Will Town Halls Influence Health Care Debate?

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IDA GROVE, Iowa -- Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is spending a lot of time talking about health care and trying to calm the outpouring of anger at his town hall meetings.
    
But what he says carries more weight than most senators, because of his role as the highest-ranking Republican involved in negotiations for a bipartisan Senate bill.

The tone of the town halls has changed since the first few Grassley hosted in early August. They are nowhere nearly as heated - in part because Grassley starts off the question and answer segment telling his audience what he has learned from them and by spelling out what issues he is for and what he is against.

"I think the town meetings are having a real big impact on the debate that's going to be coming up in September," he said. "And so it's very difficult. I can tell you how they've impacted me I think they have said you ought to go slow, you ought to do what's right. It's costing too much."

"We're talking about a very complex issue, health care, life or death issue with every American and it's one-sixth of our economy and it seems to me," he continued.  "We need to have a consensus approach and we generally put that in the area of 70 to 80 votes and because it's such an important issue affecting so many people."

Tuesday's meeting in Ida Grove was Grassley's town hall meeting number 2,851 since being elected to the Senate in 1980. With health care front and center in the minds of many residents, attendance at his town halls has grown exponentially - with the majority clearly against the current proposals for reform.

"I am not for this government takeover on health care," said Evelyn Saunders, a town hall attendee.

"I see them with other programs that are very unorganized and inefficient and we sure don't need that in health care," said Donovan Davenport, who also opposes the bill.

But a small handful of Grassley's audience supports the sweeping health care reform.

"My understanding of a public option is that it is a choice that private citizens would have the opportunity to retain private health care coverage if it was cost effective and it worked for them and that citizens would also have the opportunity to buy into a less expensive more affordable health insurance through a public option," said Maureen Cosgrove, who supports the bill.

The debate over health care resumes in Washington, D.C. when the Senate reconvenes after the Labor Day holiday. The people who attended Grassley's town halls said they feel more comfortable with him negotiating for them, now that they have had a chance to hear from him directly.

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