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In healthcare debate, 'reality' is in dispute

The White House launches an online 'reality check' to fight 'myths' about Democrats' legislation. Republicans say the site is full of errors and worse.

August 11, 2009|Christi Parsons

WASHINGTON — President Obama and his allies in the healthcare debate began moving more forcefully Monday to rebut what they said was "misinformation" spread by opponents of the legislation and to spotlight the disruptive nature of protests at town halls held by lawmakers.

Obama plans a town hall today in Portsmouth, N.H., his first since protesters began grabbing headlines during the August congressional recess. He has two more -- in Bozeman, Mont., and Grand Junction, Colo. -- this week.

Democrats hope direct engagement will blunt rising public anxiety that they say is being fed by false claims about the legislation.

A new healthcare "reality check" section of the White House website -- at www.whitehouse.gov/realitycheck/ -- is patterned after the Obama campaign website's "fight the smears" feature confronting whispers about the then-presidential candidate.

In one video, a top administration aide says the claim that the proposals encourage euthanasia is a "malicious myth."

In another video, a physician on the president's staff takes aim at the suggestion that Obama would ration healthcare, arguing that insurance companies already do that.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said the site is "full of errors, misstatements and falsehoods." For example, he said the White House is wrong to say that people would be able to keep their current insurance plans if they wanted to.

White House officials "don't know how many employers are going to drop their coverage altogether if their plan goes into effect," Boehner said.

Confusion over what a final healthcare bill will say -- legislation is still being written -- has given Republicans the opportunity to rally opposition, especially at town halls.

On the other hand, the vitriol of some critics -- who hanged one congressman in effigy and shouted down Democrats at some gatherings -- has given Democrats a chance to highlight and criticize opposition tactics.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) upped the ante Monday with an opinion piece in USA Today.

"An ugly campaign is underway not merely to misrepresent the health insurance reform legislation, but to disrupt public meetings and prevent members of Congress and constituents from conducting a civil dialogue," they wrote.

They continued: "Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American."

Melody Barnes, head of Obama's domestic policy council, hosts the White House online video disputing the contention that the healthcare overhaul would encourage senior citizens to commit suicide.

"We've been really surprised by some of the wild rumors we've heard flying around," Barnes says.

The euthanasia claim stems from a provision to allow -- not require -- seniors on Medicare to consult a doctor about living wills and directives for care.

Sarah Palin posted a note Friday on Facebook that suggested Democrats' plan would lead to the rationing of healthcare.

"The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of healthcare," said Alaska's former governor, a Republican. "Such a system is downright evil."

Barnes does not specifically mention the posting, but she disputes the suggestion that government bureaucrats would decide who got healthcare and who didn't.

The other video features Dr. Kavita Patel, who argues against the suggestion that Obama wants a "government takeover" of the healthcare system that would lead to rationing.

"Rationing occurs right now," she says. "Health insurance companies, as we speak, sit down and think about what services you can and cannot get . . . based on what kind of insurance you have."

Republicans continued to hammer away at the healthcare overhaul effort Monday.

In an e-mail to supporters, Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, criticized Pelosi and Hoyer:

"Democrats who are used to seeing a few dozen constituents at their town halls are facing boisterous, standing-room-only crowds, and their best retort is that dissent is 'un-American'?" he wrote. "Our nation was founded by dissenters! Deep down, these leaders know that this conflict is not a threat to society but only to their political fortunes."

An aide to Obama said the president wasn't afraid of a good give-and-take.

"There's actually a pretty long tradition of people shouting at politicians in America," spokesman Bill Burton said Monday. "The president thinks that if people want to come and have a spirited debate about healthcare, a real vigorous conversation about it, that's a part of the American tradition and he encourages that."

But, Burton said, "screaming so that you can't hear the answer to whatever the complaint is isn't moving the ball forward for anybody."

--

cparsons@latimes.com

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