By Alexander Bolton - 08/06/09 01:54 PM EDT
Democratic leaders have dismissed protests that have disrupted congressional town-hall meetings on healthcare reform as “staged” and “phony.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) implied that Republicans are acting like babies by encouraging protests of healthcare reform discussions instead of offering their own ideas.
“You’ve read about their AstroTurf campaign,” Reid said, holding up a mat of plastic grass to demonstrate his point. “They want to convince people they’re grassroots, and they’re not. It’s as phony as this is as grass.”
He went on to suggest that Republicans are taking their cues from television talk-show host Glenn Beck of Fox News, who has encouraged the protests.
“They’re taking their cues from talk-show hosts, Internet rumor-mongers and insurance rackets,” said Reid. “We take our cues from the people in our states and the people in our counties that have concerns in this legislation.”
The pushback follows a White House meeting Tuesday at which President Barack Obama told Senate Democrats to fight back against efforts by conservative groups to malign Democratic proposals on healthcare reform.
A strategy memo obtained by The Hill last week shows that Democratic leaders have developed a coordinated strategy to attack insurance companies and fend off salvos from opponents of Democratic healthcare reform over the August recess.
A senior GOP aide said Reid should take the healthcare protesters more seriously or suffer the consequences when he faces re-election next year.
“Harry Reid’s arrogant dismissal of his constituents’ concerns with government-run health care is a miscalculation he will undoubtedly regret. It’s often been said that ‘astroturf’ is a chief contributor to premature retirement,” said the aide.
Conservative groups have organized angry protests of town hall-style meetings Democratic lawmakers have held with constituents to discuss healthcare reform, seeking to create the impression of a popular rebellion against Democratic ideas.
A healthcare town-hall meeting that Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) held at a supermarket over the weekend was cut short by chanting protesters. Doggett was escorted from the venue to ensure his safety.
But some of the protest organizers have taken money from health insurance companies and other business interests, prompting charges from Democratic leaders that the insurance industry is behind the disruptive tactics.
“This is not about a town meeting or an exchange of ideas. This is staged. This is a staged effort,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters.
Durbin said that some health insurance industry groups hate Democratic healthcare reform proposals because they threaten corporate profits.
“They’re the groups that are making a fortune off the current healthcare system and they want to keep their profit margins protected and they want to stop change and they are supporting this effort to disrupt town meetings and create the wrong impression about healthcare reform,” said Durbin.