Democrats fight back on healthcare

After a week on the defensive, Democrats on Monday stepped up their response to what they consider to be a contrived harassment campaign against their healthcare plan.

The coordinated efforts came from the White House, House Democratic leaders and allied groups, and suggested Democrats see some political gain by going on the attack.

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Organizing for America (OFA), the successor to President Barack Obama's grassroots campaign organization, sought to counter confrontations at town halls by asking members to visit their lawmakers' offices to show support for the health legislation.

The White House set up a website to debunk opponents' claims, including one that the bill would lead to euthanasia.

House leaders, worried about attacks on their members in conservative districts, set up a “war room” to answer lawmakers’ policy questions and help them prepare for disruptions at town hall meetings.

Outside groups that support the healthcare overhaul also revved up their efforts. A coalition of religious groups is airing a television advertisement supporting the overhaul, holding “in-district” prayer events in the districts of key lawmakers and preparing to host a national teleconference Aug. 19 that will feature Obama.

The combined effort comes after numerous Democratic lawmakers across the country have been shouted down at town hall meetings by protesters, some of whom are getting help from conservative and business groups.

Democrats say they see signs of a backlash against town hall disruptions, noting that a day after claiming the bill called for “death panels,” former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) called for calm discussion at the town hall meetings.

“There are many disturbing details in the current bill that Washington is trying to rush through Congress, but we must stick to a discussion of the issues and not get sidetracked by tactics that can be accused of leading to intimidation or harassment,” Palin wrote in a blog posting.

And there are some signs that the chaos might be subsiding at town halls. After one of her town halls was canceled because of fears of violence, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) hosted a calm town hall discussion of the healthcare issue on CNN.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) kicked off the week's offensive with an op-ed in USA Today calling disruptions to Democrats' town hall meetings “un-American.”

“Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American. Drowning out the facts is how we failed at this task for decades,” the pair wrote.

Republicans, who have dubbed the angry questioning of Democrats “recess roastings,” cited the article as further evidence that Democrats are lashing out at their own constituents and trying to stifle dissent.

“Each public forum should give every participant the opportunity to express their views, but to label Americans who are expressing vocal opposition to the Democrats’ plan ‘un-American’ is outrageous and reprehensible,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Republicans also questioned the OFA effort to send members to lawmakers' office, saying it sounds contrived.

“It's a little strange to argue against AstroTurf, then lay it down yourself,” said a Republican leadership aide.

Democrats repeatedly have said the protests around the country are not grassroots efforts and instead are being organized by conservative groups.

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The House Democrats’ “war room” is being run out of Hoyer's office and is manned around the clock by a rotation of leadership and key committee staff members.

The war room, or “healthcare hotline,” is primarily designed to give members the ability to get immediate health policy answers and updates from leadership offices. Top Democrats are also planning to use it to help their colleagues respond effectively to political and press attacks, if necessary.

The White House website, dubbed the “health insurance reform reality check,” features six videos of different administration officials debunking claims about healthcare reform legislation backed by Obama.

OFA, now an arm of the Democratic Party, is urging members to show up at lawmaker offices in person to express their support for the healthcare legislation.

“ 'Office Visits for Health Reform’ are our chance to show that the vast majority of American voters know that the cost of inaction is too high to bear, and strongly support passing health reform in 2009,” wrote OFA Director Mitch Stewart in a letter to members.

The effort has also been good for liberal fundraising. MoveOn.org said in an e-mail to members that it “blew through” its $210,000 fundraising goal for the weekend, adding that it will try to double that in coming days to double the size of its campaign.

Jared Allen and Ian Swanson contributed to this article.