- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2009

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, the face of Republican opposition to Democrats’ health care reform plans, has yet to face voters in a traditional town-hall meeting this summer, instead spending his time bolstering his party’s chances in the 2010 midterm elections.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also skipped the face-to-face interaction with constituents at town halls, instead spending her public time in August visiting clinics and holding roundtables tailored to “stakeholders” in the health care debate.

In avoiding the town halls, the two top leaders of the House have both missed out on the kinds of questions that have been asked — or in some cases shouted — at their colleagues during hundreds of events nationwide, as voters grapple with Democrats’ proposed 1,000-plus-page rewrite of the nation’s health care system.

Boehner spokesman Don Seymour defended the Ohio Republican’s summer schedule as an investment in good government.

“As leader, Boehner is leading the fight both in Congress and on the campaign trail against [Democrats’ health care reform plans], helping to raise the resources Republicans need to win next year and offer real reforms that curb government spending, create new jobs, and lower health care costs without a massive government takeover,” he said.

Mr. Seymour said Mr. Boehner raised more than $100,000 for Republican candidates and an additional $500,000 for the party’s congressional campaign committee, as analysts and pollsters say Republicans’ prospects for making gains in next year’s elections have improved. He also is scheduled to appear along with other officials at a weekend rally hosted by the Cincinnati Tea Party, a group opposed to what it calls wasteful government spending.

Democrats decried the “stench of lies and hypocrisy coming out of John Boehner’s office” for his handling of the health care debate.

“Congressional Republicans, led by John Boehner and Eric Cantor, have made clear they don’t want to have an honest discussion with the American people on the real need for health insurance reform. They’d much rather engage in shameless fearmongering and tell countless lies,” said Ryan Rudominer, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Mr. Cantor, Virginia Republican, is the House minority whip.

Mrs. Pelosi appeared at several events in her California district last month, including touring a hospital and prenatal care facility for the homeless. She also held a health care reform roundtable and gave a speech at an innovation summit.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said she also met with some Silicon Valley executives about health care reform and said the roundtables she held this summer were “interactive.”

The House Republicans’ campaign arm repeatedly has assailed Democrats who have failed to hold town halls this summer, accusing some of “hiding” from their voters and charging that another was trying to “censor” his constituents by having a third party select questions.

Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said because Democrats are pushing for the overhaul, they are the ones who should have to explain themselves to voters.

“It was the Democrats who promised a ‘PR offensive’ over the month of August to boost sagging public support for their government takeover of the health care industry,” Mr. Spain said. “However, once they realized that voters didn’t want higher premiums, increased taxes, and cuts to Medicare, Democrats pulled the plug on their town halls and made a concerted effort to run and hide from the public.”

Besides Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Boehner, the record for other House leaders is mixed.

Perhaps the experience of House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, at his first and only town hall Tuesday provides some insight when it comes to reluctance to host the forums. The longtime lawmaker was confronted by a large, often unruly crowd that packed into a gym at North Point High School in Waldorf. Several attendees walked out in protest.

Mr. Hoyer’s colleague, Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, has hosted a town hall, held a health fair and has plans for a radio call-in town hall, a spokeswoman said. But according to local press reports, the town hall was limited to questions on HIV/AIDS.

Some Democrats with less seniority are taking the opposite tack. Freshman Rep. Tom Perriello has held 21 town-hall meetings in his central Virginia district, largely on the health care issue.

Mr. Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican, hosted a job fair in his Richmond district that drew 3,500 attendees, and his campaign held a public question-and-answer session with the congressman.

Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana has held five town-hall meetings and has plans for more, spokeswoman Mary Vought said.

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