Facts are stubborn things." She went on to say that Gov. Palin was for end-of life counseling before she was against it, referring to a proclamation she signed as governor back in April of 2008 to encourage Alaskans to "seek out counseling services for these important decisions."

As a sign that the conservatives may be losing its sight on "death panels," Republican strategist Gillespie distanced himself from his party and said it is inaccurate terminology.

"I agree that characterizing the panels that aren't in there in terms of determining how to make spending decision on care, that there is a legitimate concern about those," he said. "I agree that they shouldn't be characterized as death panels."