Republicans and critics of Democrat-led health care reform are stepping up their counter-offensive in response to ABC News' scheduled prime-time special Wednesday on President Obama's health care proposals.
The special -- called "Questions for the President: Prescription for America" -- will be a town hall-style event in which Obama will answer questions on health care posed by audience members selected by ABC News. The network has refused to accept advocacy ads during the hour-long show, drawing criticism from those who say the special will be woefully one-sided.
"It doesn't make sense to me. It seems like with health care we've got to have a debate," said Rick Scott, who heads advocacy group Conservatives for Patients' Rights. "We're going to change possibly everybody's health care in this country, so we have to have a debate. But what you want is you want all sides. So I don't understand how (ABC News) can defend what they're doing."
Scott said his group was rebuffed when it asked ABC News to run its ad criticizing the president's health care pitch.
ABC has said the network has a "longstanding" policy not to accept advocacy ads, and that it even refused to air Obama's extended infomercial the week before the November presidential election for that reason.
Scott, though, said he found instances in which ABC News had run advocacy ads and in a letter this week notified the network of the apparent discrepancy.
His group's ad, which FOX News aired Wednesday morning, warns that a "government-run plan could crush all your other choices, driving them out of existence."
The ad urges viewers to tell Congress to reject the kind of public plan option that Obama is advocating.
The Republican National Committee also circulated an ad Wednesday criticizing the public option as well as ABC News' handling of its health care special.
"Today a national TV network turns its airwaves over to President Obama's pitch for government-run health care. Shouldn't this be a bipartisan discussion?" the narrator in the ad says. "When (Obama) says 'public option' that means putting government bureaucrats in charge instead of patients and their doctors. It's a bad idea."
Obama has repeatedly rejected such charges, claiming his plan would not run the private industry into the ground.
He said during his press conference Tuesday that the public plan is an "important tool to discipline insurance companies" but that customers would be able to keep their private plans if they want.
"If your employer's providing you good health insurance, terrific. We're not going to mess with it," Obama said, arguing that it's "not logical" for critics to say the government is both incapable of running a health care plan and at the same time a threat to the supposedly superior private industry.
And while a bipartisan agreement appears elusive, it's something the White House is still pursuing.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said afterward that Emanuel was pushing for a "bipartisan bill."
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who is working with a handful of Republicans and Democrats to craft a compromise, called the gathering "one of the most productive meetings yet."
Obama told ABC News Wednesday he "absolutely" believes health care reform will pass by the end of the year.
But Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., warned that Democrats would try to "use all kinds of blackmail and extortion" to achieve that goal. He pushed back against attempts to give government more of a role in health care, offering an alternative that would pay patients a stipend each year with which to purchase insurance.
"Americans don't want more government in health care. I mean, the government is the most impersonal. It's the most bureaucratic and wasteful aspect of our society. And health care is very personal and private," DeMint, who is proposing an alternative health care plan, told FOX News.
DeMint was also participating in some counter-programming Wednesday, joining a "debate" on health care co-hosted by the conservative Media Research Center.
FOX News' Trish Turner contributed to this report.