- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Obama administration Tuesday condemned opponents of its health care legislation for “manufacturing” public outrage across the country even as the White House and its allies prepared to wage their own public relations battle for vocal backers in scores of congressional districts in coming weeks.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs painted the efforts of conservative-backed advocacy groups as “astroturf” — suggesting the grass-roots opposition to the president’s health care plan was artificial.

Mr. Gibbs did not rule out speculation that the conservative groups were tapping into some public distress with the president’s plan, but Democratic Party activists said protests at town hall events across the country were more likely a charade organized entirely by vested interests in Washington.

The White House tried to diminish the opposition as both sides were gearing up for the most crucial and potentially perilous leg of the journey of the president’s signature legislative initiative. Mr. Obama had hoped to reach a resolution before a long August lull, during which advocacy groups could chip away at the support of the measure and members of Congress would have prolonged exposure to feedback from their constituents.

That hiatus has opened the door to a practice that has now become a staple of lobbying: getting voters to mouth the views of Washington interests directly to lawmakers back home. The public relations push is coming from both directions. Tuesday, a group that works closely with the White House, Americans United for Change, announced the latest in a series of television ads urging voters to back the health care plan and also worked to get voters to attend town-hall meetings to voice their support. At the same time Tuesday, the group formed out of the Obama campaign, Organizing for America, was launching radio ads in 19 congressional districts across the country to produce support for the president’s overhaul effort.

Late Tuesday, OFA organized a rally in Detroit, where Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will travel on Wednesday, and asked supporters to show up to support the vice president and to counter “organized mobs.”

On the other side, the conservative Club for Growth announced it was launching a $1.2 million ad campaign.

The scope of the opposition effort is unclear, but the White House attempted Tuesday to downplay its critics by describing angry protesters who have appeared at town-hall events across the country as pawns of the Republican Party and their lobbyist allies in Washington.

The Democratic National Committee called the protesters a “mob” and said they believed people were being bused to events by “well-funded, highly organized groups run by Republican operatives and funded by the special interests.”

“I hope people will take a jaundiced eye to what is clearly the astroturf nature of so-called grass-roots lobbying,” Mr. Gibbs said. “This is manufactured anger.”

Of concern to the administration was video footage of large crowds shouting down members of Congress that were being posted throughout the day on YouTube and other Web sites. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, was shown as the target of shouting at during a transportation event Tuesday in Utica, N.Y. Another tape showed Rep. Steve Kagen, Wisconsin Democrat, trying to answer hundreds of agitated people in Green Bay, Wis., on Monday night.

Lawmakers in New York, Texas and Pennsylvania have been captured on tape under withering fire from protesters in recent days.

Tuesday’s debate centered on the question of how much of the outrage was genuine.

John Goodman, president of the conservative-leaning National Center for Policy Analysis, said he thinks the protests are real.

“There is no organized Republican resistance to what the Democrats in Congress are doing,” he said. “The Republicans are in disarray.”

Story Continues →