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Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani tells a group of Republican state legislators in Illinois that “it is natural” to assume that the Democratic health care reform plan will lead to “death panels” making end-of-life decisions for seniors. “This is a real concern not made up by radio talk show hosts,” Giuliani claims. In recent weeks, the claim of so-called “death panels” has energized the conservative anti-reform movement even as it has been roundly debunked (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 13, 2009, and August 12-13, 2009). Giuliani admits that there are no provisions for “death panels” in the Democratic legislation pending in Congress, but says that “simple economics” tells him the panels will happen. “President Obama says he will cover 30 to 40 to 50 million people who are not covered now—without it costing any money,” he says. “This is absurd. Health care—in case the Obama administration hasn’t noticed, is very expensive. They will have to cut other services, cut programs. They will have to be making decisions about people who are elderly.” He goes on to blame Obama and Congressional Democrats for creating the worry about “death panels” because of “the ambiguity of the legislation.” (Pallasch 8/13/2009)

Katie Couric.Katie Couric. [Source: Stylelist (.com)]CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric denounces what she calls the “fear and frustration” being tapped in the sometimes-riotous demonstrations against health care reform. The anti-reform efforts have “stirred [up] a hornets nest,” she writes, and are uncovering “disturbing attitudes and emotions that have nothing to do with policy.” What, she asks, does bringing a handgun to a church where President Obama is speaking have to do with health care policy (see August 11, 2009)? “How does a swastika spray-painted on a congressman’s office further a discussion about Medicare (see August 11, 2009)?” Couric warns her readers that “we can’t let fear and frankly ignorance drown out the serious debate that needs to take place about an issue that affects the lives of millions of people. It’s time for everyone to take a deep breath and to focus on the task at hand before this sideshow drowns out the main event.” (Couric 8/14/2009)

John Stossel.John Stossel. [Source: Nashville Scene]The lobbying firm Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which is heavily involved in so-called “Astroturf” protests against health care reform (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 12, 2009), announces it will hold three town-hall style meetings in Wisconsin on August 26 and 27. The meetings will take place in the districts of three House members, David Obey (D-WI), Ron Kind (D-WI), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), all of whom AFP feels might be open to pressure. ABC reporter John Stossel will moderate the sessions for AFP. (Umhoefer 8/14/2009) Progressive news watchdog Web site Media Matters questions the propriety of Stossel, a supposedly nonpartisan member of the media, moderating the sessions for AFP, an avowedly partisan organization. (Media Matters 8/17/2009)

Attorney George Felos, who represented Michael Schiavo in the Terri Schiavo end-of-life case, says it is ironic to have the same politicians who insisted on becoming involved in the Schiavo decision in 2005 now saying it is not politicians’ place to become involved in end-of-life decisions as part of their opposition to health care reform (see July 10, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 12-13, 2009, and August 13, 2009). (Terri Schiavo had been in a coma for years; her husband wanted to have her feeding tube removed and allow her to die. Republican politicians, including then-President George W. Bush, attempted to block the move.) MSNBC host Rachel Maddow notes: “When Terri Schiavo’s next of kin, her husband, Michael Schiavo, tried to carry out what he said were his wife’s end-of-life wishes, it was the Republican Party who decided that actually the government knew better—actually the politicians understood this better than that family and the government should intervene. And now, many of the very same people who interfered in Michael and Terri Schiavo’s health care decisions at the end of Terri Schiavo’s life, the politicians who brought that end-of-life decisions to floor of the US Capitol, they are arguing against health care reform now on the grounds that they don’t want the government to interfere an end-of-life decisions.” One of the Republicans involved in the Schiavo case, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), says that the health care reform legislation pending in the House will no longer include a provision for government funding of end-of-life counseling. Felos tells Maddow that there are “some similarities” to the Schiavo case: “[E]nd-of-life decision-making for patients is a very sensitive issue. People have legitimate fears. They have legitimate concerns about that. And in the Schiavo case, those legitimate fears and concerns were exploited for political and ideological reasons. And I think that’s what we’re seeing now done in an opposite way.” (MSNBC 8/14/2009)

President Obama appears at a “town hall” forum in Belgrade, Montana, where he promises to protect US citizens against health care insurers, and says those without health care insurance will benefit from his plans to reform the health care system. Unlike many other town halls (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 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, and August 11, 2009), no one heckles or attempts to shout down Obama during his speech and the subsequent question-and-answer period. Around 1,300 audience members take part in the rally, held at an airplane hanger; only two questioners ask anything remotely confrontational. Later, White House officials confirm that they had hoped Obama would get the chance to answer some difficult questions. One questioner accuses Obama of planning to raise taxes to pay for the reforms, and another says he is guilty of “vilifying” insurance companies. Obama gives detailed answers to both questioners, promising not to tax the middle class for his reforms, and saying that although some insurance companies have been “constructive,” others have fought against “any kind of reform proposals.” John Weaver, who helped Republican presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) organize often-confrontational town hall meetings, says Obama would do well to face more criticism. “He needs a confrontation to end some of this information,” Weaver says of the raft of false accusations and allegations surrounding the debate. “We don’t know if that’s his strength. But that’s his opportunity right now. If he really wants to turn the tide of the debate, he has to engage.” White House officials say that they are not attempting to “stack” the president’s crowds with supporters. (Shear 8/15/2009)

Representative Steve Buyer (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, issues a press release claiming that the proposed health care reform legislation would hurt veterans’ health care. In his statement, Buyer says, “The current Democrat bill harms veterans.” He claims that under the legislation some veterans would be subjected to “penalty” taxes for failing to have “acceptable” health coverage. The White House Director of Veterans and Wounded Warrior Policy, Matt Flavin, himself a veteran of Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, quickly counters with a statement contradicting Buyer’s claims: “I’m here to tell you quite simply that if you are eligible for VA [Veterans Adminstration] health care, you will remain eligible. There is no impact on VA health care. So veterans, please be comforted in the fact that your health care will not change under health reform efforts. There is no effect.” Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), a former Navy rear admiral, confirms Flavin’s rebuttal, and goes further, noting that the Obama administration’s budget restores VA care for some 500,000 veterans kicked out of the system during the Bush administration. “President Obama’s budget is going to also restore what we call the Priority 8 veterans to the VA system,” he says. “Back in 2003, the Bush administration kicked out over 265,000 veterans out of the Veterans Administration who happened to earn a bit over $34,000 for a family of two. Now, it’s 500,000 that are denied. And President Obama’s budget in the next four years brings them all back in. Not only does it preserve the system for our veterans, it enhances the system for our veterans.” Sestak adds: “I can absolutely confirm and the exact words are that the VA healthcare plan meets the minimal, acceptable requirements, which means it’s exempt from that 2.5 percent tax that they’re talking about. It states it just like that.” (US House of Representatives 8/14/2009; MSNBC 8/17/2009)

Bloomberg News counts up the number of lobbyists the health care industry is funding to pressure lawmakers to oppose or support the reform legislation proposed by Congressional Democrats and the White House. It finds that some 3,300 lobbyists—six for each of the 535 representatives and senators weighing the issue—are working to convince lawmakers to take their clients’ position on the health care reform package. Over 1,500 organizations, from pharmaceutical firms and medical providers to “grassroots” organizations and citizens’ groups, employ the lobbyists, with three new organizations signing up each day, and each of the 10 largest Washington lobbying firms is involved in the effort. The groups spent a combined amount of $263.4 million on lobbying Congress during the first six months of 2009, exceeding the $241.1 million spent during the same period in 2008. The Sunlight Foundation’s Bill Allison says, “Whenever you have a big piece of legislation like this, it’s like ringing the dinner bell for K Street,” referring to the Washington street where many lobbying firms have offices. “There’s a lot of money at stake and there are a lot of special interests who don’t want their ox gored.” Most lobbyists assume that health care reform is going to happen in some form or fashion, says John Jonas of the lobbying firm Patton Boggs LLP. “They assume health care reform is going to happen and they want to be protected,” he says. Jonas’s firm has three dozen clients in the debate, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and Wal-Mart. Many lawmakers, such as Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), the Senate Finance Committee chairman, see lobbyists every day. Baucus’s office rotates between different schools of lobbyists, seeing representatives of health care providers one week, purchasers the second, and consumers the third. Larry McNeely of the US Public Interest Research Group says, “The sheer quantity of money that’s sloshed around Washington is drowning out the voices of citizens and the groups that speak up for them.” (Salant and O'Leary 8/14/2009)

Two Democratic House members say that the media should not “glorify” the contentious, sometimes-riotous anti-reform protests that have recently occurred at health care debates (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 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, and August 11, 2009). Alan Grayson (D-FL) cites the violence that occurred at a debate featuring Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL—see August 6, 2009), saying that the “disrepect” shown at the debate reflects badly not on Castor, but “on the people who show the disrespect for the democratic process.” He adds: “I think in any society, you’re always going to have a certain percentage of people who are nuts. But these are not people who deserve any special recognition, much less glorification. You don’t treat people the way those people treated Kathy Castor. It’s wrong.… I look for intelligent, well-founded criticism of any bill because that’s how you make the bill better. But if you have people running around saying this bill is going to kill every old person in the country (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 12-13, 2009, and August 13, 2009), how could you possibly show any respect for that silly point of view? It makes no sense to me.” Patrick Murphy (D-PA) says that the contention that the reform proposal threatens Americans’ freedoms is simply wrong: “I had a guy yesterday try to say to me, ‘You know, I’m worried about my freedoms.’ I say, ‘Sir, I fought for your freedoms [Murphy is a veteran of the Iraq war]. I’m going to protect those freedoms. I took an oath to support and defend those freedoms. And I take that responsibility very seriously. But, you know, we need to understand that the current path for small business, for everday families, for seniors, is unsustainable.” (US House of Representatives 2009; Terkel 8/15/2009)

A 1983 photo of Madelyn Dunham hugging her grandson, Barack Obama, on the occasion of his graduation from college.A 1983 photo of Madelyn Dunham hugging her grandson, Barack Obama, on the occasion of his graduation from college. [Source: Daily Telegraph]Speaking to a crowd of largely pro-health care reform supporters in Colorado, President Obama cites the death of his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, to debunk the widespread idea that his ideas for reform would include so-called “death panels” (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 12-13, 2009, August 13, 2009). “I just lost my grandmother last year,” he says. “I know what it’s like to watch somebody you love, who’s aging, deteriorate and have to struggle with that.” He disputes “the notion that somehow I ran for public office or members of Congress are in this so they can go around pulling the plug on grandma.… When you start making arguments like that, that’s simply dishonest—especially when I hear the arguments coming from members of Congress in the other party who, turns out, sponsored similar provisions” (see August 12-13, 2009). Dunham died of cancer at the age of 86 (see November 10, 2008). “Health care is really hard,” Obama tells the crowd. “This is not easy. I’m a reasonably dedicated student to this issue. I’ve got a lot of really smart people around me who’ve been working on this for months now. There is no perfect painless silver bullet out there that solves every problem, gives everybody health care for free. There isn’t. I wish there was.” Continuing his push on his weekly Internet and radio address, Obama says, “I know there’s plenty of real concern and skepticism out there. I know that in a time of economic upheaval, the idea of change can be unsettling, and I know that there are folks who believe that government should have no role at all in solving our problems.” He says it is imperative for everyone to “lower our voices, listen to one another, and talk about differences that really exist.” (Associated Press 8/15/2009)

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch corrects a statement made to its reporters by Roy Blunt (R-MO), the chairman of the House Republican Health Care Solutions Group. Recently, Blunt told Post-Dispatch reporters and editors that he couldn’t get hip replacement surgery in Canada or Great Britain—two havens of socialized medicine—because of his age. “I’m 59,” Blunt said. “In either Canada or Great Britain, if I broke my hip, I couldn’t get it replaced.” The Post-Dispatch checked his claim, and found: “At least 63 percent of hip replacements performed in Canada last year and two-thirds of those done in England were on patients age 65 or older. More than 1,200 in Canada were done on people older than 85.” Blunt promises to modify his rhetoric when confronted by the Post-Dispatch’s findings. “I didn’t just pull that number out of thin air,” he says. The figure came from testimony given to the House Subcommittee on Health by, Blunt notes, “some people who are supposed to be experts on Canadian health care.” He adds: “I had been given that example. I was told that 59 is the cutoff. I’m glad you pointed that out to me. I won’t use that example any more.” The Post-Dispatch writes that it takes Blunt at his word, but notes that he is “not the only Republican leader who has his facts wrong about British and Canadian health care. And some of his colleagues are a bit less contrite” (see August 5, 2009). Blunt has made other false claims, including the assertion that an uninsured American could get a hip replacement through emergency care: “If they go to the emergency room, I think they can get that done.” The Post-Dispatch corrects him, writing: “Emergency rooms don’t do hip replacements, which require both hospital care and weeks of rehabilitation. They do emergency surgery, necessary to save a life. St. Louis hospitals offer discounts to patients who are poor and uninsured. But patients often are asked to make substantial down payments before surgery; they don’t hobble through the ER door and get them done for free.” Blunt has also made untenable claims about the number of Americans without health insurance by falsely saying that nearly 12 million of the 45 million uninsured Americans are illegal immigrants, a claim disproven by research by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, which, according to the Post-Dispatch, “puts the number of uninsured who are immigrants—both legal and illegal—at about 9 million.” Blunt later reduces the number of illegal immigrants in his claims, though the Post-Dispatch notes he still inflates his figures. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch 8/16/2009; Sargent 8/17/2009)

Author and historian Rick Perlstein reminds Washington Post readers that the kind of conservative-based outrage against health care reform is nothing new in American history. Asking whether the protests are orchestrated or spontaneous, Perlstein says they are both. “The quiver on the lips of the man pushing the wheelchair (see August 6, 2009), the crazed risk of carrying a pistol around a president (see August 11, 2009)—too heartfelt to be an act. The lockstep strangeness of the mad lies on the protesters’ signs—too uniform to be spontaneous. They are both. If you don’t understand that any moment of genuine political change always produces both, you can’t understand America, where the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy, and where elites exploit the crazy for their own narrow interests.”
Charges of Soviet-Inspired Treason - In the 1950s, Perlstein writes, Republicans referred to the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman as “20 years of treason,” and accused the two of deliberately surrendering the world to communism. Some conservatives leveled the accusation that a new Bible translation was the work of Soviet agents. Then-Vice President Richard Nixon claimed, without proof, that Republicans entering the White House at the beginning of the Eisenhower administration “found in the files a blueprint for socializing America.” When President Kennedy proposed using intercontinental ballistic missiles to form the basis of America’s nuclear defense instead of the traditional long-range bombers, and floated the idea of opening relations with Eastern Bloc nations such as Yugoslavia, conservatives accused him of trying to disarm the US in secret collusion with the USSR.
'National Indignation Convention' - In 1961, thousands of angry conservatives packed a National Indignation Convention in Dallas, where the keynote speaker shouted that he wanted to hang Chief Justice Earl Warren. A Kennedy proposal to expand mental health services included a new facility in Alaska; right-wingers claimed it was actually an internment camp for political dissidents. During the Johnson administration, conservatives claimed that the civil rights movement was conceived and orchestrated in the Soviet Union; many of them claimed that the 1964 Civil Rights Act would “enslave” white Americans.
'Uncanny' Similarities between Then and Now - Perstein notes that the similarities between the protests then and now are “uncanny,” writing: “The various elements—the liberal earnestly confused when rational dialogue won’t hold sway; the anti-liberal rage at a world self-evidently out of joint; and, most of all, their mutual incomprehension—sound as fresh as yesterday’s news. (Internment camps for conservatives? That’s the latest theory of tea party favorite Michael Savage.) The orchestration of incivility happens, too, and it is evil. Liberal power of all sorts induces an organic and crazy-making panic in a considerable number of Americans, while people with no particular susceptibility to existential terror—powerful elites—find reason to stoke and exploit that fear.”
Now, More Success at Manipulating Media, Shaping Policy - Perlstein cites examples of fake “grassroots” letters to newspaper editors written by Nixon administration aides that defended the then-president from Watergate-related charges, and how successful they were in manipulating the discussion. Now, he writes, the “Conservatives have become adept at playing the media for suckers, getting inside the heads of editors and reporters, haunting them with the thought that maybe they are out-of-touch cosmopolitans and that their duty as tribunes of the people’s voices means they should treat Obama’s creation of ‘death panels’ as just another justiciable political claim.” In the 1960s, news anchors such as Walter Cronkite didn’t bother debunking claims about internment facilities for conservative critics, he writes. “The media didn’t adjudicate the ever-present underbrush of American paranoia as a set of ‘conservative claims’ to weigh, horse-race-style, against liberal claims. Back then, a more confident media unequivocally labeled the civic outrage represented by such discourse as ‘extremist’—out of bounds. The tree of crazy is an ever-present aspect of America’s flora. Only now, it’s being watered by misguided he-said-she-said reporting and taking over the forest. Latest word is that the enlightened and mild provision in the draft legislation to help elderly people who want living wills—the one hysterics turned into the ‘death panel’ canard—is losing favor, according to the Wall Street Journal, because of ‘complaints over the provision.’ Good thing our leaders weren’t so cowardly in 1964, or we would never have passed a civil rights bill—because of complaints over the provisions in it that would enslave whites.” (Perlstein 8/16/2009)

The Office of the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), releases a fact sheet contradicting what it calls “a myth opponents of health insurance reform have been spreading: that people would be ‘forced’ to choose a public health insurance option, and falsely attributes it to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).” The claim has circulated throughout the media, Pelosi’s office notes, and says, “In fact, the public option in America’s Affordable Health Choices Act simply provides those using the Health Insurance Exchange a choice between various private plans and a public plan—with the choice being made by the individual, never an employer.” The fact sheet notes four instances of the claim being made on August 16 alone:
bullet Representative Tom Price (R-GA) tells an Associated Press reporter that the Democrats’ reform bill would force citizens to abandon their private health care plans in favor of a government-run plan, and says the CBO supports his claim.
bullet ABC reporter Jake Tapper, on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, asks, “How can the administration make the promise that if you like your insurance plan you can keep it, when CBO and other analysts estimate that some people will be switched from private to public?”
bullet Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, on Fox News Sunday, tells his listeners of “a study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office which found that by 2016, 9 million people will no longer have their employer-based plan under health care reform because businesses would decide in many cases that it’s cheaper simply to pay the penalty and push people into a public plan.”
bullet David Gregory, the anchor of NBC’s flagship Sunday talk show Meet the Press, asks, “Does he [President Obama] undermine his credibility when he makes some claims like, if you like your insurance you can keep your insurance, when a lot of people have said not really; employers could drop people from insurance if they wanted to move people into a public plan, if that existed?”
Pelosi’s office states that, unlike the claims and questions advanced by Price, Tapper, Wallace, and Gregory, the CBO has noted that under all versions of reform legislation, US citizens would retain the choice of whether to keep their existing insurance or join the “public option” government program. (Speaker of the House 8/17/2009)

Dick Armey (R-TX), the former House Majority Leader who now heads the conservative lobbying firm FreedomWorks, predicts that the Obama administration will try to counter the “grassroots” protests with what he calls a “fear campaign” designed to frighten wavering lawmakers, whom he terms “bed-wetters.” The administration will use false claims of a “swine flu” epidemic in its efforts, Armey says in an interview with the Financial Times: “In September or October there will be a hyped-up outbreak of the swine flu which they’ll say is as bad as the bubonic plague to scare the bed-wetters to vote for health care reform. That is the only way they can push something on to the American people that the American people don’t want.” FreedomWorks reprints the original article, published in London’s Financial Times, on its Web site. (Luce and Ulmer 8/17/2009)

Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) tells Fox News viewers that health care reform is unconstitutional. She says: “It is not within our power as members of Congress, it’s not within the enumerated powers of the Constitution, for us to design and create a national takeover of health care. Nor is it within our ability to be able to delegate that responsibility to the executive.” Ian Millhiser of the progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress takes issue with Bachmann’s statement, writing that she “is wrong about both the contents of the health care plan and the requirements of the Constitution.” None of the versions of health care legislation being considered in Congress make any provision for a “national takeover of health care.” Bachmann may be referring to the “public option,” which would create a government-run health care plan that citizens could choose to participate in. Millhiser notes that Article I of the Constitution gives Congress the power to “lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises,” and to “provide for… the general welfare of the United States.” Millhiser writes, “Rather than itemizing specific subject matters, such as health care, which Congress is allowed to spend money on, the framers chose instead to give Congress a broad mandate to spend money in ways that promote the ‘general welfare.’” Millhiser writes that it is unclear what Bachmann means by “delegat[ing] that responsibility to the executive,” but notes that no one has proposed giving the White House anything approaching the authority to run or reconfigure the US health care system. He calls Bachmann’s view of the Constitution “radical,” and writes: “If Congress does not have the power to create a modest public option which competes with private health plans in the marketplace, then it certainly does not have the authority to create Medicare. Similarly, Congress’ power to spend money to benefit the general welfare is the basis for Social Security, federal education funding, Medicaid, and veterans’ benefits such as the VA health system and the GI Bill. All of these programs would cease to exist in Michele Bachmann’s America.” (Millhiser 8/19/2009)

A member of the LaRouche Youth Movement compares the Obama health care reform proposal to Nazi policies.A member of the LaRouche Youth Movement compares the Obama health care reform proposal to Nazi policies. [Source: Darren McCollester / Getty Images]A testy Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) loses patience with a raucous, shouting crowd of angry protesters at a two-hour town hall meeting in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Frank, who strongly supports the Democrats’ health care reform proposals, attempts to answer the shouted questions and accusations from protesters, who often attempt to shout him down before he can complete his answers, and boo him from the moment he is introduced. Frank repeatedly asks, “You want me to talk about it or do you want to yell?” and asks, “Which one of you wants to yell next?” He also says frequently: “Disruption never helps your cause. It just looks like you’re afraid to have rational discussion.” Frank finally loses patience when Rachel Brown of the LaRouche Youth Movement tells him that President Obama’s health care policies are comparable to those of Nazi Germany, meanwhile waving a pamphlet depicting Obama with a Hitler mustache. “This policy is actually already on its way out,” Brown says. “It already has been defeated by LaRouche. My question to you is, why do you continue to support a Nazi policy as Obama has expressly supported this policy? Why are you supporting it?” Frank, a Jew, retorts: “When you ask me that question, I’m going to revert to my ethnic heritage and ask you a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time? You stand there with a picture of the president defaced to look like Hitler and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis.” He says her ability to deface an image of the president and express her views “is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated,” and concludes: “Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it.” During less contentious moments, Frank rebuts claims that the reform proposal would mandate free health care for illegal immigrants, and attempts to read the pertinent section of the bill through the shouts and catcalls. He asks why protesters demand for him to answer and then scream through his answers: “What’s the matter with you all? I don’t know if you get angrier when I answer the questions, or when you don’t think I do.” (Associated Press 8/19/2009; CNN 8/19/2009; Carlile 8/19/2009; Cohen 8/19/2009; Boston Globe 8/20/2009)
'Look for the Mustache' - A representative of the Massachusetts Republican Party later says Brown and other LaRouche supporters were at the forum “to cause problems,” and denies any Republican involvement in the shouting or pamphleteering. A LaRouche spokeswoman, Nancy Spannaus, says, “LaRouche PAC members are giving leadership to these town hall meetings all around the country so we are being at any one that we possibly can.” The Obama “mustache poster” “symbolizes the fact that the president is attempting to implement a Hitler health care policy,” she adds. “At any town hall, you’ll know LaRouche people are there if you just look for the mustache.” (Franke-Ruta and Lovenheim 8/20/2009)
Fox News: Frank's Remarks Proof that Democrats are 'Alienating Voters' - Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity and a Fox reporter, Griff Jenkins, say that Frank’s retorts to the protesters are proof that Democrats are “alienating voters” with their reform policies. Jenkins tells Hannity that Frank “talked down” to the protesters. Hannity calls Frank’s comments full of “arrogance [and] condescension.” Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Hannity’s guest, praises the LaRouche questioner and other protesters as evidence of American “democracy in action.” (Hannity 8/18/2009)

Representative Wally Herger (R-CA) praises a constituent who describes himself as a “right-wing terrorist,” and tells listeners, “Our democracy has never been threatened as much as it is today” by the Obama administration’s policies. Herger holds a “town hall” meeting to discuss health care reform in Redding, California. The audience is largely made up of reform opponents who cheer when Herger calls the “public option” an “unacceptable” provision of reform. A local reporter writes, “Although Herger called several times for the audience to ‘respect each other’s opinions,’ those opposed to President Obama’s health care were greeted with cheers while the few in favor were interrupted with catcalls.” Two audience members are escorted out by police officers during the event, after arguing over the health care plan. One audience member says, “I am a proud right wing terrorist”; the audience largely cheers his declaration, and Herger beams: “Amen, God bless you. There is a great American.” Most of the audience members who ask questions denounce health care reform as a “socialist” idea. (Boerger 8/21/2009; Terkel 8/22/2009; Daily Kos 8/26/2009)

Charles Grassley (R-IA), a Republican senator considered a key element in the Obama administration’s push for bipartisan health care reform, says that the recent outpouring of anger and resistance at “town hall” forums has “fundamentally altered the nature of the debate and convinced him that lawmakers should consider drastically scaling back the scope of the effort.” Grassley says he believes the public is strongly against the Democrats’ ideas for health care reform, and considers the ideas a run-up to what he calls “a government takeover of health care.” Grassley is a member of the so-called “Gang of Six,” a group of three Republican and three conservative Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee primarily responsible for writing the committee’s reform proposal. In recent days, some Democrats have accused him of attempting to suborn any bipartisanship in the process by his advocacy of “death panels” (see August 12, 2009) and his misleading use of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA)‘s terminal illness (see August 5, 2009) in his arguments against reform.
Obama Should Prove Commitment to Bipartisanship by Abandoning Public Option - Grassley says that if President Obama is serious about a bipartisan approach to reform, he should abandon his support for the so-called “public option” entirely. Such a statement, he says, is “pretty important… if you’re really interested in a bipartisan bill.” Grassley also says that a reform bill would not be truly bipartisan unless it received far more than a 51-vote majority, or even a 60-vote “supermajority,” enough votes to defeat a filibuster attempt. “It’s not about getting a lot of Republicans. It’s about getting a lot of Democrats and Republicans,” he says. “We ought to be focusing on getting 80 votes.” (Montgomery and Bacon 8/20/2009) Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent contrasts Grassley’s contentious position with the more accomodating overtures from the White House. He writes: “Grassley knows the White House is under tremendous pressure to contain a revolt on the left over the public option. It’s hard to imagine any reason for demanding Obama renounce the public option right now, before there’s even a bill out of the finance committee, other than to make life politically difficult for the president. How does that compare with the White House’s treatment of Grassley? When the Senator endorsed the ‘death panel’ claim, the White House reaffirmed its commitment to working with him. Dems quietly let Grassley claim a big victory by dropping the public option from the Senate bill he’s negotiating. And when Rahm Emanuel questioned the sincerity of GOP leaders yesterday, an apparent shot at Grassley, the White House rapidly walked it back. Grassley, meanwhile, has now raised the bar yet again for what will constitute true bipartisanship on the White House’s part. Pretty telling.” (Sargent 8/20/2009)
Bipartisanship Not Universally Desired - Other Republicans are less interested in bipartisanship. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) blames Obama for the increasingly strident tone of the debate, and accuses Obama officials of “reject[ing] our efforts to work together.” Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), considered a likely 2012 candidate for president, says flatly: “The Republicans should kill the bill. It’s a bad idea.” House Member James Clyburn (D-SC) says Democrats might do well to abandon any idea of bipartisanship and work on a bill without Republican input, especially since it is unlikely that Republicans will vote for any reform bill at all. But Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, says he remains committed to the idea of bipartisanship. (Montgomery and Bacon 8/20/2009)

On MSNBC’s Hardball, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) tells a harrowing tale of health care protests he weathered in the 1980s in which protesters “dumped” quadriplegics “on the floor” in front of him to make their point. Asked by host Chris Matthews about the “tea party” agitation and town hall disruptions surrounding the current health care debate, DeLay answers: “Chris, you shouldn’t be surprised about this. This has been going on forever. When I did my town hall meetings, I’ll never forget one back in the ‘80s—on health care, by the way. They brought in quadriplegics on gurneys and dumped them on the floor in front of my podium. I mean, this is not new. What’s new is, the people that came into disrupt my town meetings, we just let them go on because it usually turned off the people that were there. What’s happening here is the American people are on their side.” However, no sources can be found to validate DeLay’s claims. The progressive news Web site TPM Muckraker probes through a variety of news archives and finds a May 1996 article from the Houston Chronicle that reported on a number of protests by the disabilities advocacy group ADAPT. According to the Chronicle: “Groups of protesters, most of them in wheelchairs, barricaded two local political offices Tuesday to demand changes in the way disabled people receive care in America.… A second group of about 150 ADAPT supporters blockaded and occupied US Rep. Tom DeLay’s office in Sugar Land [Texas], until DeLay agreed to meet with them.… Tuesday’s protesters narrowly escaped arrest by Stafford police when DeLay, who is in Washington, DC, agreed to meet with them next month.” TPM Muckraker reporter Justin Elliott writes: “Is it possible that DeLay is thinking of the ADAPT episode—and just replacing ‘90s with ‘80s, district office with health care town hall, protesters in wheelchairs with quadriplegics dumped from gurneys, and not having been there at all with seeing it unfold in front of his podium?” Elliott also notes that “[t]wo reporters who’ve covered DeLay extensively over the years say the quadriplegic story is new to them.” (Elliot 8/20/2009)

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the misinformation permeating the debate over health care reform is having an effect. Forty-five percent believe that the reform legislation pending in Congress includes “death panels” (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 12-13, 2009, August 13, 2009, and August 15, 2009), and 55 percent believe that illegal immigrants will receive government-funded coverage. These numbers are disproportionately higher among Fox News viewers: 72 percent believe the government will fund coverage of illegal immigrants, 75 percent believe in “death panels,” and 79 percent believe the reform bill will lead to a government takeover of the US health care system. Large minorities of other network viewers believe these same examples of misinformation. MSNBC’s Domenico Montanaro writes: “This is about credible messengers using the media to get some of this misinformation out there, not as much about the filter itself. These numbers should worry Democratic operatives, as well as the news media that have been covering this story.” (Montanaro 8/19/2009; Corley 8/19/2009) Another poll, from Public Policy Polling, shows that 39 percent of Americans want the government to “stay out of Medicare,” apparently unaware that the government funds, administers, and operates Medicare. The same poll shows that 38 percent of respondents do not believe President Obama is a natural-born American citizen; six percent don’t believe that Hawaii, Obama’s birth state, is part of the United States. The poll does not differentiate between Fox viewers and others. (Jilani 8/19/2009)

Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) says he regrets using Senator Edward Kennedy’s name in recent statements he made criticizing Democrats’ attempts to reform health care. Grassley had asserted, falsely, that Kennedy, who suffers from terminal brain cancer, would have been denied care under Great Britain’s national health care system (see August 5, 2009). “I regret using Sen. Kennedy’s name,” Grassley says. But he adds that he has no regrets about vilifying the British health care system, or about more recent remarks he made accusing Democrats of wanting to prematurely end the lives of senior citizens (see August 12, 2009). (Halloran 8/20/2009)

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) says the Senate should not pass a health care reform bill unless it garners “bipartisan” support. Hatch goes on to say that such a bill would not be bipartisan unless it could win “somewhere between 75 and 80 votes.” Two of Hatch’s colleagues, Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY), have made similar statements, with Enzi demanding “a bill that 75 or 80 senators can support.” Progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress notes that all three senators have made very different claims in the past:
bullet In 2001, all three boasted that then-President Bush’s $1.35 trillion tax-cut bill was “built upon bipartisanship” after it passed the Senate with 58 votes.
bullet In November 2003, after the Senate passed a prescription drug plan for seniors that was heavily favored by pharmaceutical firms, Grassley praised himself as the “lead Senate architect of the bipartisan legislation.” The bill passed with 54 votes.
bullet In 2005, Senate Republicans harshly criticized Senate Democrats for filibustering seven of President Bush’s 205 nominees to the federal judiciary. Hatch and Grassley argued strongly against those nominees needing to be confirmed by a 60-vote “supermajority.” Hatch called the filubuster “unconstitutional,” and Grassley described judicial filibusters as “an abuse of our function under the Constitution.” (van Susteren 8/20/2009; Millhiser 8/20/2009)

MSNBC reports that FreedomWorks, the non-profit “grassroots” lobbying organization that has spearheaded anti-health care reform efforts (see April 14, 2009, June 26, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 14, 2009, and August 17, 2009), has recently raised the amount of money it charges organizations to take part in anti-reform protests. FreedomWorks used to charge groups $2,500 to distribute their materials at FreedomWorks-sponsored events; now the price is $10,000. However, the new price includes the opportunity for a group to have a speaker at a FreedomWorks rally. FreedomWorks says it is trying to offset costs for stages, equipment, and other operating costs. (MSNBC 8/20/2009)

Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), during a “telephone town hall” discussion of health care reform, reiterates her opposition to Democratic reform initiatives. Foxx, who has previously claimed that elderly Americans will be “put to death” under Democratic reform proposals (see July 28, 2009), says that any reform attempts by the federal government would be unconstitutional. Moreover, discussions about government reform issues are little more than “distractions” from more important issues. Foxx says: “The Constitution doesn’t grant a right to health care, and most of us are living as much by the Constitution as we can. It also doesn’t give the federal government the authority to deal with health care. As you may know, the 10th amendment, it says if it isn’t mentioned in the Constitution to be done by the federal government, it’s left to the states or the people.… I think one of the problems we have in this country right now is the fact that the federal government is trying to do too much. We need to leave things to the states and the localities.… And unfortunately, we are distracting ourselves from looking after the defense of this nation because we are dealing with issues that should, by right, be the state and individual’s.” Foxx has also claimed that every American has access to health care (see September 17, 2009), and has supported Medicare in past votes. (Terkel 8/21/2009)

Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a key player in the Democrats’ health care reform process, defends his insistence on a bipartisan process that will produce reform supported by both Democrats and Republicans. Yet Baucus admits that Senate Republicans are almost uniformly committed to killing reform outright. Baucus is a member of the Finance Committee’s “Gang of Six,” a group of three conservative Democrats and three Republicans who are working to craft a reform proposal. “I just think if it is bipartisan, it’s more sustainable, it’s more durable, long-lasting,” Baucus says. “There will be more buy-in around the country. We’re going to make some mistakes. If it’s bipartisan, it will be easier to fix the mistakes, work together to fix the mistakes. It’s just better for the country.” However, he says: “The Republican leadership in the Senate and in the House is doing its utmost to kill this bill. They are putting intense political pressure on Chuck Grassley, Olympia Snowe, and Mike Enzi [the three Republican members of the “Gang of Six”], to bow out, because they want to kill it. So I’ve got a challenge ahead of me to work out all this on policy as we go through these meetings. The other thing is the politics of it: ‘People, this is the right thing to do for America. I know you’re under intense political pressure, but do the right thing. I know it’s easy for me to say right now, because I’m getting beat up by both sides, but not nearly as much as you are by the Republican hierarchy.’” Baucus says it is important to craft a bill that can garner the 60 votes needed to defeat a filibuster, which the Republicans will almost certainly invoke to try to delay or kill any reform bill. He does not support the reconciliation process that would allow the bill to pass with a 51-vote majority. (Jilani 8/21/2009; Harrington 8/21/2009)

Betsy McCaughey is interviewed by Jon Stewart of ‘The Daily Show.’Betsy McCaughey is interviewed by Jon Stewart of ‘The Daily Show.’ [Source: Media Matters]Health care reform opponent Betsy McCaughey (see February 9, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 23, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009) appears on Comedy Central’s satirical news/comedy broadcast, The Daily Show. Host Jon Stewart devotes twice the usual amount of air time to interviewing McCaughey, and even then the interview is not broadcast in its entirety; Comedy Central posts the entire interview on its Web site. Stewart’s main interview tactic is to challenge McCaughey to prove one claim or another, such as her assertion that the health care reform legislation pending in the House would mandate “death panels” or “end-of-life” review committees; McCaughey then tries and fails to find language in the bill itself, and Stewart chastises her for spreading falsehoods. Late in the interview, Stewart calls McCaughey’s rhetoric “hyperbolic” and “dangerous.” (Comedy Central 8/20/2009; Comedy Central 8/20/2009; Media Matters 8/21/2009; Linkins 8/21/2009) He concludes by telling her, “I like you—but I don’t understand how your brain works.” (Koppelman 8/21/2009) In an analysis of the interview, The Atlantic’s James Fallows, who lambasted McCaughey’s 1994 arguments against the Clinton administration’s health care reform efforts (see Mid-January - February 4, 1994), says he realizes after watching the interview that “I have been far too soft on Betsy McCaughey. Even when conferring on her the title of ‘most destructive effect on public discourse by a single person’ for the 1990s. She is way less responsible and tethered to the world of ‘normal’ facts and discourse than I had imagined.” Fallows writes that McCaughey succeeds as well as she does in the interview by ignoring Stewart’s points and rebuttals, and echoing her assertions even after Stewart effectively rebuts or mocks them. (Fallows 8/21/2009) Days later, McCaughey will be removed from her position as a director of Cantel Medical Corporation, in part apparently due to her performance on Stewart’s show (see August 20-21, 2009).

Health care opponent Betsy McCaughey either resigns, or is fired, from her post as a director of Cantel Medical Corporation. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow announces that McCaughey is fired; other sources report that she resigned voluntarily. Many media observers believe that part of the reason behind her departure is her poor performance on a recent interview with The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart (see August 20, 2009). McCaughey retains her position as an adjunct fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, where she has consistently lobbied against health care reform and promoted issues favorable to health care and health insurance firms. In a press statement, Cantel says that “on August 20, 2009 it received a letter of resignation from Ms. Elizabeth McCaughey as a director of the company. Ms. McCaughey, who had served as a director since 2005, stated that she was resigning to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest during the national debate over health care reform.” (Yahoo! Finance 8/21/2009; Stock Market Today 8/22/2009)

Health reform organizer Randall Terry pretends to stab an elderly lady in the neck as part of an anti-reform protest. A fellow protester wearing a Barack Obama mask looks on.Health reform organizer Randall Terry pretends to stab an elderly lady in the neck as part of an anti-reform protest. A fellow protester wearing a Barack Obama mask looks on. [Source: Feministe (.us)]Randall Terry, the former head of the extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, gleans headlines during health care protests in the Southeast. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, Terry is nearly arrested while standing outside the federal courthouse stabbing baby dolls. In Nashville, one of Terry’s supporters dons an Obama mask and pretends to assault passers-by. One Nashville resident who witnesses the activities tells a local reporter: “It’s an angry white man in a black man’s mask. They’re just trying to shock people. They’re trying to say, ‘Barack Obama doesn’t care about you, he doesn’t care about your kids, because he’s black.’” During the same protest, Terry and an elderly supporter put on a bit of street theater: the elderly lady mimes seeking medical advice from Terry, who is dressed in a doctor’s jacket, and he pretends to stab her in the neck with a needle and kill her. According to Salon reporter Alex Koppelman, Terry’s twin messages in the protests are his opposition to abortion and to euthanasia—neither of which are supported in any health care reform bills before Congress. Before the protests, Terry wrote his supporters an e-mail: “It is refreshing to see the rage expressed at ‘town hall meetings.’ However, much of this anger is not about child-killing. It’s about the cost of the bill, or rationing, or if we can keep our current plan, or about treatments for the elderly. Our goal is to keep child-killing and euthanasia in the center of this debate until any vestige of taxpayers paying for murder is gone.” (Koppelman 8/24/2009) At a Virginia rally soon after, Terry’s group re-enacts slave beatings (see August 24, 2009).

Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), a key player in the Senate battle over health reform, tries to explain his earlier statements that Iowans were right to “fear” that the federal government would “pull the plug on Grandma” by encouraging American senior citizens to end their lives prematurely (see August 12, 2009). During his explanation, Grassley blames President Obama for his words. On CBS’s Face the Nation, he tells host Bob Schieffer that even though he is aware the House health reform bill “doesn’t intend to” kill senior citizens, he feels he has a responsibility to make such statements: “I said that because—two reasons. Number one, I was responding to a question at my town meetings. I let my constituents set the agenda. A person that asked me that question was reading from language that they got off of the Internet. It scared my constituents. And the specific language I used was language that the president had used at Portsmouth (see August 11, 2009), and I thought that it was—if he used the language, then if I responded exactly the same way, that I had an opposite concern about not using end-of-life counseling for saving money, then I was answering.… You would get into the issue of saving money, and put these three things together and you are scaring a lot of people when I know the Pelosi bill doesn’t intend to do that, but that’s where it leads people to.” Schieffer asks Grassley directly if the House legislation “would pull the plug on Grandma.” Grassley responds, “It won’t do that,” but then goes on to say that such claims are effective: “It just scares the devil out of people. So that [provision for end-of-life counseling] ought to be dropped.” The progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress notes that Obama did indeed use the phrase “pull the plug on Grandma,” but he “used it as an example of the lies his opponents were pushing around to scare the American public.” (Terkel 8/23/2009)

The cover of the VA booklet ‘Your Life, Your Choices.’ The cover text reads: ‘Planning for Future Medical Decisions’ and ‘How to Prepare a Personalized Living Will.’The cover of the VA booklet ‘Your Life, Your Choices.’ The cover text reads: ‘Planning for Future Medical Decisions’ and ‘How to Prepare a Personalized Living Will.’ [Source: American Veteran Magazine]Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace tells his viewers that the Veterans Administration (VA) has a secret “death book” that urges veterans to “pull the plug” and commit suicide. The 51-page booklet is called “Your Life, Your Choices,” and, Wallace says, was pulled for rewriting and reissuance in 2007, yet the VA under President Obama is still using it. In his Fox News blog, Wallace writes: “What makes the book controversial is that—according to critics—it seems to push veterans in the direction of ‘pulling the plug.’ For instance—page 21 is a worksheet in which the veteran is asked to consider various situations and then check—whether in each case, life would be ‘difficult, but acceptable’—‘worth living, but just barely’—or ‘not worth living.’ You might think that the scenarios would involve irreversible comas and the like. But no—they include: ‘I can no longer walk but get around in a wheelchair’—‘I live in a nursing home’—‘I am a severe financial burden on my family’—and ‘I cannot seem to “shake the blues”’.” Wallace’s guest, Wall Street Journal columnist James Towey, whom Wallace describes as helping to “end use of the book under President Bush, and was shocked to see it has now been reinstated,” tells viewers that the message of the book is simple: “hurry up and die.” (Wallace notes that he learned of the VA’s “death book” from Towey’s August 18 Journal column.) And, Wallace writes, quoting Towey, “he says—when government can steer vulnerable individuals to conclude that life is not worth living—‘who needs death panels?’” Wallace briefly notes that he also interviewed VA’s Assistant Secretary, Tammy Duckworth, who noted that the book is “just one of many reference tools the VA makes available—and that it is currently being revised.” (Veterans Administration 1997 pdf file; Towey 8/18/2009; Wallace 8/23/2009)
Debunking the Claim - The story of the “death book” is quickly debunked. Richard Allen Smith of the veterans’ organization VetVoice notes that the VA booklet is actually aimed at helping veterans choose not to commit suicide, and provides them with methods and resources to battle depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other conditions which lead veterans to consider prematurely ending their lives. (Richard Allen Smith 8/23/2009) Progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters notes that the claim that the Bush administration “rescinded” the booklet in 2007 is false. While it was reviewed in 2007, the Bush administration actively promoted the use of the booklet throughout its tenure; an online document on the VA’s Web site labeled “Reviewed/Updated Date: December 29, 2008,” states, “To learn about a living will, read ‘Your Life, Your Choices.’” Wallace’s claim that the VA mandates all veterans receive the booklet is also false; it is considered an optional reference, not mandatory. (Media Matters 8/24/2009)
Hidden Agenda? - Smith notes that Towey may have another reason for opposing the VA booklet. In 1996, Towey founded an organization called “Aging with Dignity.” In 1997, the organization released a 12-page pamphlet, “Five Wishes,” that it says does the same job as the VA’s booklet. It gives the ailing veteran a list of five questions that, it claims, when answered will guide your life decisions. For years, Towey has been trying to get the VA to stop distributing its own booklet and instead buy “Five Choices” to use with its veterans. In 2007, Towey did help force the VA to reassess and revise its booklet after complaining that it was biased against the anti-abortion viewpoint. Smith writes bluntly: “Astonishing. Jim Towey is one sick mother f_cker to argue that veterans should be presented with LESS information, not MORE, when it comes to making a living will, all so he can make a profit from peddling his end-of-life pamphlet that is shorter than the books my two-and-a-half-year-old reads.” (Baram 8/22/2009; Richard Allen Smith 8/23/2009)
Claim Spread by Conservative Media - Even before Wallace’s August 23 broadcast, some conservative media outlets, having read Towey’s August 18 Wall Street Journal editorial, began spreading the story of the VA’s “death book.” The National Review printed editorials denouncing the booklet, and Fox News host Sean Hannity called it “the equivalent of a death panel.” Former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) used her Facebook blog to accuse the VA of “encourag[ing] veterans to forego care as they make end-of-life decisions.” And radio host Rush Limbaugh told his listeners: “This thing is obsessed with death. It’s obsessed with you deciding—or with some—maybe some influence—that your life isn’t worth living. It’s—there’s nothing positive in this.” (Media Matters 8/24/2009)

Opponents of health care reform lead the debate during a speech and followup session by Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), one of the so-called “Gang of Six” who are helping to write the Senate Finance Committee’s health care reform proposal. Around 500 people attend the event, held in a high school gym in Gillette, Wyoming. Enzi lambasts Senate Democrats and the White House for not engaging in what he calls “bipartisan collaboration” on reform, and calls for “market-based” health care solutions. Enzi says he has no use for a so-called “public option,” which would mandate a government-run alternative to private health care. “A government option is a monopoly, and it’s no option,” Enzi says, earning a strong round of applause. State Representative Timothy Hallinan, a Gillette Republican, earns more applause when he urges Enzi to pull out of negotiations with Senate Democrats and oppose any reform bill. When urged to do so by an audience member who identifies himself as a Republican, Enzi claims: “If I hadn’t been involved in this process as long as I have and to the depth as I have, you would already have national health care.… Someone has to be at the table asking questions. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.… It’s not where I get them to compromise, it’s what I get them to leave out.” Some pro-reform members of the audience note the large amounts of campaign contributions Enzi has taken, and argue for the public option. Enzi retorts by claiming two government-run medical programs, Medicare and Medicaid, are “going broke,” and a public option program would suffer the same fate. (Associated Press 8/25/2009)

BlueCross BlueShield logo.BlueCross BlueShield logo. [Source: TopNews (.us)]Health insurers have mobilized tens of thousands of employees to fight against the Democrats’ health care reform initiative, according to reports by the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. The insurance industry’s primary motive seems to be financial gain, according to the Times reporters. Many of the nation’s largest insurers, including UnitedHealth, have urged their employees to become involved in protesting health care reform, and provided advocacy “hot line” telephone numbers, printed “talking points,” sample “letters to the editor,” and other materials in almost every Congressional district throughout the nation. And many insurers, including BlueCross Blue Shield, have sponsored anti-reform television ads targeting conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats, many of whom are considered vulnerable to pressure from the industry. The insurance industry is paying for over 900 lobbyists, spending $35 million in the first half of 2009 lobbying Congress and the White House. AFL-CIO spokesman Gerald Shea says: “They have beaten us six ways to Sunday. Any time we want to make a small change to provide cost relief, they find a way to make it more profitable.” (Hamburger and Geiger 8/24/2009; Fuhrmans and Johnson 8/24/2009)
Jamming the 'Town Halls' - Insurers like UnitedHealth and others are sending their employees to “town hall” meetings to protest against reform. The Journal reports, “[T]he industry employees come armed with talking points about the need for bipartisan legislation and the unintended consequences of a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers.” But they are instructed not to become contentious and argumentative, according to a “Town Hall Tips” memo provided by the industry’s chief lobbying organization, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP—see Before August 6, 2009). The memo warns those attending the meetings to expect criticism, and to stay calm. “It is important not to take the bait,” the memo cautions. AHIP president Karen Ignagni says the town hall meetings are an opportunity “to strongly push back against charges that we have very high profits. It’s very important that our men and women… calmly provide the facts and for members of Congress to hear what these people do every day.” Larry Loew, who works for the insurance administration firm Cornerstone Group, says he attended a recent town hall meeting hosted by Representative Alan Mollohan (D-WV) because “my whole industry is being threatened.” Loew claims he was not coached by AHIP, but admits to preparing for the meeting by gathering talking points from hospital and insurance company Web sites. AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach says about 50,000 employees have been engaged in writing letters and making phone calls to politicians or attending town hall meetings. (Fuhrmans and Johnson 8/24/2009)
'Hallelujah!' - One industry proposal that is gaining traction among some in Congress is the so-called “individual mandate,” which would require all citizens to buy some form of health insurance. That provision would guarantee insurers tens of millions of new customers—many of which would receive government subsidies to help pay the premiums. Robert Laszewski, a former health insurance executive who now heads the consulting firm Health Policy and Strategy Associates, says of the provision, “It’s a bonanza.” The industry’s reaction to early negotiations can, Laszewski says, be summed up in a single word: “Hallelujah!” Linda Blumberg, a health policy analyst at the nonpartisan Urban Institute, says, “The insurers are going to do quite well” with health care reform. “They are going to have this very stable pool, they’re going to have people getting subsidies to help them buy coverage, and… they will be paid the full costs of the benefits that they provide—plus their administrative costs.” Aetna’s chief executive, Ron Williams, says: “We have to get everyone into the insurance market. That is a huge, big deal [and] everyone has coalesced around that.” (Hamburger and Geiger 8/24/2009; Fuhrmans and Johnson 8/24/2009)
Battling the Public Option, - Insurers have fought most strongly against the so-called “public option,” which would create a government-run, non-profit alternative to private health insurance. Some polls are showing public support for the public option has declined, and stock prices for the insurance corporations have tracked upwards. Other insurance industry proposals are gaining ground. The Senate Finance Committee is considering a proposal to lower the proposed mandatory reimbursement rate for insurers to policyholders from 76 percent to 65 percent, and the industry is pressuring Congress to lower the limit that insurers must meet to cover a policyholder’s medical bills, leaving more of the money it gleans from premiums as profits. “These are a bad deal for consumers,” says J. Robert Hunter, a former Texas insurance commissioner who works with the Consumer Federation of America. Insurance companies would reap huge profits by providing less insurance “per premium dollar,” he says. Former Cigna executive Wendell Potter says, “It would be quite a windfall” for the insurance industry. (Hamburger and Geiger 8/24/2009)

Health care reform supporters pack a 2,700-seat high school gymnasium in Reston, Virginia, to hear former Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Howard Dean and Representative James Moran (D-VA) discuss the Democrats’ reform proposals. Two pro-health care groups, Organizing for America and Change that Works, helped turn out the crowd, gathered signatures, and passed out signs, some of which resembled campaign signs for President Obama’s campaign, and some that were drawn in magic marker to appear homemade. One supporter says she goes because “I’ve heard these town hall meetings have been rude and out of control. I wanted to lend my support to the side that supports health care reform. I’m here to show my presence, wave my sign, and show that a good portion of Northern Virginia supports health care reform.”
Violent Street Theater - Anti-reform protesters gather outside the gym, and former Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry entertains the crowd with some street theater similar to what he has performed in recent days (see August 22-23, 2009). Terry and his supporters put on a skit with a man in an Obama mask pretending to whip a bloodied woman, who repeats the line: “Massa, don’t hit me no more. I got the money to kill the babies.” Terry also re-enacts his previous performance of a doctor pretending to stab an elderly woman to death. He explains his performance, saying, “There’s no way to pay for this thing without killing granny.” Two other protesters heckle supporters as they enter the gym; they wave signs and wear large flags around their shoulders adorned with a large machine gun and the words, “Come and take it.” (Guns are forbidden at the event because it takes place on school property.)
Police Remove Protesters - Inside, a small number of protesters try to shout down the rabbi who gives a preliminary invocation, but reform supporters drown out their boos and screams with cheers. Moran accepts only pre-screened questions, in an attempt to forestall raucous outbursts, but this process is disrupted when one protester pretends to be someone else who had been called upon to ask their question, and shouts out his objections to health care reform. In general, Moran is able to speak over the top of the near-constant heckling by using an amplifier and ignoring the taunts and jeers. However, when Dean takes the podium, the protesters erupt, and Moran orders some of them to leave. Police escort Terry and at least one other person out of the gym as the majority of the crowd chants, “Kick him out!” Although Dean is known as a fiery supporter of the government-run “public option,” his presentation is low-key and somewhat technical. (Soraghan 8/25/2009)

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his audience in two separate broadcasts that President Obama “wants to mandate circumcision” as part of the Democrats’ health care reform proposal. On August 24, Limbaugh says: “Not that I’m against circumcision, but it’s a family’s decision. Leave our penises alone, too, Obama!” On August 25, he says: “[I]t is President Obama who wants to mandate circumcision. We had that story yesterday; and that means if we need to save our penises from anybody, it’s Obama.” Limbaugh cites as his source a Fox News story based on an upcoming report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that may recommend circumcision for newborn boys in order to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS (the procedure can, later in life, reduce transmission of the disease from women to men). The CDC has not yet decided whether to make the recommendation. It is also considering whether to recommend circumcision for adult men who are at high risk for HIV infection. CDC spokesman Scott Bryan tells the St. Petersburg Times that any such recommendations “will be completely voluntary,” both for parents and for adult males. The St. Petersburg Times’s PolitiFact investigative team researches what involvement Obama may have had in the CDC’s potential recommendation, and finds none. “From what we found, Obama has not used the word ‘circumcision’ in any public statement as a candidate or as president,” the reporters note. “We also found no evidence that he has recommended circumcusion to the CDC. The only link—and it’s an indirect one—that we could find between Obama and the CDC’s efforts was a press release on the White House Web site announcing a series of HIV/AIDS community discussions, the first one being held in conjunction with the National HIV Prevention Conference we mentioned earlier. But the release did not mention circumcision. It turns out that circumcision recommendations have been under discussion since 2007, when George W. Bush was president. Given the fact the CDC was pondering the idea back then, it is no more accurate to say Obama wants to mandate circumcision than to say Bush did.” The Times calls Limbaugh’s assertions “ridiculous.” (St. Petersburg Times 8/27/2009)

In an interview with NPR, Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), finds it difficult to both support Medicare and attack government-run health care. Steele is interviewed by Steve Inskeep, and tells him that government-run health care is never a good option, but simultaneously demands that health care reformers protect Medicare and retain its funding.
Says Democrats Want to Cut Medicare, Then Advocates Cutting Medicare - Steele calls Medicare “a valuable program” that is “the last line of opportunity” for elderly Americans to receive health care. He accuses Democrats of wanting to “raid” the program to fund health care reform, and says accusations that he wants to cut Medicare spending is “a wonderful interpretation by the left” that he wants to reduce such funding. However, in response to the next question, Steele says he supports cutting Medicare spending; Inskeep asks, “[Y]ou would be in favor of certain Medicare cuts?” and Steele says: “Absolutely. You want to maximize the efficiencies of the program. I mean, anyone who’s in the program would want you to do that, and certainly those who manage it want you to that.”
Protecting and Attacking Medicare Simultaneously - Inskeep pins Steele down on the dichotomy by noting that he has previously written about the need to protect Medicare while attacking the idea of President Obama’s “plan for a government-run health care system.” Inskeep observes, “You’re aware that Medicare is a government-run health care program,” and Steele retorts: “Yeah, look how it’s run. And that’s my point. Take Medicare and make it writ large across the country, because here we’re now—how many times have we been to the precipice of bankruptcy for a government-run health care program?” In the following exchange, Steele, according to Think Progress reporter Amanda Terkel, “tie[s] himself into knots”:
bullet Inskeep: “It sounds like you don’t like Medicare very much at all.”
bullet Steele: “No, I’m not saying that. No, Medicare…”
bullet Inskeep: “… But you write in this [Washington Post] op-ed that you want to protect Medicare because it’s politically popular. People like Medicare.”
bullet Steele: “No, no, no, no, no. Please, don’t…”
bullet Inskeep: “That’s why you’re writing to protect Medicare.”
bullet Steele: “Well, people may like Medicare, and liking a program and having it run efficiently is sometimes two different things. And the reality of it is simply this: I’m not saying I like or dislike Medicare.… My only point is that, okay, Medicare is what it is. It’s not going anywhere. So let’s focus on fixing it so that we don’t every three, five, 10 years have discussions about bankruptcy and running out of money.”
'You're Doing a Wonderful Little Dance' - Inskeep continues to drill into Steele’s support for Medicare and his simultaneous opposition to government-run health care, leading Steele to note, “I want to protect something that’s already in place and make it run better and run efficiently for the senior citizens that are in that system does not mean that I want to automatically support, you know, nationalizing or creating a similar system for everybody else in the country who currently isn’t on Medicare.” When Steele says the government could regulate the private industry to make sure that private insurers don’t make decisions for citizens’ health care based on profit, Inskeep asks: “Wait a minute, wait, wait. You would trust the government to look into that?” After a brief, spluttering exchange, Steele says, “I’m talking about those who—well, who regulates the insurance markets?” Inskeep notes, “That would be the government, I believe.” Steele then accuses Inskeep of trying to manipulate the conversation: “Well, and so it—wait a minute, hold up. You know, you’re doing a wonderful little dance here and you’re trying to be cute, but the reality of this is very simple. I’m not saying the government doesn’t have a role to play. I’ve never said that. The government does have a role to play. The government has a very limited role to play.”
Insists that 'No One's Trying to Scare' Americans about Reform - Towards the end of the interview, Inskeep asks whether it is difficult to explain health care to Americans in a way that “doesn’t just kind of scare people with soundbites.” Steele replies: “No one’s trying to scare people with soundbites. I have not done that, and I don’t know any leaders in the House and the Senate that have done that.” (National Public Radio 8/27/2009; Terkel 8/27/2009) Steele has called the Democrats’ health care reform plan “socialism” and accused Congressional Democrats of being in a “cabal” to enact government-controlled health care over the objections of the American populace (see July 20, 2009). And his RNC has sent out a survey suggesting that the Democrats’ reform proposal would discriminate against Republicans (see August 27, 2009).

The question from the RNC survey asking about possible discrimination against Republicans.The question from the RNC survey asking about possible discrimination against Republicans. [Source: Washington Independent]The Republican National Committee (RNC) mails a survey to thousands of recipients that implies the Democrats’ health care reform efforts will use voter registration information to ration health care, and to deny care to Republicans. A question in the survey asks: “It has been suggested that the government could use voter registration to determine a person’s political affiliation, prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system. Does this possibility concern you?”
'Inartfully' Worded - Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine retorts, “Even we can’t believe the latest in the RNC’s effort to scare voters, lie to the public, and ‘kill’ health insurance reform.” RNC spokeswoman Katie Wright says the question might have been “inartfully” written, but reflects legitimate concerns about confidentiality: “Americans have reason to be concerned about the failure of the Democrats’ health care experiment to adequately protect the privacy of Americans’ personal information.” Politico’s Glenn Thrush says of Wright’s wording, “‘Inartfully’ seems to fall short of a loaded question which seems to have little basis in reality.” He notes that though the House bill gives the government the right to glean “point of service” data about someone’s health care payments or remittances through the use of an electronic benefits card, “nowhere in the proposed bill is any reference to tapping voter registration information.” (Thrush 8/27/2009; Republican National Committee 8/27/2009 pdf file)
AMA Criticizes Survey - The American Medical Association (AMA) denounces the survey’s implication, writing, “Patients should rest assured that the health care legislation under consideration in the House does not ration medical care or discriminate based on political affiliation.” (Beutler 8/27/2009) Progressive television host Rachel Maddow says of the survey, “In the horrible Hobbesian, no rules, no shame, free-for-all of lies, overstatements, and outrageous mischaracterizations that has been the health care debate this summer thus far, this one—this health reform is a secret plot to kill Republicans lie offered up by the Republican Party itself—was so bad that the Republican Party actually had to apologize for it today.” (MSNBC 8/28/2009)
'Fundraising Appeal' Designed to 'Inflam[e] the Republican Base' - Retired insurance underwriter Raymond Denny, who received the survey, equates the question to the classic “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” He says: “It’s so blatantly lopsided. I called them [the RNC] up and said, ‘This is ridiculous!’ They just said, ‘All right.’” Denny tells a reporter he is concerned that such baseless insinuations—that the Obama administration would deny health care to Republicans—would become yet another talking point for anti-reform proponents. Another question asks: “Rationing of health care in countries with socialized medicine has led to patients dying because they were forced to wait too long for treatment.… Are you concerned that this would be inevitable in the US under the Democrats’ plan?” Denny says: “I wrote insurance policies. I know how words can be used to make people do what you want them to do. The law allows a lot of latitude with politicians. That I understand. Some of these techniques are used by both parties. But this to me seems way over the edge of normal politics.” Pollster Mike Riley says the survey is not, apparently, a legitimate information-gathering device, but rather a means of inflaming the Republican base and garnering donations. Such “surveys” are standard practice, he notes. “It’s common, trying to stir the pot to see what kinds of issues get attention. Both parties do that. They are using some of the hot-button issues to see what activates the voters. It’s politics as usual within the party faithful. No one that I know puts any credibility in these types of polls.” Another pollster, Bob Moore, calls the “survey” little more than “a fundraising appeal.” If such tactics “weren’t effective, they wouldn’t be using them,” he says. (Durbin 8/27/2009; Weigel 8/27/2009; Weigel 8/27/2009)

Newsweek publishes an extensive article detailing what it calls “the five biggest lies in the health care debate.” Despite the title, the article actually debunks seven.
bullet The government will have electronic access to your bank accounts and steal citizens’ money (see (July 30, 2009) and After). The bill passed by the House Ways and Means Committee indeed calls for electronic fund transfers, but only from insurers to doctors and other providers. Patients are not involved in such transactions.
bullet You’ll have no choice in what health benefits you receive. This story seems to originate from a blog, Flecks of Life, which features a picture of President Obama made up as the Joker from the Batman films. The House bill provides for a “health care exchange,” including a list of private insurers and a single government plan, allowing people without health insurance to choose from the list. The government will prevent insurers from refusing clients with “preexisting conditions,” and require them to offer at least minimum coverage. However, Newsweek observes, “The requirements will be floors, not ceilings, however, in that the feds will have no say in how generous private insurance can be.”
bullet No chemo for older Medicare patients. Newsweek calls this a “vicious” rumor coming from the so-called “deather” camp (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 12-13, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 15, 2009, August 18, 2009, and August 23-24, 2009). The claim is that Medicare will refuse cancer patients over 70 years of age anything other than end-of-life counseling, including chemotherapy and other life-extending treatments. The claim, Newsweek says, “has zero basis in fact. It’s just a vicious form of the rationing scare.”
bullet [H]ealth-care reform will be financed through $500 billion in Medicare cuts. Again, nothing in the House bill or anything being considered in the Senate exists to back this claim. There are proposed decreases to increases in future Medicare funding, essentially reducing Medicare expenditures from the forecast of $803 billion by 2019. $560 billion would be removed from future Medicare increases over the next 10 years, and would not come from funds slated to provide actual care to seniors. And the House bill proposes increasing Medicare funding by $340 billion over the next 10 years. According to Medicare expert Tricia Newman of the Kaiser Family Foundation, the money would pay for office visits, eliminate copays and deductibles, and close the so-called “donut hole” in Medicare drug benefits.
bullet Illegal immigrants will get free health insurance. While a 1986 law allows illegal immigrants to receive free emergency care through emergency room clinics like everyone else in America, the House bill does not give anyone free health care. Illegal immigrants will not be eligible for subsidies to buy health insurance. In July, the House defeated a Republican-sponsored amendment to require anyone enrolling in a public plan or seeking subsidies to purchase health insurance to provide proof of citizenship. After the amemdment was defeated, Representative Steve King (R-IA) began spreading the false claims that since proof of citizenship would not be mandated, illegal immigrants would indeed be able to obtain government-funded health insurance. Newsweek writes: “Can we say that none of the estimated 11.9 million illegal immigrants will ever wangle insurance subsidies through identity fraud, pretending to be a citizen? You can’t prove a negative, but experts say that Medicare—the closest thing to the proposals in the House bill—has no such problem.”
bullet Death panels will decide who lives. So-called “death panels” form the heart of the “deather” claims that the government would mandate “end of life counseling sessions” that would encourage elderly and seriously ill patients to allow themselves to die. Newsweek calls the claim a “lie” that “springs from a provision in the House bill to have Medicare cover optional counseling on end-of-life care for any senior who requests it. This means that any patient, terminally ill or not, can request a special consultation with his or her physician about ventilators, feeding tubes, and other measures. Thus the House bill expands Medicare coverage, but without forcing anyone into end-of-life counseling.”
bullet The government will set doctors’ wages. This is another claim that seems to have originated on the Flecks of Life blog. Like the earlier claim, it is false. The House bill, according to Newsweek, “says that physicians who choose to accept patients in the public insurance plan would receive five percent more than Medicare pays for a given service, [but] doctors can refuse to accept such patients, and, even if they participate in a public plan, they are not salaried employees of it any more than your doctor today is an employee of, say, Aetna.” Amitabh Chandra of Harvard University says, “Nobody is saying we want the doctors working for the government; that’s completely false.” (Begley 8/29/2009)

Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) gives a speech to an audience at the conservative Independence Institute in Denver, Colorado. Bachmann tells the audience that “we… have to make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers” to defeat health care reform. Bachmann, whose speech is frequently punctuated by cheers, says health care reform has “the strength to destroy this country forever.… Right now, we are looking at reaching down the throat and ripping the guts out of freedom. And we may never be able to restore it if we don’t man up and take this one on.” She continues: “Something is way crazy out there.… This cannot pass.… What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t pass.… You’re either for us or against us on this issue.” Calling her speech a “personal legislative briefing,” Bachmann tells the audience that many Americans pay half of their incomes in taxes, and thusly, “This is slavery. It’s nothing more than slavery.” The Colorado Independent characterizes Bachmann’s speech as “filled with urgent and violent rhetoric.” She proudly calls herself the nation’s “second-most hated Republican woman,” behind only former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), and calls herself first on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)‘s list of “top targets,” presumably for defeat in the 2010 elections. Bachmann provides her own proposal for health care reform: “Erase the boundaries around every single state when it comes to health care,” enabling consumers to purchase insurance across state lines; increase the use of health savings accounts and allow everyone to “take full deductibility of all medical expenses,” including insurance premiums; include tort reform; and, she concludes: “Do a few other tweaks and you’re there. Your whole crisis is gone.” (Luning 8/31/2009; Nill 9/1/2009)

Three Senate Republicans—Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), former presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ), and Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO)—hold a “Health Care Reform Forum” at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. The event is closed to the public. The attendees were invited either by the senators or the hospital administration. McConnell tells the audience that he believes it is time to “step back and start over” on health care reform. McConnell and McCain intend to take part in two more health care forums, in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Hialeah, Florida, but both events will also be closed to the public. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who has taken part in several contentious town hall audiences (see July 27, 2009 and August 11, 2009), criticizes the Republican senators for not allowing citizens to take part in the discussions, saying: “I’m disappointed that the Republican leader of the Senate is coming to Kansas City on Monday and participating in a forum, but they’re not opening it up to the public. It’s invitation-only. I think it might be helpful for the leadership in the Republican Party to have some of the experiences I’ve had over the last week, where some of the meetings are wildly in favor of reform, and other meetings are wildly against it. I think having that pulse is important, and I think the Republican leader would benefit from that.” (Terkel 8/31/2009; Funk 8/31/2009)

Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), speaks to an audience of around 150 at Howard University in Washington. Steele’s speech is part of his outreach to historically African-American colleges and universities. Unfortunately for his outreach program, the first few rows in the auditorium are reserved for local Young Republicans; all of the attendees from that organization are white. Steele’s dialogue has few moments for the audience to contribute, as he delivers a long speech about providing for your own future, with all questions submitted in writing while he speaks. However, the dynamic changes when 23-year-old Amanda Duzak, a Towson University graduate, stands up against the rules of engagement and speaks out of turn. Steele had finished criticizing the idea of the “public option,” the proposed government-run alternative to private health insurance. Duzak says: “My mother died of cancer six months ago because she could only afford three of her six prescription chemotherapy medications. There are 50 million people in this country who could end up like my mom, suffering or dying because they do not have adequate health care (see September 17, 2009). Everyone in this room and everyone in this country should have access to good health care.” Duzak receives a solid round of applause, and Steele answers her. After saying he believes in mature, honest discussion, he says, “People are coming to these town meetings and they’re like [he then shakes].” Gesturing directly at Duzak, he adds: “It makes for great TV. You’ll probably make it tonight, enjoy it.” Steele then turns his back on Duzak as the crowd continues to applaud her. (Terkel 9/2/2009; Zirin 9/2/2009; Weigel 9/2/2009)

Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY), a vocal supporter of health care reform and an advocate of universal health care for all Americans (see July 30, 2009), engages in a contentious on-air debate on MSNBC with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo. Weiner extolls the virtues of Medicare, a US-run health care system for all citizens 65 or older: “The United States of America, 40 percent of all tax dollars go through a public plan. Ask your parent or grandparent, ask your neighbor whether they’re satisfied with Medicare. Now, there’s a funding problem, but the quality of care is terrific. You get complete choice and go anywhere you want. Don’t look at—” Bartiromo interrupts Weiner by snapping: “How come you don’t use it? You don’t have it. How come you don’t have it?” Weiner replies: “Because I’m not 65. I would love it.” Bartiromo, seemingly unaware that Medicare is only for those aged 65 or older, and also that Weiner is 20 years too young for the system, retorts, “Yeah, come on.” Weiner says: “Medicare for someone age 45? I would take it in a heartbeat.” (Klein 9/1/2009; Pitney 9/1/2009)

Health insurance corporations defend their use of “rescissions,” or denials of care due to what they term “pre-existing conditions” among their customers. Washington Post reporters interview Los Angeles businesswoman Sally Marrari, who in 2006 had her coverage canceled by Blue Cross & Blue Shield after the firm claimed she had withheld information from them about a back problem. Marrari was undergoing treatment for a thyroid disorder, a heart problem, and lupus. After her coverage was canceled, Marrari was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and quickly racked up over $200,000 in medical bills. She says she had no idea at the time that she had any back issues. She is currently suing the company, and is getting health care by trading office visits for work on her doctor’s 1969 Porsche at the garage she owns with her husband. Marrari’s tale is one of many cited by the Post as illustrative of the insurance industry’s unpopular practice. The Post writes, “Tales of cancellations have fueled outrage among regulators, analysts, doctors, and, not least, plaintiffs’ lawyers, who describe insurers as too eager to shed patients to widen profits.” Insurance company spokespersons claim to have little knowledge of just how and why particular patients are subjected to rescission, and Congressional investigators point to a patchwork of state laws and policies which lead to confusion. Since 2008, California’s five largest insurers have paid almost $19 million in fines for unfairly canceling policyholders’ insurance after those clients filed claims. One insurer, Health Net, has admitted to offering bonuses to employees for finding reasons to cancel policies. Gerald Kominski of the Center for Health Policy says: “This is probably the most egregious of examples of health insurers using their power and their resources to deny benefits to people who are most in need of care. It’s really a horrendous activity on the part of the insurers.” But insurers say the rescissions are necessary to combat fraud among policyholders. An Anthem Blue Cross spokeswoman says: “We do not rescind a policyholder’s coverage because someone on the policy gets sick. We have put in place a thorough process with multiple steps to ensure that we are as fair and as accurate as we can be in making these difficult decisions.” Blue Cross has been fined $11 million over the last two years by California state overseers, and required to reinstate dozens of canceled policies. Officials from three insurance companies recently told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee they had saved $300 million by canceling about 20,000 policies over five years. (Vick 9/8/2009)

Joshua Bowman, a resident of Falls Church, Virginia, is arrested by US Capitol Police after attempting to gain access to the Capitol grounds as President Obama begins addressing a joint session of Congress on health care reform (see September 9, 2009). Bowman attempts to bypass a barricade impeding access to the Capitol building, asking officers if he can park in a secure lot. The lot requires a permit and a vehicle search. The officers, suspicious of Bowman’s timing, search his Honda Civic, and find a shotgun, a rifle, and ammunition in the trunk. Bowman is arrested for carrying two unregistered firearms. His intentions are unclear, according to police spokeswoman Sergeant Kimberly Schneider. The Capitol Police and Secret Service are on high alert during Obama’s speech, which features several members of the White House and almost the entire body of Congress present in a single location. (Yager 9/10/2009; Associated Press 9/10/2009)

Joe Wilson attempting to shout down President Obama.Joe Wilson attempting to shout down President Obama. [Source: Politics Daily]President Obama gives a speech touting his administration’s health care reform efforts to a joint session of Congress. The speech, at times forceful and other times attempting to reach across party lines for a bipartisan reform effort, is primarly designed to unify Democrats against a near-unified Republican opposition. Obama denounces some of the most egregious misrepresentations about the health care reform effort, including the so-called “death panel” claim (see August 7, 2009, August 15, 2009, and August 23-24, 2009), in which he calls the people who spread the tale “liars.” He warns Republicans that he will brook no more gamesmanship from them in the effort to craft a reform bill. “What we have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government,” he says. “Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned. Well, the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed.” Democrats roundly cheer Obama’s words; Republicans generally do not. (Thrush 9/9/2009; Cilizza 9/9/2009; Salon 9/9/2009) The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza later notes that the speech is stronger on rhetoric than it is on specifics. (Cilizza 9/9/2009) Salon’s Joan Walsh, an avowed progressive, calls the speech “great” and writes: “What was most important about Obama’s address was his declaration that he won’t tolerate any more ‘lies’ or ‘bogus claims’ from the GOP. Yes, he used those terms.… My only real criticism is I wish he’d found a way to do this two months ago. Obama has never before been so lucid in explaining why reform is crucial.” (Walsh 9/9/2009)
Health Care an Economic Issue - Obama insists that reforming health care is critical to managing America’s continuing economic crisis, and key to shrinking the huge deficit. He says: “Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close.” However, as Walsh writes: “I was not crazy about his firm promise, ‘I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficit.’ I’m not sure he can keep that promise, for one thing, and it’s not a pledge he makes when asking for more money for Afghanistan, or for the not terribly stimulative tax cut he included in the stimulus bill.” (Walsh 9/9/2009; Salon 9/9/2009)
No Commitment to the Public Option - While Obama’s rhetoric is at times tough, he does not directly embrace the idea of a “public option,” the proposed government-run, non-profit alternative to private health insurance. Many Democrats, particularly those in the progressive wing of the party, are strongly in favor of such a measure. “It is only one part of my plan,” Obama says of the option. “To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it. The public option is only a means to that end—and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.” (Thrush 9/9/2009; Salon 9/9/2009) He notes that he has no interest in punishing the health care insurance industry, saying, “I don’t want to put insurance companies out of business, I just want to hold them accountable.” (Walsh 9/9/2009)
Evoking Senator Kennedy - Near the end of the speech, Obama evokes the memory of former Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who died recently of brain cancer. Kennedy characterized health care reform as the centerpiece of his political agenda, and fought for it throughout his lengthy stay in the Senate. Obama reveals that Kennedy sent the White House a letter in his last days (see May 12, 2009), asking Obama and his fellow members of Congress to keep fighting for health care reform for the betterment of all Americans. Referring to Kennedy’s message, Obama closes with the line: “We did not come here to fear the future. We came here to shape it.” (Cilizza 9/9/2009) Walsh says of the letter, “It let Obama return to his theme that health care in this wealthy nation is a moral issue and a matter of social justice.” (Cilizza 9/9/2009)
'You Lie!' - During the speech, when Obama says that the health care legislation being crafted by Congressional Democrats does not offer free health care to illegal immigrants, Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouts, “You lie!” Many lawmakers gasp at Wilson’s outburst, but Obama merely points an admonishing finger in the direction of the shout and continues his address. (It takes some time to identify Wilson as the shouter, as he quickly sinks back into his seat among his fellow Republican House members.) The Associated Press writes, “The nastiness of August reached from the nation’s town halls” in Wilson’s outburst; Politico’s Glenn Thrush later calls Wilson’s shout “boorish,” and notes that his outburst “enraged audience members on both sides of the aisle.” Wilson’s disruptive behavior is only one of a number of displays of disagreement from Republicans during the address; many spend time during the speech texting on their Blackberries or waving copies of GOP reform proposals. After the speech, Wilson is chastised by, among others, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and he offers an apology to Obama through the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel (see September 9-10, 2009). (Thrush 9/9/2009; Associated Press 9/9/2009) Cillizza later writes that the image of Republicans shouting at the president or showing their contempt for his message by texting during the speech gives a poor impression of them. “The more Republicans look like they are opposing the Democratic plan for partisan reasons, the more danger they are in politically,” he writes. (Cilizza 9/9/2009)
Responses - Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), considered a possible opponent to many reform provisions, says he came away from the speech impressed. “I think it was a bit of a game-changer,” he says. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says, “The speech galvanized support along the Democratic Caucus across the political spectrum, from the progressive caucus to the Blue Dogs, and everybody left determined to get something done this year.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has a different response, ignoring the behavior of his own party members to accuse Obama of behaving in an undignified manner. “I was incredibly disappointed in the tone of his speech,” he says. “At times, I found his tone to be overly combative and believe he behaved in a manner beneath the dignity of the office. I fear his speech tonight has made it more difficult—not less—to find common ground. He appeared to be angry at his critics and disappointed the American people were not buying the proposals he has been selling.… If the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats go down this path and push a bill on the American people they do not want, it could be the beginning of the end of the Obama presidency.” Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL), who is running for the Illinois Senate seat once occupied by Obama, says: “He talked at us. He didn’t listen to us.… It was a missed opportunity.” However, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), one of the Obama administration’s most consistent critics, calls the speech “good,” and says: “I’m willing to compromise to get things fixed. But I’m not willing to put the government in charge because we don’t have a good track record.” (Thrush 9/9/2009) Political scientist Morris Fiorina calls Wilson’s outburst “a new low for the contemporary era,” and adds, “Some politicians seem to be adopting radio talk show hosts and cable TV commentators as their role models.” (Kiely 9/10/2009)
Armed Man Attempted to Get to Capitol before Speech - Shortly before Obama’s speech, Capitol Police arrested a man trying to enter the Capitol grounds with a shotgun and a rifle (see September 9, 2009).

Charles Boustany.Charles Boustany. [Source: US House of Representatives / Wonkette (.com)]Representative Charles Boustany (R-LA), a cardiac surgeon, gives the Republican rebuttal to President Obama’s speech on health care reform (see September 9, 2009). (Thrush 9/9/2009) Boustany tells his listeners that Americans “want health care reform,” but wanted to hear Obama “tell Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, Majority Leader [Harry] Reid and the rest of Congress that it’s time to start over on a common-sense, bipartisan plan focused on lowering the cost of health care while improving quality.” Boustany acknowledged in an interview that the Republicans had done almost nothing themselves to address the health care crisis, but says in his speech that the Democrats’ reform proposals are too big, too expensive, and too ineffective. (Weisman 9/9/2009)
Large Campaign Donations from Health Care Corporations - Boustany is an unusual choice for the response, as the Center for Responsive Politics notes that he has received $1,256,056 from health and health insurance interests in his five-year political career. Such donations make up over 20 percent of his total fundraising. David Donnelly of Public Campaign Actions Fund notes: “There is a conflict of interest when members of Congress stand before the public and recite the same talking points put forth by lobbyists and the heads of insurance and HMO giants opposing health care legislation. Rep. Boustany has taken more than $160,000 in campaign contributions from insurance and HMO interests alone. Do you think he’ll disclose that to his national audience tonight?” Boustany makes no such mention during his response. (US Newswire 10/9/2009)
Voted against Children's Health Care, Flu Vaccination Funding - The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) notes that Boustany voted against the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), did not support a supplemental appropriations bill that included an increase in flu vaccination funding, and voted against an expansion of COBRA funding, a government program designed to supplement working Americans’ health coverage. DCCC spokeswoman Jessica Santillo says: “Congressman Boustany’s no votes on issues ranging from providing health insurance for children, to fighting pandemic flu, to keeping the doors open at community health centers makes him a credible voice for special interests, but not for hardworking Louisianians who struggle with health insurance companies.” Boustany has explained that his vote against S-CHIP funding was to encourage a different way to expand the program: “I proudly support S-CHIP, so we must ensure our children are getting the quality health care they need. A massive increase of S-CHIP further neglects those children who already slipped through the cracks. These children need to see a doctor to receive care.” (Romm 9/9/2009)
Other Details of Boustany's Life and Career Brought Up - Politico notes that Boustany had three malpractice suits filed against him while he was a practicing doctor. Two of the cases were ruled against Boustany, and the third was settled out of court for an undisclosed monetary amount. (Thrush 9/9/2009) Boustany has previously indicated his doubts that Obama is actually an American citizen, aligning him with the “birther” movement (Daily Kingfish 9/9/2009) , a position he later recanted. (Linkins 9/9/2009) And several progressive blogs delight in recounting his 2004 attempt to purchase an English lordship from a British con artist. (Daily Kos 9/9/2009)

A T-shirt being marketed in support of Joe Wilson’s re-election campaign.A T-shirt being marketed in support of Joe Wilson’s re-election campaign. [Source: Palmetto Scoop]Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC), who shouted “You lie!” at President Obama during his speech to a joint session of Congress earlier in the evening (see September 9, 2009), apologizes publicly for his behavior during the speech. In an e-mail to reporters, he writes: “This evening, I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the president’s remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.” He also apologizes to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. (Thrush 9/9/2009; Thrush 9/9/2009)
Slammed by Republicans and Democrats - Before Wilson makes his apologies, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls his actions “totally disrespectful,” and adds, “There is no place for it in that setting, or any other, and he should apologize for it immediately.” Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime senator, says the next morning: “I was embarrassed for the chamber and a Congress I love. It demeaned the institution.” Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) says after the speech: “Obviously, the president of the United States is always welcome on Capitol Hill. He deserves respect and decorum. I know that Congressman Wilson has issued an apology and made his thoughts known to the White House, which was the appropriate thing to do.” Cantor spent much of the speech ostentatiously texting on his Blackberry, and later claimed to be taking notes on the proceedings. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says angrily upon leaving the House chambers: “I’ve been here for 35 years. I’ve been here for seven presidents. I’ve never heard anything like that.… It strengthens the president, because it demonstrates what he is facing. Most people have respect for the president.” Wilson’s fellow South Carolinian James Clyburn (D-SC) says the outburst is just another in a long line of political attacks by Wilson. “Joe Wilson took our state’s reputation to a new low,” he says. “I thought [Governor] Mark Sanford had taken it as low as it could go, but this is beyond the pale.” (Sanford is under fire for having a long-term affair and spending state tax monies on visiting his paramour in Argentina.) “To heckle is bad enough, but to use that one word, the one three-letter word that was not allowed to be used in my house while I was growing up, is beyond the pale.” Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) says of Wilson’s outburst: “It was just something that nobody had ever witnessed before. We all felt embarrassed.” Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) predicts Wilson’s outburst will have political consequences: “The person who said it will pay a price. I think the average American thinks that the president and the office deserve respect, and that was a disrespectful comment. They’ll pay a price in the court of public opinion.” (Thrush 9/9/2009; Associated Press 9/10/2009; Kellman 9/10/2009; Scherer 9/10/2009)
Acceptance - The White House quickly accepts Wilson’s apology. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agrees, saying, “It’s time for us to talk about health care, not Mr. Wilson.” (Kiely 9/10/2009)
Resolution of Disapproval - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says the House may call for a rebuke of some sort against Wilson. “There’ll be time enough to consider whether or not we ought to make it clear that that action is unacceptable in the House of Representatives,” he says after the speech. “I’ve talked to Republican members who share that view.” (Associated Press 9/10/2009) On September 15, the House will pass a “resolution of disapproval” against Wilson, with only six Republicans voting for the resolution. (Rosen 10/4/2009) The resolution is brought in part due to Wilson’s refusal to apologize to either Obama or to the House of Representatives on the floor of the House. (Kiely 9/10/2009)
Using Wilson's Outburst against the GOP - The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent writes that Democratic strategists will use Wilson’s outburst to portray the Republican opposition to reform “as obstinate, angry, and irrevocally hostile towards Obama and his agenda.” (Sargent 9/10/2009) In the weeks after the speech, the Republican Party will use Wilson’s outburst as the centerpiece of a fundraising effort around the nation. The National Republican Congressional Committee will call Wilson a “national figure” who is raising important concerns about health care reform. The House Democratic campaign organization will respond, saying of Wilson and his Republican supporters, “[T]he very liars who heckled President Obama for calling them out are raising millions of dollars off of their rude, dishonest attack.” (Fox News 9/26/2009) Salon’s Joan Walsh asks: “How is it that Obama hasn’t faced a single heckler in his own health care town halls, but he’s not safe from the angry, uninformed mob when he speaks to Congress? The next time you see an important Republican leader claim the town-hell hecklers are just fringe elements and bad apples, remind them of Rep. Wilson.” (Walsh 9/9/2009)
Raising Millions - In the days after the speech, Wilson will send e-mails to his supporters claiming to be the target of “liberals who want to give health care to illegals” for his outburst, and asking for donations. Wilson’s campaign will claim that it raises over $1 million in donations in the first 48 hours after the speech. (CNN 9/12/2009) By the time the September 30 deadline passes, Wilson and the challenger for his House seat, Rob Miller (D-SC), a retired Marine, will have raised over $4 million between them. Wilson will attend fundraisers as far afield as Michigan and Missouri. When Wilson boasts of being given “hundreds of invitations” to appear with Republicans in other states, Miller will retort: “He’s out there on his ‘thank you tour.’ He should be doing an apology tour. He should be apologizing to every teacher, every law enforcement official, every man, woman, and child in South Carolina for being disrespectful to the president.” (Rosen 10/4/2009)

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh applauds Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) for shouting “You lie!” at President Obama during the president’s address to Congress (see September 9, 2009), and tells his listeners he wished Wilson had not apologized for his outburst (see September 9-10, 2009). Limbaugh calls Obama’s assertion that health care reform would not include free care for illegal immigrants “a blatant lie,” and says he is disgusted that so many Republicans called on Wilson to apologize for his behavior. The Obama administration, Limbaugh claims, “is trying to totally tear down the institutions and traditions that have made this country great,” and he says Wilson is merely speaking the truth. Obama “is lying… from the moment he opens his mouth until he ends the speech. I was shouting ‘You’re lying!’ throughout the speech, at the television. ‘You’re lying!’ ‘That’s a lie!’ Joe Wilson simply articulated what millions of Americans were saying.” (Media Matters 9/10/2009) Time’s Michael Scherer notes that the Senate Finance Committee’s working draft contains the line, “No illegal immigrants will benefit from the health care tax credits.” HR 3200, the House reform bill, contains Section 246, which is titled “NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS.” (Scherer 9/10/2009)

Mark McKinnon.Mark McKinnon. [Source: Houston Chronicle]Mark McKinnon, a Republican political strategist who worked on both the George W. Bush and John McCain presidential campaigns, says Republican Joe Wilson (R-SC), who shouted at President Obama during his recent speech (see September 9, 2009), should pay by being voted out of office. “Make Joe Wilson pay,” McKinnon writes for the online news source The Daily Beast. “And by pay, I mean beat his sorry _ss at the polls and send him to the private sector. That is the only way to change the political discourse in America today. Because as long as louts like Joe Wilson can spout off and call the president a liar and get rewarded with re-election, then louts will continue to spout off. And we [the Republican Party] will continue to claw our way to the very bottom of the political swamp.” McKinnon says the Republican Party will never rebuild itself and become a serious contender for national leadership until it “get[s] rid of the partisans like Joe Wilson.” He finds Wilson’s shout reprehensible, both because of the blatant disrespect it showed to the president and to Congress and because of his error—Wilson wrongly asserts that Obama is lying about the Democrats’ health care reform not funding free health care for illegal immigrants. McKinnon says Wilson’s apology to Obama (see September 9-10, 2009) lacks “class,” and writes: “He made it clear he was saying ‘sorry’ only because he’d been forced to by the Republican House leadership: ‘Well, I, uh, last night I heard from the leadership that they wanted me to contact the White House and, uh, say that, uh, my statements, uh, were inappropriate. I did.’ Apologies should extract some moral or material cost.… Now, proving he has no real remorse or character, Wilson has created a YouTube video and is trying to raise money off his transgression.” McKinnon concludes: “There’s only one way we’re going to change our political climate and ensure we establish some respect in our discourse. And that is to show there is a real price to pay for being a disrespectful partisan idiot.” (McKinnon 9/11/2009)

One of many signs held by protesters at the 9/12 rally in Washington.One of many signs held by protesters at the 9/12 rally in Washington. [Source: Daily Kos]An organization called the “9/12 Project” (see March 13, 2009 and After), sponsored by Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, holds a protest rally on the Capitol Mall in Washington. Other sponsors include lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 2, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, and April 15, 2009), ResistNet (see August 10, 2009) and Tea Party Patriots (see July 17, 2009 and Late July, 2009). Many protesters credit Beck for inspiring them to come to the protest, though Beck himself does not attend. (Marshall 9/12/2009; Brown, Hohmann, and Bacon 9/12/2009) Many of the signs praise Beck and Fox News, while others celebrate former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), and other conservative figures. Still others further the claim that health care reform will “kill Grandma” (see August 12, 2009) and “kill babies.” One sign, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), reads, “I need my health care… Pelosi makes me sick!” Many signs depict President Obama as a Communist or socialist; one claims, “I work hard so Obama voters don’t have to!” and another refers to “Comrade Obama.” One sign, declaring “Yes! We are a Christian nation!” is signed by one of the rally speakers, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC). (John Lewandowski 9/12/2009)
Inflating the Numbers - Reports by local police and fire officials estimate the crowd at between 60,000 and 70,000, which columnist Josh Marshall calls “smallish by big DC protest/event standards but definitely respectable.” The Washington Post reports, “Tens of thousands protest Obama initiatives and government spending.” However, estimates by conservative radio hosts, bloggers, and media commentators put the numbers far higher, at up to two million. (TPMDC’s Brian Beutler notes that expectations were inflated the day before by a Democratic House staffer, who sent out an e-mail predicting a turnout “ranging from hundreds of thousands to two million people.” Beutler writes: “For reference, two million is just a hair under four times the total population of Washington, DC, and approximately the number of people who showed up to the history-making inauguration of President Barack Obama. Sound like a bit of an exaggeration? It probably is.” He also notes, “A source at a major liberal organization in Washington says, ‘one of the things we decided to do was try to raise expectations for turnout.’” When the initial figures are published in the media, protest organizers and various participants begin claiming that the actual turnout was somewhere between one and two million, but the numbers are being suppressed by pro-Obama media outlets. (Beutler 9/11/2009; Marshall 9/12/2009) One conservative blogger writes: “‘Media’ estimates range from 60,000 to 500,000 to around two million (yes, 2,000,000). Those estimates, the language employed, and the visuals chosen for use in reporting the rally and representing the people gathered, vary greatly based solely on bias.” (Richart 9/14/2009) Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin initially reports third-hand claims that ABC News is reporting turnouts between 1.2 and two million, then updates her report to note ABC denies making any such claim. She quotes another conservative blogger who writes, “However big it was, it was bigger than expected.” By day’s end, Malkin notes an ABC report that the wildly inflated crowd estimate came from FreedomWorks: “Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the group that organized the event, said on stage at the rally Saturday that ABC News was reporting that one million to 1.5 million people were in attendance. At no time did ABC News, or its affiliates, report a number anywhere near as large. ABCNews.com reported an approximate figure of 60,000 to 70,000 protesters, attributed to the Washington, DC, fire department. In its reports, ABC News Radio described the crowd as ‘tens of thousands.’ Brendan Steinhauser, spokesman for FreedomWorks, said he did not know why Kibbe cited ABC News as a source.” Malkin then writes, “The Left, of course, has seized on the error to discredit the undeniably massive turnout today.” (Michelle Malkin 9/12/2009; ABC News 9/13/2009) The next day, unidentified people circulate a photo from 1997 to ‘prove’ that the rally actually attracted over a million protesters (see September 13-14, 2009). Two days after the event, London’s Daily Mail reports “up to two million” at the rally. (Gardner 9/14/2009)
Fears of Socialism - The Post reports that many protesters wave signs and tell reporters about their fears of a “socialist America” under Obama, and warn that the Democrats’ attempts to reform US health care are undermining the Constitution. One protester bellows into a bullhorn: “You want socialism? Go to Russia!” “Hell hath no fury like a taxpayer ignored,” Andrew Moylan, head of government affairs for the National Taxpayers Union, tells the crowd, which responds with lusty cheers. One speaker, Representative Tom Price (R-GA), tells the crowd: “You will not spend the money of our children and our grandchildren to feed an overstuffed government. Our history is decorated by those who endured the burden of defending freedom. Now a new generation of patriots has emerged. You are those patriots.” Many of the signs support Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC), who days before accused Obama of lying during the president’s appearance before Congress (see September 9, 2009). (Brown, Hohmann, and Bacon 9/12/2009)
Exhortations to Violence? - Some of the signs and slogans chanted by the protesters strike observers as perhaps calling for violence against elected officials or citizens who disagree with the protesters’ views, or are racist and/or personally slanderous. One sign depicts an assault rifle and the words, “We came unarmed from Montana and Utah… this time!” Another reads, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time… Pennsylvanians are armed and ready!” Another, referencing proposed “triggers” that would launch a government program to provide health insurance, depicts a rifle with the caption, “I got your ‘trigger’ right here… it’s called the Second Amendment!” A number of protesters hold professionally printed signs referencing the recent death of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), reading, “Bury ObamaCare with Kennedy.” Another, referencing the Cleveland Zoo and the discredited “birther” theory, asks: “What’s the difference between Cleveland and the White House? One has an African lion and another a lyin’ African!” A related sign calls Obama the “president of Kenya.” Another, purporting to speak in “ghetto slang,” asks, “Where my white privilege males at?” A protester waves a sign reading, “Fascist are [sic] now in control they [sic] are like a cancer slowly killing America WAKE UP.” The now-familiar signs of Obama with a Hitler mustache, and of “socialist” Obama made up like the Joker from Batman comics and movies, are also in evidence. One speaker calls Obama the “parasite-in-chief.” (Brown, Hohmann, and Bacon 9/12/2009; Gardner 9/14/2009)
Reaction from Democrats - The reaction from Congressional Democrats is tepid. Doug Thornell, an adviser to Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), tells reporters, “There is a lot of intensity on the far right to defeat the president’s agenda, but I am not sure that holding up signs that say we have to bury health reform with Senator Kennedy will go over well with moderates and independent voters.” (Brown, Hohmann, and Bacon 9/12/2009)

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) acknowledges it has funded a series of television advertisements in support of legislation primarily written by Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to reform US health care. The television ads are part of an agreement between the Obama administration, Baucus, and PhRMA in June, where the organization agreed to various givebacks and discounts designed to reduce America’s pharmaceutical spending by $80 billion over 10 years. PhRMA then set aside $150 million for advertising to support health care legislation. More progressive House Democrats such as Henry Waxman (D-CA) are pushing for stiffer drug industry givebacks than covered in the deal. PhRMA is led by Billy Tauzin, a former Republican congressman. Until recently, the organization spent some $12 million on ads by an offshoot coalition called Americans for Stable Quality Care, and aired television ads such as “Eight Ways Reform Matters to You.” PhRMA’s new ads will specifically support the Baucus bill. Many are critical of the deal, with James Love of the progressive research group Knowledge Ecology charging, “Essentially what the US got was not $80 billion, but $150 million in Obama campaign contributions.” (Wilson 9/12/2009) Investigative reporter Matt Taibbi agrees with Love, accusing the White House of colluding with Baucus and Tauzin’s PhRMA to orchestrate a “big bribe” in exchange for the Democrats’ dropping of drug-pricing reform in the Baucus bill. Taibbi writes that in June, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel met with representatives from PhRMA and drug companies such as Abbott Laboratories, Merck, and Pfizer to cut their deal. Tauzer later told reporters that the White House had “blessed” a plan involving the $150 million in return for the White House’s agreement to no longer back government negotiations for bulk-rate pharmaceuticals for Medicare, and to no longer support the importation of inexpensive drugs from Canada. Taibbi writes that the White House worked with Baucus and PhRMA to undercut Waxman’s attempts to give the government the ability to negotiate lower rates for Medicare drugs. PhRMA’s ads are being aired primarily in the districts of freshmen Democrats who are expected to face tough re-election campaigns, and in the districts of conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats, who have sided with Baucus, Obama, and PhRMA to oppose the Waxman provision in favor of PhRMA’s own provision, which would ban the government from negotiating lower rates for Medicare recipients. (Taibbi 9/14/2009)

This 1997 photograph was circulated as ‘proof’ that the September 12, 2009 rally had millions in attendance.This 1997 photograph was circulated as ‘proof’ that the September 12, 2009 rally had millions in attendance. [Source: St. Petersburg Times]Conservative bloggers attempting to give credence to discredited claims that the “9/12 rally” held in Washington attracted up to two million participants (see September 12, 2009) circulate a photo which they say proves the size of the crowd. The photo shows a crowd packing the National Mall and spilling into the streets beyond. Unfortunately, the photo is quickly shown to have been taken at least five years before the rally took place. The St. Petersburg Times asks Pete Piringer, public affairs officer for the DC Fire and Emergency Department, if the rally had been big enough to fill that area. Piringer says it had not, and notes that the photo being circulated could not have been taken in 2009. He says the crowd “only filled the Capitol grounds, maybe up to Third Street.” Moreover, the photo does not include the National Museum of the American Indian, a building located at the corner of Fourth Street and Independence Avenue that opened on September 14, 2004. The museum should be in the upper right corner of the National Mall, next to the Air and Space Museum. The Times says the photo was likely taken in 1997. A Democratic media strategist says of the false photo: “I’ve seen bigger crowds at Montreal Expos games, but I still wouldn’t fake a photo just to justify your predictions of millions descending on Washington. This is grade-A stupid and just plays into the argument that these were astroturf protests to begin with. They’ve always brought the noise, but the question that was supposed to be answered this weekend was, could they bring the numbers? In that respect this was an unmitigated disaster.” By September 14, many of the conservative blogs that had originally posted the photo have taken them down, though some are claiming that the picture is a result of a liberal conspiracy to discredit the event. Many conservatives still argue that over a million people attended the rally. (Huffington Post 9/14/2009; Richart 9/14/2009)

The Public Campaign Action Fund (PCAF), a campaign finance watchdog organization, finds that insurance and health management organizations (HMOs) have spent over $700,000 a day during the first half of 2009 to defeat health care reform. It also notes that health care and insurance interests, which include organizations outside of the HMOs and insurance companies, have spent roughly $1.4 million a day during the first quarter of 2009 to defeat reform efforts. During the first six months of 2009, the companies spent $126,430,438, mostly on hired lobbyists, to oppose the health care reform legislation working its way through Congress. Since 2007, the companies have spent around $585 million to defeat health care reform. “The insurance and HMO interests are fighting health care reform with hundreds of millions of dollars,” says PCAF’s David Donnelly. “Why are so many in Congress willing to listen to an industry that is spending tens of millions every month on politics rather than on lowering their premiums or helping to address the costs of health care? They need the cash to pay for their campaigns.” The HMO and insurance companies have 1,795 lobbyists registered in Washington to represent their concerns to Congress and members of the Obama administration; the same firms hired almost 2,000 lobbyists in 2008. PCAF says it compiled its data from information provided by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Senate lobbying disclosure Web sites. (Public Campaign Action Fund 9/15/2009)

Max Baucus (D-MT), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, releases his committee’s final version of health care reform, a version known as the “chairman’s mark.” None of the Republicans on the committee support the bill (known as the “America’s Healthy Future Act,” or AHFA), and some Democrats, including John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), have serious questions about it as well. Baucus says: “The $856 billion dollar package will not add to the federal deficit. The Finance Committee will meet to begin voting on the chairman’s mark next week.” An analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) shows that the bill will actually “result in a net reduction in federal budget deficits of $49 billion over the 2010-2019 period.” Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Enzi (D-WY) have said that they want a much smaller bill that imposes no fees on health insurance companies, prevents legal immigrants from gaining coverage for five years, and bans any federal coverage for abortions. The Baucus bill does not allow for federal monies to be used for abortions, as Republicans have insisted upon, with the exception of situations involving rape or incest. Illegal immigrants are not provided coverage through the bill; legal immigrants cannot get government subsidies and must wait five years before qualifying for Medicaid. Immigrants’ citizenship status will be verified, as Republicans have requested. Another Republican provision, “tort reform” (efforts to reduce legal claims against doctors and HMOs), is part of the bill. There is no “public option” for government-financed health care for uninsured citizens, as Republicans and conservative Democrats have demanded. The bill allows for the purchasing of insurance across state lines, for “high-deductible” policies, and for so-called “high-risk pools,” three provisions Republicans have demanded. And, beginning in 2014, federal monies will be made available “to all states to defray the costs of covering newly-eligible beneficiaries.” (111th Congress, 1st Session 9/16/2009; Volsky 9/16/2009; Volsky 9/17/2009) Even after seeing a bill with so many inclusions they have asked for, Senate Republicans continue to insist that there is nothing in the bill they can support. (Volsky 9/17/2009)

Researchers for Harvard Medical School and the Cambridge Health Alliance release a report that shows approximately 45,000 Americans a year—122 a day or one every 12 minutes—die as a result of a lack of health insurance and a subsequent inability to receive medical care. The study’s co-author, Harvard medicine professor Dr. David Himmelstein, tells a reporter, “We’re losing more Americans every day because of inaction… than drunk driving and homicide combined.” Lead author Dr. Andrew Wilper, a medical professor at the University of Washington, says: “The uninsured have a higher risk of death when compared to the privately insured, even after taking into account socioeconomics, health behaviors, and baseline health. We doctors have many new ways to prevent deaths from hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease—but only if patients can get into our offices and afford their medications.” The study also shows that Americans aged 64 and below have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those who have coverage. The study is published in the online edition of the American Journal of Public Health, and released by Physicians for a National Health Program, which favors government-backed or “single-payer” health insurance. In 1993, a similar study showed those lacking insurance had a 25 percent higher risk of death. In 2002, the Institute of Medicine estimated that around 18,000 Americans a year died because they lacked coverage. Himmelstein says the sharp rise in risk is due to the swelling ranks of the uninsured. Around 46.3 million people in the United States lacked coverage in 2008, according to the US Census Bureau, an increase over the 45.7 million figure from 2007. Another factor is the dwindling resources where the uninsured can receive care. Public hospitals across the country are either denying uninsured people any care at all, or restricting the care they offer. Co-author Dr. Steffie Woolhandler says the findings show that without proper care, uninsured people are more likely to die from complications associated with preventable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative think tank, calls the study flawed; a spokesman for the Center says: “I think you can’t trust the results. Having said that, we ought to do something for the uninsured.” Woolhandler says the study followed similar protocols to those used by earlier government and private studies. “For any doctor… it’s completely a no-brainer that people who can’t get health care are going to die more from the kinds of things that health care is supposed to prevent,” she says. “Historically, every other developed nation has achieved universal health care through some form of nonprofit national health insurance. Our failure to do so means that all Americans pay higher health care costs, and 45,000 pay with their lives.” (Reuters 9/17/2009; Harvard Science 9/17/2009; Axelrod 9/17/2009)

President Obama makes the rounds of the Sunday morning network news talk shows to discuss health care reform, in what ABC News calls “an unprecedented presidential blitz of media appearances.” Obama appears for interviews on Sunday morning shows from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Univision. In recent days, he has also appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes, and will soon appear on CBS’s Late Night with David Letterman. However, the White House refuses to include Fox News in Obama’s appearances. When asked about the apparent snub, White House spokesman Josh Earnest replies, “We figured Fox would rather show ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ than broadcast an honest discussion about health insurance reform,” referring to the Fox network’s decision not to air Obama’s September 9 speech to a joint session of Congress on its regular broadcasting stations (see September 9, 2009). Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace says of the Obama White House, “They are the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington.” Earnest responds that Wallace’s Fox News is not a legitimate news outlet, saying: “Fox is an ideological outlet where the president has been interviewed before and will likely be interviewed again. Not that the whining particularly strengthens their case for participation any time soon.” (Media Matters 9/18/2009; Karl 9/19/2009)

Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, makes several revisions to the “final” draft of the Chairman’s Mark of the America’s Healthy Future Act (AHFA, the name for health care reform legislation—see September 16-17, 2009). The “chairman’s mark” is a recommendation by a committee or subcommittee chair of measures to be considered in a markup, and is usually drafted as a bill. Baucus says in a statement: “The modifications focus largely on making care more affordable for low and middle income Americans by increasing the Health Care Affordability Tax Credit, lowering the penalties for people who fail to meet the individual requirement to have health insurance, and increasing the High Cost Insurance Excise Tax threshold for people whose basic health care is more expensive… and effectively slows the growth of skyrocketing health care costs.… This modification incorporates important ideas from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.” According to Baucus, AHFA as it now stands will make it easier for families and small businesses to buy health care coverage, ensure Americans can choose to keep the health care coverage they have if they like, and slow the growth of health care costs over time. “It will bar insurance companies from discriminating against people based on health status, denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, or imposing annual caps or lifetime limits on coverage.” Baucus continues to assert that AHFA will not add to the federal deficit. Some of the new provisions include:
bullet Lowering the amount that insurance companies can vary premiums based on age, ensuring that these companies cannot charge elderly clients far more than younger ones. The provision was first submitted by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
bullet Providing $5 billion in additional assistance to small businesses attempting to provide coverage for their workers. The provision was first submitted by Senators Kerry and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
bullet Including more senior citizens in the Medicare Advantage program.
bullet Making prescription drugs more affordable for senior citizens by reducing co-payments. This provision was first submitted by Senators John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and Ben Nelson (D-NE).
bullet Improving Medicare beneficiary access to bone density tests, a provision first submitted by Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR).
bullet Creation of a three-year Medicare Hospice Concurrent Care (HCC) demonstration program that would provide Medicare patients eligible for hospice care with all other Medicare-covered services during the same period of time. This provision was first submitted by Senator Wyden.
bullet Improving access to Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) for low income individuals in Medicaid who are in need of long-term care, a provision first submitted by Senator Kerry.
bullet Creating nursing home alternatives for patients in need of long-term care, a provision first submitted by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
bullet Provide alternatives to nursing home care for disabled individuals on Medicaid, a provision first submitted by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY).
bullet Improving access to mental health care for Medicaid patients, a provision first submitted by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME).
bullet Financial assistance for “high-need” states having difficulty paying for their Medicaid obligations, and use of surplus Medicaid funds to improve the program.
bullet Create an exemption to encourage health care beneficiaries to use generic prescription drugs by waiving co-payments, a provision first submitted by Senator Stabenow.
bullet Remove the mandate that would require states to cover all prescription drugs for Medicaid beneficiaries.
bullet Direct the secretary of health and human services to implement programs to reduce waste in the way drugs are dispensed to seniors in long term care facilities. (Senior Journal 9/22/2009; New York Times 9/22/2009; The Capitol (.net) 2011)

Peter Fleckenstein, a conservative blogger whose claims are used by Representative Bachmann.Peter Fleckenstein, a conservative blogger whose claims are used by Representative Bachmann. [Source: Peter Fleckenstein / Denver Post]Representatative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) issues a warning from the floor of the House: If the Democrats’ health care package passes, US public schools will be forced to host “sex clinics” that provide abortions and condoms on demand. Bachmann tells the nation: “There’s something that hasn’t been talked about much, and it’s the whole idea of school-based clinics in schools all across America, and that’s in HR 3200. Now this would raise the hackles on the necks of school parents all across this country. When they understand that Section 2511 of HR 3200, the House government takeover of health care, has a section—it’s called school-based health clinics, and it would allow a nonprofit health agency—just say Planned Parenthood because that’s what this is written for. Again, we need to be serious. Planned Parenthood is an organization that is the largest abortion provider in United States. And written in this bill is a provision whereby Planned Parenthood could become a proprietor for school-based clinics in every school across United States.”
'Sex Clinics' - Bachmann continues: “These have been more accurately called school sex clinics.… Now the federal government is going the final step, and they’re saying, ‘Let’s put sex clinics in our schools.’ Can you believe this, Mr. Speaker? Let’s put sex clinics in our school. And let’s put Planned Parenthood in charge of our sex clinics because the bill that the school—under this provision, Planned Parenthood would be authorized to serve as a sponsoring facility for the nation’s schools. As a matter of fact, the bulk of this health care bill is scheduled to go into effect in 2013. Remember, all the taxes will start this coming January, Mr. Speaker. Right away, at the time we can least afford it, the taxes will go into place, but the provisions of this bill actually go into effect in 2013. Not the school-based sex clinics. The sex clinics actually would go into effect next summer so that these clinics would appear in public schools next fall. And it would require that the school-based sex clinic would provide on-site access during the school day when school is in session and have an established network of support and access to services with backup health providers when the school is closed. … But parents are going to excluded from Planned Parenthood as they write these clinics because the bill orders that these clinics protect patient privacy and student records. What does that mean? It means that parents will never know what kind of counsel and treatment that their children are receiving.”
School-Based Abortions? - Bachmann says: “And as a matter of fact, the bill goes on to say what’s going to go on—comprehensive primary health services, physicals, treatment of minor acute medical conditions, referrals to follow-up for specialty care—is that abortion? Does that mean that someone’s 13-year-old daughter could walk into a sex clinic, have a pregnancy test done, be taken away to the local Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, have their abortion, be back, and go home on the school bus that night? Mom and dad are never the wiser.” (Media Matters 9/30/2009; Koppelman 10/1/2009)
Claim Debunked - The claim was pronouced false by the St. Petersburg Times’s PolitiFact investigative team in August, which noted that the claim apparently originated from statements made by conservative blogger Peter Fleckenstein and a later adaptation by the American Family Association and the Liberty Counsel, who in July warned that the bill “will establish school-based ‘health’ clinics. Your children will be indoctrinated and your grandchildren may be aborted!” PolitiFact found that the bill provides for the same kinds of school-based health clinics that have been in place for 30 years or more. None would be authorized to perform abortions or any other intrusive procedures. All versions of the House bills would, PolitiFact wrote: “provide grants so the clinics can continue providing ‘comprehensive health assessments, diagnosis, and treatment of minor, acute, and chronic medical conditions and referrals to, and follow-up for, specialty care.’ The money could also be used to provide ‘mental health assessments, crisis interventions, counseling, treatment, and referral to a continuum of services including emergency psychiatric care, community support programs, inpatient care, and outpatient care.’ The clinics would have the option to provide, ‘oral health, social and age-appropriate health education services including nutritional counseling.’ Clinics getting federal dollars must act in accordance with federal, state, and local law, according to the bills. For example, clinics in Louisiana are not even allowed to counsel students on abortion, according to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.” (St. Petersburg Times 8/7/2009; Thrush 10/1/2009) Politico notes that the claim has been made in right-wing evangelical and social Christian circles for well over a month. (Thrush 10/1/2009)

A poll by the nonpartisan Consumers Union finds that many Americans are having so much difficulty affording their medical care that they routinely put off doctors’ visits, forego medical tests, forego medical procedures, skip filling prescriptions, and take expired medications to save money and limit expenses. According to the poll, 51 percent of Americans have “faced difficult health care choices in the past year,” and 25 percent cannot afford their medical bills or their medications. Another poll, by Ipsos and McClatchy News, finds that 53 percent of Americans favor a public health insurance plan “to make sure all Americans have access to quality health care,” and 42 percent believe that sufficient changes could occur without a public plan. The Consumers Union poll finds that 28 percent of Americans have either endured cutbacks in their medical coverage or lost their coverage entirely in 2008 alone, with the trend widespread among differing income groups. Around 66 percent of respondents who make below $50,000 a year say they have cut back on their health care due to costs. (Consumers Union 10/5/2009; Lightman 10/7/2009)

Alan Grayson.Alan Grayson. [Source: Infowars (.com)]Freshman House Democrat Alan Grayson (D-FL) takes to the floor of the House to lambast both Democrats and Republicans for not being active proponents of health care reform. Grayson’s tirade begins by criticizing his fellow Democrats for spending six months trying to persuade a single Republican, Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), to vote “yes” on the reform legislation in the Senate Finance Committee. “We as a party have spent the last six months, the greatest minds in our party, dwelling on the question, the unbelievably consuming question of how to get Olympia Snowe to vote on health care reform,” Grayson says. “I want to remind us all that Olympia Snowe was not elected president last year. Olympia Snowe has no veto power in the Senate. Olympia Snowe represents a state with one half of one percent of America’s population. What America wants is health care reform. America doesn’t care if it gets 51 votes in the Senate or 60 votes in the Senate or 83 votes in the Senate, in fact America doesn’t even care about that, it doesn’t care about that at all. What America cares about is this; there are over one million Americans who go broke every single year trying to pay their health care bills. America cares a lot about that. America cares about the fact that there are 44,780 Americans who die every single year on account of not having health care, that’s 122 every day. America sure cares a lot about that. America cares about the fact that if you have a pre-existing condition, even if you have health insurance, it’s not covered. America cares about that a lot. America cares about the fact that you can get all the health care you need as long as you don’t need any. America cares about that a lot. But America does not care about procedures, processes, personalities, America doesn’t care about that at all.” Grayson then turns to his “Republican friends” and says: “[L]ast week I held up this report here and I pointed out that in America there are 44,789 Americans that die every year according to this Harvard report… because they have no health insurance (see September 17, 2009). That’s an extra 44,789 Americans who die whose lives could be saved, and their [Republicans’] response was to ask me for an apology. To ask me for an apology? That’s right. To ask me for an apology! Well, I’m telling you this; I will not apologize. I will not apologize. I will not apologize for a simple reason; America doesn’t care about your feelings. I violated no rules by pulling this report to America’s attention, I think a lot of people didn’t know about it beforehand. But America does care about health care in America. And if you’re against it, then get out of the way. Just get out of the way. You can lead, you can follow, or you can get out of the way. And I’m telling you now to get out of the way. America understands that there is one party in this country that is favor of health care reform and one party that is against it, and they know why. They understand that if Barack Obama were somehow able to cure hunger in the world the Republicans would blame him for overpopulation. They understand that if Barack Obama could somehow bring about world peace they would blame him for destroying the defense industry. In fact, they understand that if Barack Obama has a BLT sandwich tomorrow for lunch, they will try to ban bacon. But that’s not what America wants, America wants solutions to it’s problems and that begins with health care, and that’s what I’m speaking for tonight.” (Crooks and Liars 10/9/2009)

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the health insurance industry’s largest lobbying organization, releases a study that claims the Democrats’ health care reform initiative would send health insurance costs sharply upward. The study is released the day before the Senate Finance Committee votes on its version of the reform proposal. (The Week 10/12/2009) AHIP says it intends to circulate the study among lawmakers on Capitol Hill and use it as the basis for new advertisements attacking the health care reform proposals. (Connally 10/12/2009) NBC Washington calls the study “a surgical strike against Democrats’ best hope for passing health reform,” specifically targeting the Finance Committee’s legislative efforts, which it calls the “Baucus bill” for committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT). Until now, AHIP has operated largely behind the scenes to delay or terminate Congressional efforts to reform US health care; the study marks its most public and overt effort to influence the discussion. According to the study, which was carried out by accounting and services firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and paid for by AHIP, the average cost increase would be $1,700 per family per year by 2013. “[T]he cumulative increases in the cost of a typical family policy… will be approximately $20,700 more than it would be under the current system,” the report claims. “[T]he cost of coverage for both single and family policies in the individual, small group, large group, and self-funded insurance markets” will rise dramatically. AHIP official Karen Ignagni says private insurers would almost certainly pass cost increases to consumers for a number of reasons, including her claim that too many people with pre-existing conditions would sign up for insurance. “The report makes clear that several major provisions in the current legislative proposal will cause health care costs to increase far faster and higher than they would under the current system,” she writes. Baucus calls the study “seriously flawed.” A spokesman for the Finance Committee, Scott Mulhauser, says: “Now that health care reform grows ever closer, these health insurers are breaking out the same, tired playbook of deception to prevent millions of Americans from getting the affordable, accessible care they need. It’s a health insurance company hatchet job, plain and simple.” (America's Health Insurance Plans 10/11/2009; NBC Washington 10/12/2009; Connally 10/12/2009) An analysis of the committee’s proposal by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) shows that while some people’s premiums would go up, the subsidies to be provided by the government would make health insurance considerably less expensive for most consumers. According to the CBO, premiums under the government “exchange” option proposed in the Baucus bill would cost consumers $14,400 per year in 2016, while the average private insurer would charge their customers $21,300 by 2016. (Volsky 10/12/2009) Nancy-Anne DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, says PWC is not the firm to have carried out such a study. “Those guys specialize in tax shelters,” she says. “Clearly this is not their area of expertise.” (Connally 10/12/2009) Almost immediately after the study’s release, critics begin attacking it, calling it deeply flawed and an “industry hit job” (see October 11-12, 2009). And PWC itself will back away from the study’s central claims (see October 12, 2009).

Within minutes of the release of a new study by health insurance lobbying firm America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) that claims health care reform would drastically raise costs to American families (see October 11, 2009), critics from different sides of the political divide dispute the study’s accuracy and question its impartiality.
White House: Study Ignores Key Elements of Reform - White House assistant press secretary Reid Cherlin says the study “conveniently ignores critical policies that will lower costs for those who have insurance, expand coverage, and provide affordable health insurance options to millions of Americans who are priced out of today’s health insurance market or are locked out by unfair insurance company practices.” (Weinberg 10/12/2009)
'Blowback' from Study Possible - White House and Senate officials say that the insurance industry may suffer “blowback” over the report. Democrats may well close ranks behind either the Senate Finance Committee (SFC) bill or another version of the legislation, and liberal lawmakers may go after the insurance companies, maybe by proposing a cap on premiums or solidifying support for the government insurance plan. “They have opened themselves up,” says a senior Senate Democratic aide. “It is an incredibly stupid strategic blunder. If you are going to fire a shot like this, you fire a good shot.” Former industry executive Wendell Potter, who has become an industry whistleblower (see July 10, 2009), says AHIP is responding to critical analyses from Wall Street that the legislation will hurt private insurers. “Karen [AHIP official Karen Ignagni] had no alternative because the CEOs were so determined to do something to try to sway the committee to back off the reductions,” he says. “She didn’t have an alternative. They are obviously doing this on the eve of the vote in the Senate Finance Committee, hoping enough members of the committee would be concerned, to restore it. I think the strategy will backfire.” (Brown 10/12/2009)
Economist: Study Fundamentally Flawed - MIT economist Jonathan Gruber analyzes the PWC study and concludes that it is fundamentally flawed. He writes: “The nonpartisan analysis based on information from the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] shows clearly that for those facing purchase in the non-group market, the SFC bill will deliver savings ranging from several hundred dollars for the youngest consumers to over $8,500 for families. This is in addition to all the other benefits that this legislation will deliver to those consumers—in particular the guarantee, unavailable in most states, that prices would not be raised or the policy revoked if they became ill.” On MSNBC, Gruber notes: “If the report had came out and said, ‘look we need stronger penalties, or premiums will go up,’ that’s a very valid point to make. But what the report says is that it went too far. It said with the current structure, premiums will be much higher than they are today. And that’s just wrong. I mean, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has came out and said that for this bill, premiums in the exchange will be lower than they are in the none group market today. So they just drew the wrong comparison.” (Massachusetts Institute of Technology 10/12/2009; Volsky 10/13/2009)
Democrats: Proof that Industry Needs Further Regulation - Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) says, “[T]he health insurance lobby today fired the most important salvo in weeks for the public option,” and adds that the study proves the industry needs further regulations imposed on it by Congress: “If you have the health care industry complaining that we’re going to raise costs because of these changes, it is them putting us on notice that we haven’t put enough cost containment in the bill. You know, the health care industry themselves is putting out a whole report saying that. That should be a tell to the [Senate Finance Committee] that you know what, maybe it’s time for them to go back and revisit the public option. In a strange way, and look, obviously they didn’t mean this, the health insurance lobby today fired the most important salvo in weeks for the public option, because they have said, as clear as day, left to their own devices, according to their own number crunchers, they’re going to raise rates 111 percent.” (Volsky 10/12/2009) Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) charges the insurance industry with releasing a false study for political purposes. “The misleading and harmful claims made by the profit-driven insurance companies are politicking for corporate gain at its worst,” he says. “Their recent statements only further highlight that our focus here in Congress must be on the inclusion of a public health insurance option in the marketplace to protect families and put more money back in their wallets by creating greater competition and driving down costs.” (Brown 10/12/2009)
Washington Post: 'Industry Hit Job' - The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein calls the report “deceptive” and “a predictable industry hit job,” and notes that the study was produced by accounting and services firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC), which in the 1990s was commissioned by the tobacco industry to do a study on the economic catastrophe that would result from taxing tobacco products. That study was found to be unreliable, and, perhaps not surprisingly, made all of its errors in favor of the tobacco industry. Klein writes that the same effect can be observed in this report on health care. He concludes: “But if the [study] doesn’t offer much in the way of trustworthy policy analysis, it is an interesting looking at the changing politics of the issue. In short, the insurance industry is getting scared. After many months of quiet constructiveness, they’re launching a broadside on the week of the Senate Finance Committee’s vote. The White House, which had a pleasant meeting with the industry’s leadership last week, was shocked by the report, and so too was the Senate Finance Committee. The era of cooperation seems to be over, and they weren’t given much advance warning. But the report might have another impact, too: The evident anger and fear of the insurance industry might do a bit to reassure liberals that this plan is worth supporting, after all.” (Klein 10/12/2009)
New Republic: 'Questionable Assumptions' - The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn chastizes PriceWaterhouse for deliberately, and explictly, choosing to believe that all the new factors included in the study will raise costs, when other analyses show that many of those factors will actually drive costs down. Cohn writes that the study is based on a plethora of “strange [and] questionable assumptions.” (Cohn 10/11/2009)
Progressive Columnist: 'This Is News?' - Progressive columnist Josh Marshall wrote before the study was released: “Let me get this right. The big news tomorrow is that ‘America’s Health Insurance Plans’ (AHIP, aka the health insurance lobby) has commissioned a study by PriceWaterHouseCoopers that comes to the conclusion that the Senate Finance Committee bill is a bad, bad thing and would lead to health care costs going up even faster than they are under the current system. This is news?” (Marshall 10/12/2009)
Washington Times: Defending the Study, Attacking the CBO - The conservative Washington Times defends the study as essentially accurate, and instead attacks the Congressional Budget Office, whose own figures differ dramatically from the PWC study. The Times editorial board calls the CBO’s estimates “fanciful” and “grandly overoptimistic,” and accuses the Democrats of adding opportunities for consumers to “game the system”—“It’s a mystery how the CBO can make its evaluation without once mentioning that individuals easily will be able to go without insurance while they are healthy and then buy insurance after they get sick.” The entire proposal allows Democrats to “avoid electoral accountability over the urgent health care needs of the people they say they’re trying to help but won’t.” (Washington Times 10/12/2009)
AHIP Defends Study - Ignagni defends the study and says the lobbying firm did not release it to undermine the Finance Committee’s attempt to craft an acceptable reform bill. She says the industry’s main concern is getting everyone involved in health care to work together to bring costs down. There is a strong need, she says, to “encourage all the other stakeholders to participate in a broader effort so that they can too lend a hand and get costs under control in a much more effective way than we would.… We don’t see comprehensive cost control in any legislation.” (Weinberg 10/12/2009)
PWC Backs Off from Study - Late in the evening, PWC issues a statement noting that the study only examined “a small slice” of the health care reform initiative, and saying that if other provisions in the reform package succeed in lowering costs, then the estimates of cost increases claimed in the study would be inaccurate (see October 12, 2009).

PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC), the services and accounting firm that recently released a controversial study funded by the health care insurance lobbying firm America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP—see October 11, 2009 and October 11-12, 2009), backs away from claims that the report is comprehensive. Politico’s Chris Frates writes that the statement “basically sa[ys], ‘Hey, we weren’t paid to evaluate the effects of the entire bill, but rather a small slice of it.’ The statement only seems to reinforce critics’ view that the report is skewed precisely because it doesn’t take into account the totality of reform.” PWC’s statement concludes, “If other provisions in health care reform are successful in lowering costs over the long term, those improvements would offset some of the impacts we have estimated.” Frates explains, “In other words, PWC is saying if reform’s cost containment measures work, their estimate could be wrong.” (Frates 10/13/2009)

Victims of Stalin’s gulags.Victims of Stalin’s gulags. [Source: Answering Christianity (.com)]Representative John Shadegg (R-AZ) tells his House colleagues that health care reform will result in “Soviet-style gulag(s)” for Americans. Shadegg says: “You know, it occurs to me, and I’ll go through these other scandals very quickly, but what we’re really getting here is we’re not just getting single-payer care. We’re getting full on Russian gulag, Soviet-style gulag health care.… It appeared in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal. You can Google it. You can pick up the phone and call Kim Strassel [a Wall Street Journal columnist who wrote about the “hidden costs” of the Senate Finance Committee’s reform legislation on October 9]. You can ask her about Soviet-style gulag health care in America, where powerful politicians protect their constituents.” Progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress calls Shadegg’s statement a “new low” in anti-reform rhetoric, and tells its readers: “The Soviet gulags were a network of prisons and forced labor camps that held as many as 20 million people during Stalin’s reign of terror. It is estimated 1.5 million died in the camps.” (Fang 10/14/2009)

Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), one of the key Republicans in the health care debate (see August 12, 2009 and August 19, 2009), now says that any attempt by Congress to incorporate the so-called “individual mandate” might be unconstitutional. An individual mandate provision, under consideration by Grassley’s Finance Committee, would require Americans to purchase some form of health insurance. “[T]his is the first time in the 225-year history of our country that we have forced you as a constituent, any of our constituents, to buy a product,” he says. “You know, you’ve been free to buy or not buy. But now for the first time you’re going to have to buy health insurance. If you don’t buy it, IRS is going to tax a family $1,500.” Asked, “[I]s that constitutional, forcing somebody to buy it and punishing them through the IRS if they don’t?” Grassley replies: “I’m not a lawyer, but let me tell you, I’ve listened to some lawyers speak on this. And you know, it’s a relatively new issue. I don’t think we’ve ever had this issue before of having to buy something. And a lot of constitutional lawyers, saying it is unconstitutional or at least in violation of the 10th Amendment. Now maybe states can do this, but can the federal government? So, I have my doubts.” Progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress notes that in June 2009, Grassley said “there isn’t anything wrong with” mandates and that he believed there was “a bipartisan consensus to have individual mandates.” The site also notes that the US Constitution provides for the federal government’s right to enact wide-ranging regulatory programs, a power generally upheld by the Supreme Court. (Meyers 10/14/2009; Corley 10/15/2009)

Frances Kissling.Frances Kissling. [Source: University of Pennsylvania]Frances Kissling, the former head of pro-choice organization Catholics for a Free Choice, writes that the pro-choice movement made a grievous mistake in not successfully opposing the so-called “Hyde Amendment,” which since 1976 has denied federal funding for abortions in most instances (see September 30, 1976). Kissling is spurred to write in part by President Obama’s recent characterization of the Hyde Amendment as an “American tradition.” She writes: “It seems that pro-choice legislators, following the president’s lead, now explicitly consider that throwing women who cannot afford to pay for their own abortions under the bus is a reasonable compromise between those who favor and those who oppose legal abortion and a sensible concession to those who think abortion is immoral. The compromise is the logical outcome of one of Roe’s essential weaknesses: the fact that the constitutional right to abortion was based on the principle of privacy rather than non-discrimination. A private right, even a fundamental one, did not, according to the Supreme Court, require the state to pay for its implementation.” Kissling notes that in the years when Hyde was under consideration, the nascent pro-choice movement, in a decision “[b]ased substantially on the advice of direct-mail and political consultants,” decided to let Hyde go through without serious opposition, and focused instead on the “less real” threat of an anti-abortion constitutional amendment. Kissling writes: “The advice was clear and classist. It accepted the racism that lay buried in middle class hostility to poor women, ‘welfare queens,’ and the ‘sexually promiscuous’—all those who might be expected to look to Medicaid to pay for abortions—whom the rest of us should not support.” In hindsight, Kissling writes: “[n]ot concentrating on overturning Hyde was arguably the worst decision the mainstream choice movement made.… [T]he largely unchallenged Hyde Amendment emboldened anti-abortion groups to pick off powerless constituencies one at a time.” Instead of working to restore federal funding for abortions for women unable to pay for their own procedures, the pro-choice movement has, Kissling writes, taken on far more unpopular issues such as so-called “partial-birth” abortions (see April 1996 and November 5, 2003), but has never mounted a clear and unified challenge to Hyde. Kissling calls on the pro-choice movement to mount just such a challenge, and to continue to do so until Hyde is overturned. (Kissling 1/3/2010)

Bob Marshall.Bob Marshall. [Source: Chicago Now (.com)]Virginia State Delegate Bob Marshall, a Republican, says that disabled children are God’s way of punishing women who have had abortions. Marshall makes his statement at a press conference outlining his opposition to Virginia funding for Planned Parenthood. “The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically,” he says. “Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children.… In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest.” Dean Nelson, head of the Network of Politically Active Christians, says at the same press conference that Planned Parenthood is an “unethical, immoral, and racist” organization because it includes abortions in its comprehensive care for women, and says it should change its name to “Klan Parenthood” because its founder, Margaret Sanger, made statements some considered racist in the 1930s. At the same conference, the Reverend Joe Ellison says he is “declaring war against Planned Parenthood.… We’re asking pastors to shut them down in the community. We’re asking pastors to pray them out. And we’re asking Planned Parenthood to leave our children alone.” Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) opposes continued funding for Planned Parenthood. A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood says the only Virginia funding it receives is from Medicaid reimbursements; in 2009, the organization received $35,000 in state funds. Marshall later denies any intention of insulting disabled children, and implies that his words were misquoted or misconstrued. In a post on his Web site, he writes: “No one who knows me or my record would imagine that I believe or intended to communicate such an offensive notion. I have devoted a generation of work to defending disabled and unwanted children, and have always maintained that they are special blessings to their parents. Nevertheless, I regret any misimpression my poorly chosen words may have created as to my deep commitment to fighting for these vulnerable children and their families.” (Radcliffe 2/22/2010; Montpoli 2/22/2010) Video of Marshall’s statement proves that his words were reported accurately. (Right Wing Watch 2/23/2010) A day after the news breaks in the press, Jean Winegardner, a writer and the mother of an autistic child, lambasts Marshall’s statements in a post on the Washington Times Web site. She writes in part: “Mr. Marshall, I don’t much care that you have reinterpreted your statements after they came under fire. What I do care about is that you told my disabled child—and every other disabled child—that he is a punishment, that he is less than, that he is wrong. You have also told him that his mother is wrong. You have created a situation where someone has to be to blamed for disability. You say that you have ‘devoted a generation of work to defending disabled and unwanted children.’ I don’t know your record because I haven’t followed your career, but working to defend children starts by accepting them as valued and right. You can’t say in one breath that these children are fundamentally flawed by their mother’s ‘sin’ and then turn around and claim to defend them. If you really do support people with disabilities… treat them with respect. Show us with your actions that you really do value this segment of society. Prove us doubters wrong by standing up tall for individuals with disabilities. And always remember that words hurt—just as your words hurt me and my family. My disabled child has never and will never be a punishment. I value him, love him, and am grateful for his perfect autistic existence every day of his and my life. His being is a gift, and could never be described as ‘nature’s vengeance.’” (Winegardner 2/23/2010)

President Obama signs an executive order affirming the “Hyde Amendment,” which bars federal funding for most abortions (see September 30, 1976). The White House does not hold a press conference to highlight the signing of the order, and administration officials have acknowledged that Obama agreed to sign it to keep the support of conservative Democrats in Congress for the health care reform package. William Galston of the Brookings Institution says of the order: “The executive order found a sweet spot, which I’m surprised existed. Something that didn’t send the base of the party into a tizzy but seems to have satisfied a very important minority within the party. It was the model of win-win pragmatism.” Pro-choice activists condemn the decision to sign the order, and anti-abortion organizations insist the order does little to advance the cause of making access to abortions all but impossible. The National Organization for Women (NOW) says that Obama’s commitment to abortion rights is “shaky at best,” and adds that his willingness to sign the order demonstrates that “it is acceptable to negotiate health care on the backs of women.” NOW president Terry O’Neill says: “What we need to hear our leaders say is that the Hyde Amendment is bad law. It needs to ultimately be repealed. It hurts women.” Cardinal Francis George, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, says the order does not go far enough: “We do not understand how an executive order, no matter how well intentioned, can substitute for statutory provisions.” Bart Stupak (D-MI) says that the order “protects the sanctity of life.” (Shear 3/24/2010; O'Brien 3/25/2010; Nicholas and Oliphant 3/25/2010)

Fox News host Glenn Beck, touting his “Plan” for government entitlement spending, tells his viewers: “Tomorrow, we’re going to roll up our sleeves and begin. We’re going to cut health care. Right now, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are 40 percent of our budget. They’re going away. It’s going to be ugly, a lot of crying, but America needs a cure.” (Media Matters 4/12/2010; Media Matters 9/7/2010)

Conservative pundit and columnist Tucker Carlson says it is “unfortunate” that Republicans won’t “state unequivocally” that they “want to do away with” Medicare and “most” Social Security. Carlson, a guest on Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity’s broadcast, is asked by another guest, Fox News contributor Bob Beckel, “Why don’t you just state unequivocally that you want to do away with Medicare, which is what the Republicans want to do, and do away with most Social Security?” Carlson replies: “Unfortunately, they don’t. Unfortunately, they don’t. Unfortunately, most Republicans in positions of elected authority are unwilling to—are unwilling to look right in the camera and say, ‘We’re going to have to pull back on entitlements.’” (Media Matters 9/7/2010)

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), a Fox News contributor and possible 2012 presidential candidate, castigates President Obama for being what she calls the “most pro-abortion president to occupy the White House,” and warns that health care reform will lead to more abortions in America. At an event in Dallas, Palin tells her audience: “It is even worse than what we had thought. The ramifications of this legislation are horrendous.” Palin calls on the newly elected Republican majority in the US House of Representatives to repeal the health care reform legislation passed in 2010. “The biggest advance of the abortion industry in America has been the passage of Obamacare,” she says. Although Obama signed an executive order prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortions, Palin calls the order “nonbinding” and irrelevant. She also says that the Obama administration has allowed federal funding for some “high risk” insurance pools in states that allow elective abortions. (Bruce 11/11/2010) Liberal blogger Heather Parton, writing for her blog Hullabaloo, says Palin is “lying through her teeth. In fact, the opposite is true because the administration tightened the rules for the sickest women.… [Palin and her supporters] actually want women who are battling terrible diseases to go through impossible hoops rather than have their sacred tax dollars touch dollars that paid for a necessary abortion.” (Heather Parton 7/17/2010; Heather Parton 11/13/2010)

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum (R-PA) reiterates his long-held belief that individual states should have the right to outlaw the use and availability of contraception if they so choose. “The state has a right to do that, I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that,” he tells an ABC News reporter. “It is not a constitutional right, the state has the right to pass whatever statues they have.” Think Progress’s Igor Volsky notes that Santorum has long stated his opposition to the 1965 Supreme Court ruling that invalidated a Connecticut law banning contraception, and has promised that he would entirely take away federal funding for contraception if elected president. Volsky cites data noting that 99 percent of American women between the ages of 15 and 44 have used contraception, and contraceptive devices are mainstays in the effort to prevent unwanted pregnancies and reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. According to the Guttmacher Institute, without federal funding through Medicaid and Title X, “abortions occurring in the United States would be nearly two-thirds higher among women overall and among teens; the number of unintended pregnancies among poor women would nearly double.” (Tapper 1/2/2012; Volsky 1/3/2012)

Republican presidential contender Ron Paul (R-TX) tells CNN talk show host Piers Morgan about his position on rape. If the woman in question is reporting what Paul calls “an honest rape,” he says that she “should go immediately to the emergency room,” where he would recommend they receive “a shot of estrogen.” Paul is a retired OB/GYN. Paul, a libertarian who opposes abortion, says that while the government should ban most abortions, he is less sure about the situation facing a woman who has been impregnated due to a rape. “A person immediately after rape?” he says to a question on the subject. “Yes, it’s a tough one. And I won’t satisfy everybody there.” He refuses to clarify what he considers to be “an honest rape,” or in exactly what situation a raped woman should be allowed to have an abortion, though he does say that “an hour after intercourse, or a day afterwards, there is no legal or medical, uh, problem.” He describes his position on the question as “in limbo.” In a column on Paul’s interview, Jessica Pieklo of the activist organization Care2 asks what Paul would consider to be “an honest rape.” “What kind of evidence would we need to show a lack of consent?” she asks. “Does a woman need to have signs she resisted? How much resistance counts before a rape goes from being ‘fraudulent’ to being ‘honest’? Can spousal rape ever be ‘honest’? What about other forms of familial rape? What exactly is the bright line here?” She also asks if Paul believes his recommended “shot of estrogen” would actually do anything at all for the rape victim: “About that shot of estrogen. What exactly is this shot of estrogen supposed to do? Paul is purportedly an ob/gyn, so he must know a shot of estrogen won’t do a thing to prevent fertilization and implantation. So what’s that shot for?” Pieklo concludes, “I’m not sure what is the most dangerous aspect to come from Paul’s statements here: that his platform is built on a criminal disdain of women or as a doctor he doesn’t know his ear from his elbow.” (CNN 2/3/2012; Ferguson 2/4/2012; Pieklo 2/4/2012) AlterNet’s Lauren Kelley notes that Paul attempts to paint the situation as highly unlikely, and focuses his comments on late-term abortions, such as a woman who decides “one minute before” she gives birth to terminate her pregnancy. Kelley notes: “Women do get raped by their husbands and partners. That’s not some out-there hypothetical. Intimate partner rape is a major problem—and yes, it happens to well-to-do women like Ron Paul’s daughters too.” Secondly: “Although Paul keeps going back to women seeking abortions late in their pregnancies, the reality is that 90 percent of abortions occur in the first trimester. So his focus on late-term abortions is disproportionate to the number of women actually seeking late-term abortions.” (Kelley 2/4/2012)

Foster Friess.Foster Friess. [Source: New York Magazine]Foster Friess, a multi-millionaire who is the chief supporter of a “super PAC” supporting the presidential candidacy of Rick Santorum (R-PA), weighs in on the controversy surrounding new federal mandates for providing birth control in employers’ health care coverage. Friess dismisses the controversy by suggesting that if women just kept their legs closed, they would not need contraception. In an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Friess is asked if Santorum’s rigid views on sex and social issues (see April 7, 2003, April 23, 2003 and After, January 2011, January 7, 2011, October 18, 2011 and After, June 2011, September 22, 2011, January 1-3, 2012, January 2, 2012 and January 4, 2012) would hurt his chances in the general election. Friess responds by saying: “I get such a chuckle when these things come out. Here we have millions of our fellow Americans unemployed; we have jihadist camps being set up in Latin America, which Rick has been warning about; and people seem to be so preoccupied with sex. I think it says something about our culture. We maybe need a massive therapy session so we can concentrate on what the real issues are. And this contraceptive thing, my gosh, it’s [so] inexpensive. Back in my day, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.” Mitchell says, “Excuse me, I’m just trying to catch my breath from that, Mr. Friess, frankly.” Think Progress’s Alex Seitz-Wald writes: “Given that [a]spirin is not a contraceptive, Friess seems to be suggesting that women keep the pill between their knees in order to ensure the[ir] legs stay closed to prevent having sex. Conspicuously, Friess doesn’t put the same burden on men.” (Seitz-Wald 2/16/2012; James 2/16/2012) Friess’s comment draws quick reaction from a number of sources, with many women’s groups expressing their outrage. Santorum quickly distances himself from the comment, calling it a “bad joke” and implying that the media is trying to smear him with it: “When you quote a supporter of mine who tells a bad off-color joke and somehow I am responsible for that, that is ‘gotcha,’” he tells a CBS News reporter. (Eggen 2/17/2012) Fox News’s late-night political humor show, Red Eye, features guest host Andy Levy sarcastically speculating that Friess’s joke is part of a “guerrilla marketing” scheme by the Bayer Corporation, which manufactures Bayer aspirin. Guest Anthony Cumia dismisses Friess’s comment by saying that Friess is “an old guy, he’s got old jokes.” (Martel 2/17/2012) The next day, Friess issues an apology on his blog that reads: “To all those who took my joke as modern day approach I deeply apologize and seek your forgiveness. My wife constantly tells me I need new material—she understood the joke but didn’t like it anyway—so I will keep that old one in the past where it belongs.” New York Magazine’s Dan Amira writes, perhaps sarcastically, that he does not understand why either Santorum or Friess apologized, as he believes Friess stated Santorum’s position on sex and birth control rather clearly. “‘Hold an aspirin between your knees’ is just a more colorful way of saying, ‘just keep your legs closed,’ which is tantamount to ‘just don’t have sex,’” Amira writes. “It’s abstinence, pure and simple. Which is exactly what Santorum advocates. He’s said that unless you’re trying to procreate, you shouldn’t be having sex, and therefore, contraception is ‘not okay.’ He has promised to make this argument to the American people as president. As far we can tell, the only difference between Friess’s bad contraception joke and Santorum’s actual contraception beliefs is an aspirin.” (Amira 2/17/2012; Foster Friess 2/17/2012) Friess is often described in the press as a “billionaire,” but both Friess and Forbes magazine say that appellation is inaccurate. (Kilachand 2/8/2012)

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum (R-PA) attempts to clarify his stance on contraception, after recent media reports of an October 2011 interview he gave focus on his personal opposition to contraception and his stated belief that he would take action against its use if elected president (see October 18, 2011 and After). Santorum now says that while he personally opposes contraception, he thinks it should be available. In a Columbus, Ohio, campaign event, he says: “Birth control can and should be available if people want to use it. They have a right to use it.… I believe the better alternative is abstinence education.… My personal position is well known.… I do my best to be a faithful Catholic. My wife and I don’t practice birth control as an article of faith in our church.” (Wall Street Journal 2/17/2012) Santorum has repeatedly stated that he believes state governments should be free to outlaw the availability and use of birth control if they so choose (see January 2, 2012).

Five men, including several conservative religious leaders, testified before a House committee on female contraception issues. No women were allowed to testify. The Senate later blocks a bill restricting contraception from passing.Five men, including several conservative religious leaders, testified before a House committee on female contraception issues. No women were allowed to testify. The Senate later blocks a bill restricting contraception from passing. [Source: Twitter / London Daily Mail]The Senate votes down the controversial “Blunt amendment” 51-48, on a nearly party-line vote. The amendment, offered by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) as a rider to a routine highway bill and co-sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and 22 other senators, would have allowed health care providers to refuse to pay for contraception and other health care procedures on religious or moral grounds. If the amendment had passed, health insurance plans and employers could refuse to provide or pay for coverage of “specific items or services” if the coverage would be “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan.” Blunt and the bill’s supporters characterize the legislation as an attempt to restore religious freedoms taken away by the Obama administration’s “government health care takeover,” in Blunt’s words; opponents say the bill is an attack on women’s rights and an effort to ban contraception. Blunt said during the debate of the bill: “This amendment does not mention any procedure of any kind. The word ‘contraception’ is not in there because it’s not about a specific procedure. It’s about a faith principle that the First Amendment guarantees.” McConnell says the bill is an attempt to fight for “religious liberty,” which he and others say is under attack by the White House and Congressional Democrats. The Obama administration’s health care policy requires organizations to cover the cost of contraception, but does not require religious establishments to cover the cost. Employees of religious establishments can still obtain contraception from the health care insurance company. Mitt Romney (R-MA), a Republican presidential candidate, first stated his opposition to the bill, then quickly reversed course and said he was for it. The only Senate Republican to vote against the bill is Olympia Snowe (R-ME), widely considered a moderate Republican; three conservative Democrats vote for the bill. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), considered a strong candidate to run as the Republican vice-presidential nominee in the 2012 elections, says the Senate’s refusal to pass the bill is “a setback for religious freedoms in America.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) calls the bill a straightforward effort to ban contraception. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wrote in a recent op-ed, “Instead of coming together to fix our economy and strengthen the middle class, the Senate is considering a measure so extreme that it would allow any employer—religious or secular—to deny their employees coverage of any preventive service, including contraception, mammograms—anything the employer deems unfit to be covered.” Senator Patty Murray (D-MA) says, “The Senate will not allow women’s health care choices to be taken away from them.” Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) says Republicans are attacking women’s health care as part of “a systematic war against women.” Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius had asked the Senate to reject the proposal, saying, “The Obama administration believes that decisions about medical care should be made by a woman and her doctor, not a woman and her boss.” Dr. Hal C. Lawrence of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists came out against the amendment, saying contraception “improves and saves babies’ lives, improves maternal health, and can be life-saving for women with serious medical problems.” The American Cancer Society released a statement opposing the amendment, saying it would allow employers to deny coverage of life-saving preventive services like mammograms and smoking cessation programs based on “undefined religious beliefs or moral convictions.” (Pear 3/1/2012; The State 3/1/2012; The Week 3/2/2012) After the bill is voted down, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh vilifies Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, who was not allowed to testify before a House committee meeting debating the bill (Volsky 2/16/2012) , calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute” for advocating the free availability of contraception (see February 29, 2012). Fluke gave her testimony before a panel of House Democrats and posted it on YouTube, where she discussed the needs of young women who use birth control and other contraceptives for medical needs such as cancer prevention. Specifically, she cites the example of a friend who needed, and was unable to obtain, birth control pills to manage polycystic ovarian syndrome. (Beadle 2/16/2012) Democrats and others criticized committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) for only allowing men to testify before the House Oversight Committee on the topic of female contraception. It was Issa’s decision to bar Fluke from testifying before the committee. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said at the time: “The Republican leadership of this Congress thinks it’s appropriate to have a hearing on women’s health and purposely exclude women from the panel. I may at some point be moved to explain biology to my colleagues.” Issa only allowed committee Democrats to name one witness; they named Fluke, whom Issa barred from testifying as she was “unqualified” to speak. (Daily Mail 2/17/2012)

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) condemns talk show host Rush Limbaugh for his “incendiary comments” about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke (see February 29, 2012, March 1, 2012, and March 2, 2012). Murkowski says she was “stunned” by his statements, and says that Limbaugh’s rhetoric is “just adding to this sense that women’s health rights are being attacked.” Moreover, she says, “I’m a little bit disappointed that there hasn’t been greater condemnation of his words by people in leadership positions.” Does that expectation include Republicans? she is asked, and she responds: “Everybody. What he said was just wrong. Just wrong.” Murkowski also says she “regret[s]” her vote in favor of a Senate amendment that would have terminated mandated insurer coverage for contraception (see March 1, 2012), the basis of Limbaugh’s attacks against Fluke. “I have never had a vote I’ve taken where I have felt that I let down more people that believed in me,” she says, explaining that she intended to cast a vote in favor of religious freedom and not against women’s rights. Of Limbaugh, she says: “I think women when they hear… mouthpieces like that say things like that they get concerned and they look to policymakers. That’s where I feel like I have let these women down is that I have not helped to give these women the assurance they need that their health care rights are protected.” (Kapur 3/6/2012; O'Malley 3/6/2012)

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