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Friday, August 30, 2013

Final ‘Defund Obamacare’ Town Hall Draws Standing-Room Only Crowd

Former South Carolina Senator and Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint supports a Congressional effort to thwart the Affordable Care Act. (Taunya English/WHYY)

Former South Carolina Senator and Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint supports a Congressional effort to thwart the Affordable Care Act. (Taunya English/WHYY)

The last of nine “Defund Obamacare” town halls took place in Wilmington, Delaware, last night.

Heritage Foundation president and former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, who organized the gatherings, was applauded by a crowd of over 400 attendees when he quipped, “You are all packed in here tonight. A lot of people are having to stand up along the walls. We did that on purpose. We wanted to simulate what it’s going to be like in a doctor’s office in about a year.”

John Emmons, a Pennsylvanian who’s become an on-the-ground “sentinel” for the Heritage Foundation’s campaign, says Obamacare is “another big government program that just won’t work.”

But other Republicans, such as Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, say they’re not on board with the effort by DeMint and his congressional allies to force a vote next month on defunding the Affordable Care Act.

On October 1, people will begin enrolling for insurance plans available under Obamacare. The coverage starts on January 1.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. And we want to turn our eyes now from Syria and the White House to Wilmington, Del., where critics of health care reform held their last of nine town hall meetings last night. They're intended to drum up support for defunding the Affordable Care Act.

Former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint now leads the conservative Heritage Foundation. They're organizing this campaign. DeMint calls the town halls the best last chance to defund Obamacare, and he spoke to a standing-room-only crowd last night.

JIM DEMINT: You're all packed in here tonight. A lot of people are having to stand up all along the walls. But we did that on purpose.


DEMINT: We did. We wanted to simulate what it's going to be like in a doctor's office in about a year or so.


YOUNG: Taunya English is health reporter for WHYY, HERE AND NOW contributor, and was at the defund Obamacare town hall last night. She joins us from Philly. And Taunya, some laughs but I'm sure serious talk, too.

BYLINE TAUNYA ENGLISH: A lot of passion for sure.

YOUNG: Well, and in other cities, a couple hundred people have been showing up to these events. Who are they? Are they all brought there by the Heritage Foundation? Who turns out?

ENGLISH: You know, it wasn't a very mixed crowd. These were people who clearly were insiders and on the ground, a lot of them already working to try to derail this law. We saw a few Hawaiian shirts, lots of gray hair, and about third person that I talked to was a retiree.

YOUNG: Well, the defund Obamacare supporters want people to become sentinels. What does that mean? You met one. What do they do?

ENGLISH: Yeah, so I met John Emmons(ph). He lives just outside of Philadelphia. He works in manufacturing by day and says he's an activist at night. He has a small Twitter following, about 145 followers, but he says, you know, that's his circle of influence. And the Heritage Action Group is saying, you know, multiply that times the 5,900 sentinels that they have on the ground, and they're trying to make a change.

YOUNG: Well, and we said these have been passionate, often large groups that are turning out at these town halls. But do they have a chance of making change? They want to attach their motion to cut funds to Obamacare to the yearly spending bill that keeps government running. What are their leaders saying their chances are?

ENGLISH: The leader of the movement, Senator Ted Cruz from Texas, says, you know, he's conceded that he does not have the votes to do this. But when I talked to Senator DeMint at the Wilmington Town Hall, he said, you know, these meetings aren't about politics. Politics always lags behind passion, he said.

This is about rallying Americans to pressure their lawmakers.

YOUNG: Well, but we know within the Republican Party there's been some dissent. We're reading in the Tampa Bay Times after a town hall there, North Carolina Senator Richard Burr saying this is the dumbest idea I've ever heard of. What's the dissent you're hearing?

ENGLISH: Yeah, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, he's kind of our leading Republican in Pennsylvania, he's always been against the ACA. But he's just not sure that this defunding movement is the right tactic, and I think it really reflects a split about the right way forward to oppose this.

YOUNG: ACA, the Affordable Care Act. Well, they may not be successful in the defund movement, and a recent Kaiser poll shows most Americans don't want to defund Obamacare. But a majority are also unsure about what the law means. And a huge aspect of health care reform starts very soon, open enrollment. It starts on October 1.

ENGLISH: Right, that's going to happen. I don't know anyone who says that open enrollment won't happen as scheduled. But there have been administrative delays. Mike Needham, he's CEO of the Heritage Action for America, he says we really just need a time out on this.

MIKE NEEDHAM: There's a lot that's come out in the last couple of months that shows that this bill is absolutely not ready for primetime. And so I think that when you have that type of situation, it's prudent to say, well, let's wait until it's ready.

YOUNG: But Taunya English, again, as you said, little doubt that open enrollment will start on October 1?

ENGLISH: Everyone's gearing up. I think it's going to happen.

YOUNG: Taunya English, health reporter for WHYY in Philadelphia, thank you so much.

ENGLISH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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