Props, bills, boos and cheers for congressional address

Congress had its own rowdy town hall Wednesday.

Even before Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) brought a taste of Tea Party Patriot fervor to the House floor, yelling "You lie!" at the president of the United States, lawmakers were borrowing some of the tactics that made August so memorable.

ADVERTISEMENT
No one got arrested, but there was plenty of sign waving. And a good amount of booing, cheering and shouting.

Republicans brought copies of their healthcare bills to wave at President Barack Obama when he accused them of having no plan of their own. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) held up his H.R. 3400, which he's titled the "Empowering Patients First Act."

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) even hand-scrawled "What Bill?" on the sheet of paper he was waving.

Oddly, one audience member in the lawmaker seats spent most of the speech holding a white piece of paper over his head, as if to hide.

Democrats had their own props too, only smaller. Just before Obama entered the chamber, staffers passed out laminated cards with a short summary of the plan Obama was laying out. Complete with a White House logo, it was entitled "Stability and Security for All Americans."

While intended as talking points, some lawmakers found them convenient to wave as they showed their approval.

And they showed a lot of approval. Agence France-Presse counted 27 standing ovations, many of them Democrats only.

There was some confusion about when to stand – such as when Obama talked about curbing lawsuits against physicians. Rep. Steve Kagen (D-Wis.), a physician, leapt to his feet with the Republicans. But the rest of the Democrats looked around sheepishly, not sure whether to applaud a priority of former President George W. Bush. Goaded by Republicans, about half the Democrats rose to their feet.

It usually wasn't so difficult to figure out. Democrats generally stood and applauded while Republicans sat, hands folded over their chests.

But for two lawmakers, it didn't seem so easy.

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) has emerged as a thorn in the side of Democratic leadership. He delayed progress on the bill for weeks in July to strike a deal, then reversed himself after the fervor of August by rejecting any government-run "public option."

When Obama said he wanted to hold insurance companies "accountable," most Democrats jumped up clapping. Ross leaned back in his seat, looking around. After a few seconds, he stood and started to clap.

But when Obama took a shot at the Bush tax cuts, saying his plan would cost less, Ross stayed in his seat and watched his colleagues cheer. Ross voted for Bush's 2001 tax cuts, but opposed them in 2003.

Perhaps the most closely watched reactions were probably those of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), courted as the swing vote on healthcare in the Senate.

When Obama took on "death panels" and derided the concept as "laughable if it weren't so cynical and irresponsible," Snowe was one of the few Republicans to rise, along with Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and fellow Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins.

She was also just about the only Republican clapping when Obama offered thinly veiled criticism of Bush's prescription drug plan and his proposal to privatize Social Security.

And as Democrats cheered their president's send-off line, "We did not come to fear the future; we came here to shape it," the only Republicans standing were Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), and Snowe.