Tea Party Finds It Harder to Get Attention on Health Law

During Congress’s August break in 2009, the Tea Party movement helped Republicans demonstrate public anger about President Barack Obama’s health-care legislation by showing up at rowdy town-hall meetings.

This year, many of those same groups that now seek to deny funding for the health-care law’s implementation are having to work harder to get Republican lawmakers’ attention during their August break. Some have resorted to staging protests outside of members’ offices who refuse to hold town hall meetings.

Heritage Action for America yesterday announced a $550,000 online ad campaign, that will run in 100 Republican-controlled districts, urging lawmakers to support efforts to stop funding for the health-care law. Those lawmakers are among the House Republicans who haven’t signed a letter circulated by Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina that urges the leadership to take steps to curb funding for the law.

Those steps may include a prohibition on spending such funds in the end-of-fiscal year continuing resolution that will be needed to finance the government’s operation beginning Oct. 1.

Among the House lawmakers who are targeted by the Heritage Action ad campaign are Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, and Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky.

“Our activists are very angry over health care” said Whitney Neal of FreedomWorks, a Washington-based coordinating arm of the Tea Party movement. “They specifically want to know why their representatives have not signed” letters pledging to defund the health-care law’s implementation in legislation to finance the government’s continued operation after Oct. 1.

‘Scripted Events’

The Obama administration has threatened vetoes of such legislation in the past, raising the possibility of a confrontation over the issue before the current fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

FreedomWorks is tracking the number of town halls on a special part of its website, demandatownhall.com. So far 199 of these events have been scheduled by 65 House members and 10 senators, said the group’s spokeswoman Jackie Bodnar.

Many lawmakers are still “hiding and avoiding the opportunity” to talk directly with voters except in “scripted” events such as telephone conferences where they are “controlling what questions are asked,” Neal said in a telephone interview.

Town Hall

To pressure members, activists are encouraged to demonstrate outside district offices of lawmakers who won’t hold town hall meetings, she said. Where members don’t plan such meetings activists “are actually scheduling their own town hall with a cardboard cutout of the missing representative, she said.

FreedomWorks held an Aug. 17 town hall in Dallas featuring a cardboard figure of Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, who is up for re-election in 2014, after he declined the group’s invitation to attend.

‘‘In addition to visiting every area of Texas this recess, Sen. Cornyn has reached out to over 260,000 Texans through telephone town halls, with more to come,’’ the senator’s spokesman Drew Brandewie said in an e-mail. ‘‘He’s been fighting Obamacare tooth and nail for the better part of four years, which the folks at FreedomWorks have recognized by giving him a 92 percent rating,” Brandewie said. The rating was for votes cast since January.

As with other political-action groups, FreedomWorks rates lawmakers based on their “key votes” on legislation of importance to the group. Cornyn, the Senate Republican whip, supported FreedomWorks’ positions on bills 69 percent of the time in 2012 and 83 percent in 2011.

‘Dumbest Idea’

Activists staged a protest yesterday outside the Winston-Salem, North Carolina office of Republican Senator Richard Burr, who called defunding Obama’s health-care plan “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of.” More than 80 people picketed outside Burr’s office yesterday with signs carrying such slogans as “Burr, We’re not stupid. Vote Right,” according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Heritage Action For America, meanwhile, kicked off a nine-city “Defund Obamacare Tour’’ to pressure Republicans to support the strategy, led by former Republican South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, president and chief executive officer of the Heritage Foundation.

“Four years ago, citizens crammed into town hall meetings all across the country to exercise their First Amendment right,” said Michael Needham, the chief executive officer of Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation. “Although Congress is now doing fewer and fewer town hall meetings, the need for civic engagement has never been greater, so Heritage Action is stepping in to fill the void.”

Radio Ads

The Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action group founded by DeMint, said it would air radio spots for two weeks to pressure Burr and South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham to drop their opposition to the proposed defunding tactic.

“This could be our last chance to stop Obamacare” yet neither Graham nor Burr would “do what it takes to stop funding for this liberal train wreck,” the spots say.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Rowley in Washington at jarowley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo5@bloomberg.net

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