Published August 03, 2009
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Sen. Arlen Specter got a preview Sunday of the tough sell lawmakers will face over health care as audience members booed and jeered them during a town hall meeting in Philadelphia.
Among those at odds with the officials touting the $1 trillion, 10-year plan was a woman who earned loud applause when she said she doesn't want Washington interfering with her health care choices.
"I look at this health care plan and I see nothing that is about health or about care. What I see is a bureaucratic nightmare, senator. Medicaid is broke, Medicare is broke, Social Security is broke and you want us to believe that a government that can't even run a cash for clunkers program is going to run one-seventh of our U.S. economy? No sir, no," she said.
While supporters offered courteous applause to the officials, Sebelius didn't earn any fans when she said that if lawmakers say they don't understand the legislation voters should urge them to go back and read it.
Specter was shouted down when he said that lawmakers divide up the bills into sections and have their staffs read portions because, "We have to make judgments very fast."
He then said he will have read the Senate bill before he votes on it, which Sebelius pointed out hasn't been written yet.
"The Senate bill isn't written so don't boo the senator for not reading a bill that isn't written," she said.
That explanation, which undermined an earlier failed argument that the legislation should be passed quickly, didn't satisfy many of the more than 400 people estimated in attendance.
Dozens in the back shouted at Sebelius when she said the bill would stop the system of rationing that insurance companies use. Sebelius then scolded the audience who jeered her, saying she would take questions if people could stop shouting at each other.
The anger is just a sample of the reaction lawmakers are bracing for as they try to sell the massive plan wending its way through Congress. The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed its version -- one of five in Congress - late Friday before the House broke for the August recess.
They are using that month's time to sell the plan to voters. For those Democrats who haven't read the 1,000 pages of legislation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has handed out cards with talking points to address constituents' concerns.
The card, labeled "health insurance reform to hold insurance companies accountable" drives home two points -- one, that the health care bill is good for consumers, and two, that Congress will hold the insurance industry accountable.
But while insurance companies are low on voter opinion polls, Congress is viewed even less favorably. And Republicans are seeking to capitalize on the intense scrutiny President Obama is facing over his top priority, issuing a new ad out Monday that tries to make light of the situation.
"Like the old joke goes, President Obama isn't a doctor, but he plays one on TV," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, calling the ad lighthearted but pinpointing a serious issue.
"Americans want lower health care costs -- not a trillion-dollar government takeover of health care that increases costs and lets Washington bureaucrats make decisions that should be made by doctors and patients."