Reform Advocates Plan Lobby Blitz

Politico — Tuesday, March 31, 2009

By: Chris Frates

If April showers bring May flowers, then lawmakers are looking at a storm of health care lobbying during the April recess.

With Congress readying to take on health care reform, several of Washington's most influential advocacy groups are mobilizing to ensure that lawmakers hear from their constituents back home during the two-week congressional recess.

"The next few weeks will be critical to passing health care reform in 2009, so we're going in big with what we do best: organizing our 40 million members across the country to fan the flame under Washington's feet," said Jim Dau, a spokesman for AARP.

The seniors lobby has events planned in every state, including tele-town halls in New York with Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Democratic Reps. Anthony D. Weiner and Joseph Crowley, Dau said.

A number of the events will be sponsored by Divided We Fail, a coalition that includes AARP, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Business Roundtable and the Service Employees International Union.

The coalition is hosting a health care forum with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and town hall meetings with Reps. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) and Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), Dau said.

AARP President Jennie Chin Hansen is also taking part in the White House regional health reform forum in Los Angeles, Dau said.

In addition to the forum, the administration's recess plans include continuing the steady and intense work of meeting with congressional staffers, stakeholders and key players both inside and outside the White House, said an administration official.

"There's a lot happening here, and that's not going to slow down even with lawmakers back in their districts working with their constituents," the official said. "We know we don't have a day to waste here. The president wants to get this done, and certainly do a lot of lawmakers on the Hill and so do the American people. And that's a goal we'll be working toward every day."

Health Care for America Now, a progressive advocacy group, is planning to hold 90 events in 43 states. Most will be town halls or rallies. Its partners in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are rallying at the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, which connects Philadelphia and Camden, N.J. In Washington state, the group is holding a moms' march, said Jacki Schechner, the group's spokeswoman.

And in Colorado, the group is joining with Colorado Progressive Action, a grass-roots advocacy organization, and sponsoring a series of events across the state.

On April 11, they're hosting a health care carnival in Greeley, Colo., with food, crafts, live music and booths where visitors can send their health care stories to members of Congress.

On April 16, supporters will hold a short march to deliver about 1,500 postcards to the Pueblo offices of two Democrats: Rep. John T. Salazar and Sen. Michael Bennet.

Finally, on April 18, they're hosting a "moveathon" in a park across the street from Bennet's Denver office.

"People will be walking, strolling and rolling for health care reform, and people will be pledging to bring friends and neighbors," said Jane Feustel, director of Colorado Progressive Action. "We're asking our Colorado delegations to be champions to make health care change happen this year. And we hope these events make them take notice and bring change to D.C."

The insurance lobby will also be active throughout the country during the recess. America's Health Insurance Plans is hosting recruitment and training seminars for its member companies' employees, said spokesman Michael Tuffin.

The trade group is also reaching out to small-business leaders in 16 states in an effort to recruit them to join the industry's campaign for health care reform, he said.

The group is also holding events to publicize the benefits of its Medicare Advantage plans, which President Barack Obama has proposed to cut in order to fund health care reform.

At least nine events will allow seniors to speak in support of their coverage and call, write or e-mail their lawmakers, Tuffin said.

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