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Democrats take sterner line against health care misinformation'

Associated Press Modified: August 10, 2009 at 8:10 pm •  Published: August 10, 2009
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By Christi Parsons

Chicago Tribune

(MCT)

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

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called the disruptions by vocal protesters at town hall meetings across the country "simply un-American."

The two leaders, in an opinion piece in Monday's USA Today, said that "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. ... Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American."

At the same time, the White House launched a new Web site to rebut claims from critics of the proposed health care overhaul.

In one film clip on the new site, which can be reached from the main White House Web site, a top administration aide says the idea that the health plan calls for "euthanasia" isn't true, calling it a "malicious myth."

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

On Tuesday, Obama will hold a town hall-style meeting on health care in New Hampshire, the first since protesters grabbed headlines in the national media by disrupting similar events held by lawmakers this month.

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The Democratic efforts Monday were the latest moves in the ongoing battle to control the public debate over plans to overhaul the health care system. The plan is still being written by congressional Democrats and the Obama administration are still writing the plan, which is intended to expand health insurance coverage to more Americans.

The strategy of directly addressing dissenters' statements comes after opponents of a health care overhaul have dominated news reports. Democrats have complained that the opponents are feeding anxiety over the legislation by spreading falsehoods about what it would do.

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On Friday, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin posted a note on her Facebook page suggesting that the Democratic plan would lead to the rationing of health care.

"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 health care," her posting said. "Such a system is downright evil."

The new health care "reality check" section of the White House Web site is patterned after the "Fight the Smears" feature of Obama's Web site during the presidential campaign, which the Obama team pioneered last year to take on whisper campaigns about their candidate.

The "reality check" ticks off several alleged rumors about the Democrats' health care proposals and then presents videos of key White House officials knocking them down.

In one of them, Melody Barnes, head of Obama's domestic policy council, argues with the contention that the health care legislation includes provisions to encourage senior citizens to commit suicide.

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

The euthanasia rumor appears to stem from a provision in the proposed legislation that would allow seniors on Medicare to consult with a doctor on options should they become unable to make medical decisions. Topics could include the development of a living will and directives for care. "There is nothing mandatory about this," Barnes says.

Though Barnes does not cite former Palin's Facebook posting specifically, her video answers the former governor's suggestion that Obama would have government bureaucrats decide who gets health care and who doesn't.

In citing an "Obama 'death panel' " that would consider her son's care, Palin was not quoting from any of the health care bills, which make no mention of any kind of panel. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., recently said on the House floor that the health care plans would put seniors in "a position of being put to death by their government." There is no such provision in any of the bills.

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The White House site also features Kavita Patel, a physician who now works for the White House, arguing against the suggestion that Obama wants a "government takeover" that would lead to "rationing."

"Rationing occurs right now," says Patel. "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."

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Republicans quickly criticized the new White House Web site. House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said it was "full of errors, misstatements and falsehoods." He said the White House was wrong, for example, to say that people would be able to keep their current health insurance plans if they wanted to, "because they don't know how many employers are going to drop their coverage altogether if their plan goes into effect."

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Debating the legislation is in keeping with democratic ideals, said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, who criticized Pelosi and Hoyer in an e-mail to supporters Monday.

"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 isn't afraid of a good give-and-take.

On Tuesday he takes his pitch to New Hampshire, with the plan of seizing back the town hall style of forum that has been so fruitful for critics in recent days. Obama also plans at least three more town hall meetings before he takes off for a family vacation the last week of August.

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

Burton also said that "if you want to have a tussle over an issue, that's fine; but screaming so that you can't hear the answer to whatever the complaint is isn't moving the ball forward for anybody

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