Rep. Murtha pressured to attend town hall

Tim Burns, the Republican challenging longtime Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), has invited the incumbent to attend a healthcare town hall meeting on Thursday in Murtha’s district.

The move is aimed at highlighting Murtha’s decision not to host a town hall where Burns said constituents would be able to express their views on the healthcare debate directly to the lawmaker.

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Murtha has held several telephone conference calls with constituents on healthcare, and plans to host another in September. But so far he has not held a town hall meeting where he would have more direct interaction with constituents.

Town halls across the country have erupted into shouting matches over healthcare reform, and many Democrats have found themselves facing hostile crowds.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) held several town hall meetings across the state, including one in Murtha’s district, in which voters expressed deep anxiety over Democrats’ proposed changes to the nation’s healthcare system. During a town hall broadcast live on cable television, one constituent told Specter that God would judge his actions.

Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) followed with his own town hall meeting that was smaller and more sedate.

Murtha is the co-sponsor of a healthcare overhaul bill sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) that contains a single-payer provision, which is controversial with Republicans.

Burns’s campaign is planning to run ads about the town hall this week in local newspapers. It is also e-mailing and calling local voters on both sides of the aisle to encourage them to attend.

“There’s been four weeks of recess and [Murtha’s] had no face-to-face meetings with his constituents to discuss healthcare at a critical juncture for our country,” said Burns’s spokesman, Kent Gates.

Murtha’s office did not respond to a call for comment about the event and whether he would attend.

Murtha won an 18th term in Congress in 2008 with 58 percent of the vote despite calling his area “racist.” He apologized for the gaffe, and won with what some saw as a surprisingly large margin.

Burns now hopes to tie Murtha to what he says are the liberal-leaning policies of Democratic leaders and the Obama administration, hoping this will alienate voters in his district.

In addition to his support for a single-payer component of any changes to the healthcare system, Murtha voted for the controversial cap-and-trade climate change legislation, which passed the House by a slim margin in late June.

Murtha has recently attracted headlines for the hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarked projects he has secured for the district — several of which are now under FBI investigation. Burns has seized on the negative publicity, calling on voters to restore ethical credibility to the district by electing him.