Obama Grand Junction stop met with GOP health-reform gamesmanship

President Obama aimed to lower the temperature of the health-reform debate in Colorado by appearing in person Saturday in Grand Junction and delivering a speech that framed health reform as essential economic policy, tying it to the national Recovery Act and future national prosperity.

Pres. Obama, Grand Junction health reform town hall Aug. 15, 2009 (YouTube)
Pres. Obama, Grand Junction health reform town hall Aug. 15, 2009 (YouTube)

Colorado Republicans, however, weren’t ready to see the heat go out of the debate. They saw the president’s speech as mere strategy and so strategized in response.

A staffer for Republican state Sen. Brophy posed as an unaffiliated college student in the crowd at the Obama town hall and made sure to ask an anti-reform question. Senate Minority Leader and gubernatorial candidate Josh Penry penned an op-ed for the Grand Junctional Sentinel that repeated distortions of the president’s plan and that quoted figures supplied by the insurance industry. And in northern Colorado, GOP commissioners in Weld County denied Democratic U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey of the 4th Congressional District use of a public building to meet with constituents to discuss health care.

In the Grand Junction Central High School gym on Saturday, the president painted a bleak picture of health-sector profits built at the expense of family savings accounts and business bottom lines.

“This economy won’t work for everyone until folks… aren’t pushed to the brink by medical expenses, until companies aren’t slashing payroll and losing profits to pay for health insurance, until every single American has the security and peace of mind that comes with quality, affordable health care.”

The president also took aim at arguments made by opponents of the Democratic reform plan that claim it will amount to euthanasia.

“You can’t say things like we want to set up death panels to pull the plug on grandma. First of all, when you make a comment like that — I just lost my grandmother last year. I know what it’s like to watch somebody you love who is aging deteriorate and have to struggle with that. So the notion somehow that I ran for public office or members of Congress are in this so that they can go around and pull the plug on grandma. When you start making arguments like that … that just sounds dishonest to me.”

After his speech, Obama took questions, one of the most dramatic being from Zach Lahn, a 23-year-old student at the University of Colorado. According to ABC News, after drawing attention by shouting out during the question-and-answer session, Lahn asked the president “how in the world” a private insurance corporation could compete with a government option. Lahn didn’t tell the President or ABC News or any of the other reporters asking him questions after the event that his “college student status” was not as unencumbered as he made it appear, mainly because he is also a staffer for ultra-conservative state senator Brophy.

In his Sentinel op-ed, Sen. Penry repeated the false claim that President Obama wanted government bureaucrats to force old people to make choices that would compromise their health and prematurely end their lives, the same source that gave rise to Sarah Palin’s “death panels” characterization of the proposed reform plan. As the bloggers at Colorado Pols note, claims like Penry’s said to be drawn from the president’s words have been debunked for weeks. Nonpartisan fact-check site Politifact found the quote politicians like Penry have been citing. Politifact provides the full context.

Looking at the full transcript, it’s clear that Obama voluntarily brought up the example of having to choose between a surgery and a pill. But he did so as a hypothetical example of difficult decisions about medical treatment for older patients. He was not advocating, much less requiring, bureaucrats to make a potentially life-ending decision for a centenarian.

“I don’t want bureaucracies making those decisions,” Obama said.

Penry also quoted what he called the “nonpartisan Lewin Group” to say that “114 million Americans who now have private health insurance through their employers would lose their coverage under the Democratic plan.”

According to SourceWatch, however, the Lewin Group is a consultancy wholly owned and directed by the health insurance giant United Health Group.

In Weld County, Markey has scheduled a Congress on Your Corner event for Monday, where she plans to meet with groups of 15 to 20 people at a time. But the Fort Collins Coloradoan reports that Weld County commissioners refused to grant Markey permission to use a county building, which they said she would have to allow to fill to capacity, that is, up to seat up to 120 people.

“It’s been our policy for many years that when somebody reserves a room, anybody who shows up at the county building has access to that room,” County Commissioner Sean Conway said. He acknowledged that Weld County has no written policy outlining that requirement but said they may now put it in writing.

All five Weld County commissioners are Republicans, and Markey is a Democrat. Conway is a former chief of staff to Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., and has contributed money to one of Markey’s Republican challengers, Cory Gardner…

It appears increasingly, however, that Obama and the Democrats are reckoning with the reality that the GOP oppositional tactics will force them to concede ground in health reform policy.

Based on appearances made Sunday on national talk shows, media outlets are pointing to signs of retreat in the battle for a public option, the most controversial aspect of reform largely for being a key ingredient in truly containing health industry costs.

Hat-tip throughout to Colorado Pols.

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