Health-Care Hysteria Dogs Doggett

Critics of health-care reform exercise their vocal cords in U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett's general direction

Protesters surround Doggett at public meeting.
Protesters surround Doggett at public meeting.

On Monday, Austin U.S. Rep. Lloyd Dog­gett was the featured guest at an Elisabet Ney Museum reception in honor of the Preserve America Communities designation just awarded to the city of Austin. The honorific, officially accepted by Mayor Lee Leffingwell, will enable local arts organizations to apply through the city for federal grants – for example, to help raise money for restoration of the Hyde Park museum site, where one of the state's earliest and most influential artists did much of her work. As the program describes it, the Preserve America Com­mun­ities designation "recognizes communities that protect and celebrate their heritage; use their historic assets for economic development and community revitalization; and encourage people to experience and appreciate local historic resources through education and heritage tourism programs."

Following the ceremonial announcement, Doggett mostly answered reporters' questions about another, quite different occasion – his Saturday public meeting at a South Austin Randalls, where a crowd of protesters had shouted down his attempts to discuss the current health-care proposals pending before Congress. A brief YouTube video posted by the protesters shows the crowd surrounding Doggett and staff members; loudly chanting, "Just say no!"; and carrying signs denouncing him as (among other things) a socialist and a devil.

Following press reports that implied the crowd was a random collection of Doggett's District 25 constituents, his office released a statement saying many protesters arrived from outside the district, intending to prevent discussion: "This mob, sent by the local Republican and Libertarian parties, did not come just to be heard, but to deny others the right to be heard. Their fanatical insistence on repealing Social Security and Medicare is not just about halting health care reform but rolling back 75 years of progress. I am more committed than ever to win approval of legislation to offer more individual choice to access affordable health care."

Doggett said the whole encounter lasted about 45 minutes, and that it quickly became clear that the protesters "were not interested in dialogue or in engaging the health care issue, but only interested in shouting down any attempt at dialogue." He said when he attempted to answer their questions (or those of other participants), they responded to the answers by shouting him down or taking up chants – tactics in keeping with leaked GOP activist memos advocating that opponents disrupt "town hall" meetings on health-care reform in hopes of portraying the legislation as widely unpopular. (Reportedly, some public meetings held elsewhere since the congressional recess began last week have been similarly disrupted.) Doggett's office said "Ron Paul Meetup" groups had posted a call for protesters; the Travis County Liber­tar­ian Party issued a statement saying it had not been involved in organizing the protest and demanded an apology from Doggett. Spokeswoman Sarah Dohl responded: "We were referring to Ron Paul Meetups. If the Travis County Libertarian Party was in no way involved, only some of its members, we apologize."

Doggett said that the primary effect of the protest was to more deeply convince him that "we have to get this reform done" and that it must include an effective "public plan" to compete with the insurance companies. "If the choice is between a bipartisan bill and an effective bill," Doggett said, "I'll strongly prefer an effective bill." He added, concerning the Democratic leadership's apparent willingness to compromise in order to achieve "bipartisan" or conservative Dem support: "Our side has often been too ready to settle for a third of a loaf, and then instead get nothing but a heel."

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Lloyd Doggett, health care reform, Preserve American Communities, Libertarian Party

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