Sun, Aug 09, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Activists crash health reform talks

REUTERS AND AP , BOILING SPRINGS, SOUTH CAROLINA, OCONTO FALLS, WISCONSIN, AND WASHINGTON

At scattered events across the US, protesters are confronting members of Congress whose summer “town hall” meetings aim to get a sense of how Americans feel about overhauling healthcare.

Boiling Springs in South Carolina — population 4,500 — was true to its name on Thursday, giving US Representative Bob Inglis a taste of rising anger among conservative voters toward US President Barack Obama’s reform plan.

“There is no way, shape or form we need to have a national healthcare system. No! Nothing! None! It’s got to stop now,” said one man who addressed the audience of 300 people to sustained applause.

On Friday, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin chimed in, calling Obama’s health plan “downright evil” in her first online comments since leaving office.

She said in a Facebook posting that he would create a “death panel” that would deny care to the neediest Americans.

“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care,” the former Republican vice presidential candidate wrote.

Obama, a Democrat, campaigned on a promise of offering affordable health care to all Americans, because the US is the only developed nation that does not have a comprehensive national health care plan for all its citizens.

He has proposed a system that would include government and private insurers.

Republicans say that private insurers would be unable to compete, leaving the country with only a government-run health program. They warn that could leave Americans with little control over their health care.

The protests have drawn widespread media attention, and Republicans have seized on them as well as polls showing a decline in support for Obama and his agenda as evidence that public support is lacking for his signature legislation.

Pushing back, Democrats have accused Republicans of sanctioning mob tactics, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused protesters earlier this week of trying to sabotage the democratic process.

The plans seek to provide coverage to nearly 46 million uninsured Americans and bring down healthcare costs.

Conservatives say they will lead to a nationalized healthcare system where government, rather than doctors, will make medical decisions. They say the plans will end up costing them more and boost the federal deficit.

With lawmakers gone from Washington for a month and much of the plans still to be drafted, the rancorous battle has spread to usually staid, relaxed town hall meetings.

Last week, a crowd in Philadelphia directed boos at Obama’s Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sibelius, and Democratic Senator Arlen Specter.

Protesters disrupted another meeting on Thursday in Tampa, Florida, with cries of “tyranny,” and police made arrests at a similar meeting in St Louis, Missouri.

Opinion polls show that many Americans feel the US healthcare system, the costliest in the world, is in need of reform. They also show millions of Americans with health insurance are satisfied with it.

A group called the Tea Party protesters — named for the Boston tax revolt that helped spark the American Revolution — has launched a campaign to disrupt Democratic town hall meetings on healthcare.

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