(March 10, 2010) – With a March 18 deadline set by the White House for the passage of the president’s marquee health care reform legislation, supporters and dissenters ramped up their lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., this week.

On March 9, more than 50 major labor, organizational, and religious leaders—under the aegis of Health Care for America Now (HCAN), a health reform campaign—led an estimated 5,000 marchers in protest outside the Ritz-Carlton hotel, where America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a health insurers lobbying group, was holding its annual conference. The group, organizers said, had played a chief role in stymieing the first attempt at meaningful health care reform in decades.

“We thought it was time to send a message to Congress that it was time to listen to us and not to the insurance companies,” HCAN spokeswoman Jacki Schechner told the AFRO. “And we needed to send a message to the insurance companies that we’re fed up of them raising premiums and denying us health care when we need it most.”

Meanwhile, the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition had begun its offensive on Capitol Hill called “Take the Town Halls to Washington.” The tea party activists plan to question and review the positions of approximately 50 House Democrats, whose vote on the pending healthcare legislation has not yet been announced publically.

“President Obama has indicated his willingness to ignore the people and force his bill through Congress using whatever means necessary,” spokesman Mark A. Skoda, also chairman of the Memphis Tea Party, said in a press release. “Our objective is to bring thousands of constituents to D.C. to meet with their representatives, capture their comments and produce a review of those positions on a daily basis.”

Organizer Michael Patrick Leahy said their opposition to the bill reflects the will of the American people.

“After more than a year of tea party resistance to the big government efforts of the Obama administration, it all comes down to the next three weeks,” he stated. “The administration has made it clear. They intend to ram down the health care takeover through a corrupt Congress by the end of this month, in direct defiance of the clearly expressed will of the American people.”
Shechner said she was not aware of the concurrent initiative by the tea party activists, nor was she really concerned.

“I’m really not interested about what rallying is going on around misinformed people; I’d rather pay attention to people that need health care reform,” she said. And, despite what her opponents say, she added, most Americans want health care reform. “They may oppose the bill in name because there’s been so much misinformation spread about it, but when you talk to people about what’s actually in the bill, these are things that they actually want.”

Hilary Shelton, vice president of advocacy of the NAACP and speaker at the March 9 rally, said adversaries of health care reform are hiding from the facts.

“The NAACP is convinced that our healthcare system is not only fractured, but it is broken,” he said. Over 46 million Americans lack healthcare insurance, he cited, and those who have it find themselves underinsured and at the mercy of changing rates among other problems.

Shelton said the tea party campaigners—and anyone else who would deny reform in the face of these truths—are unpatriotic.

“If their strategy—going into the Easter recess of all times—is to do what they did during the August recess, which is to prevent the Democratic process of us discussing what is in the best interest of ‘we the people,’ then indeed they’re proving to be one of the most un-American forces we’ve seen since this issue was raised.”