town hall meeting, grassley town hall meeting
Steve Pope/AP
Brett Wian, of Boone, Iowa, asks Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a question during a town hall
meeting in Adel, Iowa, Aug. 12, 2009.

Summer Filled With Uproarious Town Hall Meetings on Health Care

August 13, 2009 04:00 PM
by Liz Colville
Some members of Congress have taken to town halls to discuss important issues like health care overhaul with citizens, often with dramatic consequences.

Health Care Debate Takes Center Stage

For many Americans, this summer’s town hall meetings on President Barack Obama’s proposed health care overhaul have been an opportunity to confront political leaders with probing and detailed questions about the president’s plan. As Politico’s Josh Kraushaar and Lisa Lerer point out, attendees are “raising questions about everything from assisted suicide to coverage for illegal immigrants.”

The meetings have occurred in numerous states including Iowa, Maryland and North Carolina, Politico adds, and have been led by senators including Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. There were “[e]ruptions” at Specter’s meeting in Lebanon, Pa., on Aug. 11, The New York Times blog The Caucus reported.

“In one angry confrontation, Craig Anthony Miller, 59, standing two feet from the Senator, shouted into his face, ‘You are trampling on our Constitution!’” the Times’ Katharine Q. Seelye reported. Discussing topics including health care, immigration, government spending and pollution, some meeting attendees also attacked President Obama, rejecting Specter’s claim that the president “knows he’s an American” with a resounding “No!”

Delving deeper into this anger traversing state borders, Politico’s Erika Lovley spoke to Matthew McCormick, a salesman from Michigan, who yelled, “Look at me, John!” at a meeting held by Michigan Rep. John Dingell before being escorted away by police. McCormick said of his exclamation, “There's some sense of satisfaction, at least he understands how I feel.”

Indeed, the town hall meetings may be a necessary, if at times unpleasant, step for lawmakers and citizens. “Americans may need a few rounds of raucous meetings before they can settle into a civilized, calm debate with lawmakers,” Lovley writes.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia echoed those sentiments in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.” Gingrich, who claims he is no stranger to angry mobs, said lawmakers “ought to go back home, hold as many town hall meetings as you have to, let people get it out of their system. And by September, we could have a genuine dialogue in this country,” he was quoted as saying by Politico.

Town Hall Meetings Used Differently by White House, Parties

The Wall Street Journal’s Janet Adamy, reporting on Obama’s plans to attend several town hall meetings this week, notes that the town hall format is seen as advantageous to the Republican Party right now because the minority party is “hoping to capitalize on the unrest displayed at the meetings to highlight their discontent with other aspects of the health legislation.”

Democrats have been following suit, with the Democratic National Committee organizing meetings in order to try to tip the balance, since meetings have so far “been dominated by health-overhaul opponents,” Adamy adds. Obama held similar meetings of his own in July in order to clarify aspects of the health care overhaul to citizens, but these have seemingly been “upstaged” by the recent meetings.

The USA Today blog On Politics notes that the town hall format is “not for everybody.” Because of the dramatic atmosphere, some Democratic lawmakers are saying no to such meetings. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., for example, “will hold a tele-conference” instead, partly due to the fact that at a recent meeting she was invited to speak at, the event “devolved into a shoving-and-shouting match,” On Politics reports.

At Obama’s Aug. 11 town hall meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., he did not “draw the heckling, shouting, and even effigy-hanging” that lawmakers have experienced, Jane Norman writes for CQ Politics. Instead, he was able to discuss aspects of the plan with seniors, who are worried it would reduce their Medicare benefits. “We do think that systems like Medicare are very inefficient right now, but it has nothing to do at the moment with issues of benefits,” he said.

Background: Health care rift widens

Frustrated by delays, Obama and Democratic congress members are threatening to scrap bipartisanship for the sake of health care reform. Obama promised last week that “we will pass reform by the end of this year because the American people need it,” The Associated Press reported. Though he says he “would prefer Republicans working with us,” his emphasis on urgency may force him to leave out Republicans.

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