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Dueling health care rallies hit the streets of San Diego

This story was reported for the San Diego News Network on March 16, 2010.

See original copy of this story.

As Democrats made a final push for President Barack Obama’s health care reform package, local supporters and opponents of the president’s plan rallied Tuesday at competing demonstrations.

Conflict surrounding reform continues to escalate, despite the Dems promise to pass the package of bills this week. In San Diego, supporters of Obama’s plan rallied outside the Civic Center, while opponents demonstrated outside Rep. Susan Davis’ (D-San Diego) local office.

“I actually really respect the people coming out in support of health care,” said Charles Fettinger, an opponent of Obama’s health care reform proposal who rallied outside Davis’ office. “I’d like to talk to them because in the end, we all want things to be better for ourselves and this country.”

While Fettinger and opponents of Obama’s plan rallied Tuesday, more than a hundred reform supporters — including Gary Rotto, director of health policy and fund development of the Council of Community Clinics, and San Diego County Democratic Party chairman Jess Durfee — marched from Santa Fe Train Depot to the Civic Center Plaza downtown chanting “health care reform now.”

The rally, coordinated by Organizing for America, concluded at the Civic Center concourse.

Some criticized the bills’ opponents and prompted attendees to encourage friends and family to support Obama’s plan.

“We’ve been hearing from all these bags of hot tea,” said Durfee referring to opponents. “Who is tired of them? … Health care reform now.”

Supporters also argued that, if passed, the bills would help 50 million uninsured Americans and could prevent up to 45,000 deaths each year.

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One of the supporters included activist Jerry Malamud, a protestor who was arrested at a rally outside the local Blue Shield of California office in November.

Malamud, who said he’d be willing to risk arrest again in support of health care reform, has been frustrated by the stalled legislation.

“It’s been very aggravating and it’s [the package of bills] been watered down,” he said. “But it’s a step forward in the right direction.”

Supporters also heard from Davis’ health care specialist, Katherine Fortner, who read a statement from the congressmember.

“We may be very close to passing health care reform legislation,” Davis said from the statement. “It’s both emotional and personal and we’ve seen this passion played out in the political arena.”

Organized by the Southern California Tax Revolt Coalition (SCTRC), approximately 50 people demonstrated outside the City Heights office of Davis, who supports the plan.

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Dawn Wildman, a representative with SCTRC, said she hopes the rally will encourage a list of 12 congressional leaders, who are on the fence with Obama’s proposal, to vote against it.

“Davis won’t change her mind so there’s no point in talking to her about it,” she said. “But, I do applaud Davis for holding town hall meetings to talk about it… we’re hearing from people across the country that a lot of Congress leaders aren’t holding town hall meetings.”

Fettinger, who has attended every SCTRC rally since February 2009, handed out T-shirts to opponents of Obama’s health care reform plan Tuesday morning. He said he wanted to do what he could to spread the word against the proposal because he thinks it is “dangerous.”

“The health care bills are so invasive,” he said. “The government is taking control of the one thing we have control of — our bodies.”

Related Links: Politics | The State of Your Health Care

In Washington D.C., Democrats are contemplating a plan that wouldn’t require a direct vote, to push the bill through Congress over the weekend.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said that no final decision had been made on the complex parliamentary strategy, which would allow House Democrats to pass the Senate’s health care legislation without voting on the bill itself. Instead, House members — who dislike the Senate bill — would vote on a rule for debate that would deem the bill passed once a smaller package of fixes also had passed.

Davis, who was in Washington D.C. Tuesday, released a statement to the San Diego News Network acknowledging the differing views, but said her support for the plan is a reflection of what the majority of her constituents want.

“Through public meetings, phone calls, e-mails, faxes and letters, I have been hearing from people on both sides of the health care debate,” the statement said. “Passions run deep on this issue because it is so personal. In my district, people who want to move forward on health care reform are outnumbering those who want to stop the train.”

Associated Press writer Erica Werner contributed to this report. Hoa Quach is the political editor for the San Diego News Network.