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Healthcare town-hall meetings are too rough for some lawmakers

14 08 09 - 11:33

Town halls too heated for some
By Kathy Kiely, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The contentious health care debate is forcing some Congress members to rethink an August tradition: town-hall-style meetings.
Eager to avoid the kind of shouting — and, in some cases shoving — confrontations that have turned the health care debate into a cable television and YouTube sensation, some lawmakers are opting out of the free-wheeling forums.

"I'm not going to give people a stage to perform," Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, told the El Paso Times. Like a number of his Democratic colleagues, he's holding telephone town halls instead.

Others, such as Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, are hosting smaller roundtables with community leaders. "I won't be doing sucker-punch town-hall meetings," Durbin said.

Much of the hostility has come from opponents of President Obama's health care plan. But his critics aren't the only ones forcing lawmakers to change schedules.

Local officials canceled a meeting to discuss plans for a visitors' center in Longview, Wash., after Obama's campaign group, Organizing for America, urged members to show support at the meeting for Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Rep. Brian Baird, all Democrats, on health care.

In a letter, Mayor Kurt Anagnostou and City Manager Bob Gregory fretted about paying $2,600 in police overtime to control an estimated crowd of 900. "We are concerned about our ability to provide adequate security," they wrote county officials.

Capitol Hill police are working overtime to ensure that the lawmakers who are holding town meetings remain secure. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer says it's the busiest August in memory. "It's not a budget-buster — yet," he said.

Brendan Daly of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office says lawmakers are not letting protesters deter them. Since early August, House Democrats have held more than 500 health care events, he said. "They like to be able to speak firsthand to their constituents, and they will continue to do so," he said.




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