Pelosi, Hoyer call disruption of town hall meetings 'un-American'

Tribune Washington Bureau

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, insisting at the start of a long and politically heated summer congressional recess that health care reform can be achieved this fall, today are calling the disruption of town hall meetings by vocal protesters "simply un-American.''

"We believe it is healthy for such a historic effort to be subject to so much scrutiny and debate,'' Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Hoyer (D-Md.) write in an Op-Ed essay published byUSA Today.

"However, it is now evident that an ugly campaign is underway not merely to misrepresent the health insurance reform legislation, but to disrupt public meetings and prevent members of Congress and constituents from conducting a civil dialogue,'' the two leaders write…. "These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views -- but of the facts themselves. Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American.''

They point to a series of protests at congressional district hearings held by members of Congress this summer, including one where the likeness of a congressman in Maryland was hanged in effigy, one displaying the tombstone of a congressman in Texas and meetings where protesters have shouted down opponents with "Just say no.''

With Democrats accusing Republicans of orchestrating dramatic protests against the health care reform that President Barack Obama and Democratic allies in Congress are promoting, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell suggests that Democrats should be worried.

""Look, I don't think either side ought to be trying to engage in disrupting meetings, either the Democratic side or the Republican side,'' McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday in an appearance on FOX News Sunday.

But "to demonize citizens who are -- you know, who are energetic about this -- strikes me as demonstrating a kind of weakness in your position,'' McConnell said. "In other words, you want to… change the subject…..

"Attacking citizens in our country for expressing their opinions about an issue of this magnitude may indicate some weakness in their position on the merits,'' McConnell said. "This is an enormously important subject. Of course American citizens are concerned about it. And many of them are upset about it."

Pelosi and Hoyer, calling the enactment of health insurance reform "a defining moment in our nation's history,'' point to plans that have passed through three House committees. Based on this work, they say, they will "produce one strong piece of legislation that the House will approve in September.''

Senate leaders, in the meantime, are negotiating over competing plans in the Senate Finance Committee, in an attempt to fashion a bipartisan plan that the Senate can embrace. Obama, who initially sought votes this summer, has maintained that legislation can be completed "by the end of the year.''

"As we draw close to finalizing - and passing - real health insurance reform, '' Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address on Saturday, "the defenders of the status quo and political point-scorers in Washington are growing fiercer in their opposition. In recent days and weeks, some have been using misleading information to defeat what they know is the best chance of reform we have ever had…

"This isn't about politics,'' Obama said. "This about people's lives… That's why we must get this done - and why we will get this done - by the end of this year.

Insisting that reform will offer "more patient choice'' and enable "every American who likes his or her current plan to keep it,'' Pelosi and Hoyer contend in their Op-ed essay that "it will free doctors and patients to make the health decisions that make the most sense, not the most profits for insurance companies.

"Reform will mean stability and peace of mind for the middle class,'' they write. "Never again will medical bills drive Americans into bankruptcy; never again will Americans be in danger of losing coverage if they lose their jobs or if they become sick; never again will insurance companies be allowed to deny patients coverage because of pre-existing conditions.''

They are "confident that our principles of affordable, quality health care will stand up to any and all critics,'' the two leaders write. "Now,'' they conclude, "with Americans strongly supporting health insurance reform, with Congress reaching consensus on a plan, and with a president who ran and won on this specific promise of change -- America is closer than ever to this century-deferred goal. ''

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