Lawmakers Will Face Tea Parties, And More, In August

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Over August recess, conservative activist groups will mount a renewed effort to kill the dreaded ObamaCare. August will be a melee of grassroots (or Astroturfed) activity on both sides: members of Congress will be home in their districts, holding town-halls, taking feedback from constituents--in other words, they'll be more open to pressure from activist campaigns than at any other time during the year.

It will be a semi-organized affair, with a handful of unaffiliated or loosely affiliated conservative groups urging their members to show up at Democrats' town-hall meetings, attend tea parties, call and visit the offices of senators and congressmen. There will also be a bus tour.

Conservative activists are less unified than their liberal counterparts. Organizing for America (OFA) and the progressive conglomeration Health Care for America Now! (HCAN) run point on grassroots activism for the left; they will head up efforts to support Obama's reforms in August with rallies and door-to-door canvasses. OFA has 13 million members (Obama's campaign list), and HCAN's member groups--including major unions, MoveOn.org, Planned Parenthood, ACORN, and a myriad of national and state-level groups--total 30 million members, not counting overlaps.

Tea Party - Flickr user ajagendorf25 - embed.jpgConservative activism, these days, is spread out over a handful of groups with member lists under 800,000, working together in loose affiliations around tea party events and other cooperative alliances (some of the groups, like Tea Party Patriots, are tea-party-centric). Here's what they're planning for August.

First of all, there will be tea parties. A conservative coalition has planned a national day of health-care-specific tea parties on August 22--organizers hope for a tea party in each of the nation's 435 congressional districts, according to one official--and another coalition has planned one in DC September 12, when Congress comes back.

There's a national website set up (recessrally.com) to help conservatives find the August 22 tea parties in their areas, along the same lines as TaxDayTeaParty.com, which served as a (more or less) official hub for the national tea party activity on April 15.

The same three groups who helped coordinate the April 15 tea parties are working to organize the August 22 events: American Liberty Alliance (formerly the Don't Go movement), FreedomWorks, and Americans for Prosperity. They've joined in a coalition with new media/community organizing group The Sam Adams Alliance and political training institute American Majority.

"Organize" is used in a loose sense here. The model is to provide information about where tea parties will take place (via the recessrally.com website and the websites of the organizing groups), alert group members via email or telephone, and largely leave it up to individuals to access that information and find out where to go.

Tea party organizers have always insisted, and still do, that their movement is, in that way, fundamentally organic. But they do, as this coalition has done, set the dates...so while August 22 events may be more or less organic, they're not spontaneous.

The tea parties will be promoted through an affiliation with conservative blogs and websites including RedState, Michelle Malkin, NetRightNation, and Smart Girl Politics, who have also signed onto the coalition, as well as through the e-mail lists kept by the organizing groups (as mentioned above, generally comprised of fewer than 800,000 people) and through a Facebook group of 50,000 tea partiers handled by American Liberty Alliance.

Organizers hope for a tea party in each of the nation's 435 congressional districts August 22, according to American Liberty Alliance Communications Director Corrine Williams.

The September 12 tea party, headed up by FreedomWorks (over 760,000 members), will include some more established/establishment players in Republican advocacy: Americans for Tax Reform, the National Taxpayers Union, and The Club for Growth will all pitch in. FreedomWorks spokesman Adam Brandon says his group expects 20,000 people to show up.

Those tea parties will mark the most coordinated effort by conservatives, but, individually, activist groups are planning more: a big component of conservative planning is getting supporters to show up at Democrats' town-hall meetings, to question Democratic reforms in person during the discussion.

Both FreedomWorks and the American Future Fund will provide members with lists of town-hall meetings being held by senators and congressmen in August, arming them with critical questions about Obama's reforms. Americans for Prosperity (over 500,00 members) is collecting information on state/district town-halls for the same purpose.

American Future Fund has already e-mailed its members (in the tens of thousands) with a tool that lets them enter their zip codes to find town-halls hosted by their legislators. That group recently launched an initiative to pressure Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who is now negotiating over health care with Democrats on his committee; spokesman Tim Albrecht said the group might launch more of those efforts, targeting individual senators, in August.

FreedomWorks sent out a Health Care training kit earlier this summer, an it's suggesting that supporters ask these three questions about health care at lawmakers' town-hall meetings:

1. The Congressional Budget Office has said the proposed government takeover of health care could cost $1.6 trillion. Other estimates put the cost much higher. Various officials have proposed raising taxes on soda and alcohol, a higher payroll tax, taxing current employer-provided health plans, and even a new national sales tax to fund this massive government program. Do you support any of these middle-class tax hikes to fund government-run health care? If not, how would you pay for it?

2. Under Obama's plan, can you guarantee that I would get to keep my current health care plan and doctor? President Obama himself has actually said both "yes" and "no" to this question.

3. Provisions in the Obama plan call for "comparative effectiveness research" to be used to decrease costs. "Savings" are achieved by denying treatments based on criteria such as cost, a patient's health and/or a patient's age. Isn't this health care rationing? Can you guarantee that a new government plan will not deny care to individuals in order to control costs?

The groups will also seek to get members to call or visit lawmakers' offices to advocate against Democratic health care reform plans, mainly through e-mail alerts. Americans for Prosperity, The Club for Growth, and the National Taxpayers Union will all be in touch with their members via email about Democratic health care efforts.

FreedomWorks, for its part, will target Blue Dog Democrats in the House and moderate Dems in the Senate: Reps. Bart Gordon (TN), Jane Harman (CA), Mike Ross (AR), Jim Matheson (UT), Charlie Melancon (LA), John Barrow (GA), Baron Hill (IN), and Zack Space (OH) make up the House targets, and Sens. Bill Nelson (FL), Ben Nelson (NE), Kay Hagan (NC), and Arlen Specter (PA) will be targeted at town-halls.

"Where possible, all of us--FreedomWorks and AFP and NTU--are going to work together to drive turnout at key rallies, probably organized originally or initiated by local citizen groups, and then what we're gonna do is drive people there," said National Taxpayers Union spokesman Pete Sepp.

Finally, Americans for Prosperity has launched an anti-Obama-health-care-reform bus tour, making appearances in 13 states and urging people to contact their senators in opposition to Democratic reform. Those states are: Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Indiana, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Virginia--all home to moderate legislators who could represent swing votes on health care in Congress.

So that's what Democrats in the House and Senate have to look forward to, along with time at home with their families, when they leave Washington at the end of the week.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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