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Tea party leaders say they back Senate Republican plans to block Democrats from moving forward with reconciliation on healthcare reform and plan to fight on their behalf.
They also promise to turn up the heat on fence-sitting House Democrats in advance of their looming vote on the Senate bill, which will precede a vote on reconciliation.
Republicans announced Wednesday they had sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signed by all 41 GOP senators warning they would vote against points of order that would allow the legislation to move forward to reconciliation. Such votes require 60 votes to cut off debate.
“Every bit of polling I have seen show the American people don’t want this bill as it currently stands,” said Mark Meckler, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest tea party organizations in the country.
Senators "should use every legal procedural maneuver they can to prevent this legislation from passing to show their support for the great majority of the American people.”
FreedomWorks, another major player in the tea party movement, has launched a Web site, NoHealthCareReconciliation.com, to pressure the Senate into avoiding reconciliation. More than100,000 people have signed the petition.
It also plans to put pressure on Democratic senators such as Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Max Baucus of Montana, who previously have denounced using reconciliation in any context.
But signs are pointing to the possibility the legislation could die in the House because of opposition from pro-life Democrats including Rep. Bart Stupak of Mich., and others in the House Democratic caucus who have serious reservations about the Senate bill.
Democratic leaders have been promising fence-sitting House members the problems with the Senate bill will be corrected through reconciliation in the Senate.
But Republican Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina; John Thune of South Dakota; Tom Coburn of Oklahoma; and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, warned House Democrats at a news conference last week not to have faith the Senate will resolve their objections through reconciliation. Problems such as abortion language, for example, cannot be fixed using the legislative tactic.
“The message to Democrats is that, if you vote for the Senate-passed bill in the House; you own the Senate-passed bill,” Thune said. “That is the vote that matters.
“Any suggestion that reconciliation could correct those things is assuming a tremendous leap of faith that the Senate is going to follow through and enact those" promises.
Barack Obama would have to sign the Senate bill before it could proceed to reconciliation under a Thursday ruling by the Senate parliamentarian, meaning it would become law without any language barring abortion funding.
However, Vice President Joe Biden could bend the rules by overruling the parliamentarian.
“Folks should come out and support all of the people who are doing the people’s work and who are going to vote no on this bill, and there are a significant number of Democrats who are going to vote no on this bill at this time,” Meckler said.
Meckler said fence-sitting Democrats should know they will enjoy popular support if they vote against the bill.
“They need to know that they have the political cover that the people have their backs to do the right thing,” he said.
FreedomWorks spokesman Adam Brandon said tea partiers will fight the Democrats’ healthcare legislation “tooth and nail” because repealing entitlement legislation is nearly impossible once it gets enacted.
Brandon compared the healthcare legislation to the Terminator, saying Democrats will likely not let the legislation die even if it fails to pass this time because they will likely bring it back from the dead, which will require continuing vigilance.
An estimated 500-1,000 tea partyers will be out in force on March 16 in Washington, D.C., on the eve of Obama’s healthcare deadline, in an effort to turn up the heat on the undecided members of Congress and get them to vote against the bill.
Organizers with FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots say tea partyers will gather in one of the parks across from the Cannon House Office Building at 9 a.m., and they will disperse to press their members of Congress and Senators to oppose the healthcare plan.
FreedomWorks also plans to keep pressure on wavering lawmakers back in their home districts using petition drives, protests outside their offices and candlelight vigils among other tactics leading up to the House vote.
“I am hoping to delay this [vote] and recreate Aug. 2009 back in the districts if we can get this back into the districts if we can get this into Easter recess,” said FreedomWorks grass-roots director Brendan Steinhauser.
Steinhauser said his group also plans to convene town hall meetings with 300-400 people during Easter recess and invite each member of Congress. For those who don't show up, microphones and placards will be placed in prominent places with their names on them.
“The media and the rest of the people of that community will know that the congressman refused to meet with a packed audience full of voting constituents,” Steinhauser said.
He said a vote for this healthcare reform package would be met by votes against their re-election.
Pollster Scott Rasmussen warns Republicans not to overplay their hand using parliamentary tactics.
“The instant danger for Republicans is that right now voters know what they are against — that they don’t like the plan, that they don’t like that the Democrats are trying to find any way possible to pass this unpopular plan,” Rasmussen said. “So this is a referendum on the Democratic agenda.
“If the Republicans push it too far, they end up potentially drawing attention to their own tactics and end up creating a sort of ‘We’re against all of them mindset.’”