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Health Care Protests Descend on Capitol

As the Senate Democratic leadership scrambled to work out a compromise deal on health care reform before the looming, self-imposed Christmas deadline, another day of health care protests roiled Capitol Hill.

Organized by a loose coalition of conservative activist groups led by Americans for Prosperity, the rally drew a substantial crowd of several hundred to Upper Senate Park early Tuesday afternoon.

The rally featured a slate of Members of Congress, including Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Steve King (R-Iowa), Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), as well as Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.). Conservative talk-show host Laura Ingraham and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) also addressed the crowd.

“This is such a critical time. [Democrats] don’t have the votes, or they’d have this dirty deed done by now,— Armey said to an enthusiastic crowd. “They don’t have the votes because they’ve seen you show up in April, in July, in September, in August and now — and they’re afraid you’ll show up in November. Let ’em know you’ll be back.—

“This is redistribution of wealth. I think Joe the Plumber figured that out a long time ago,— Bachmann said of the Democratic health care reform bill.

Touting his credentials as a doctor, Coburn said: “The health care bill isn’t about health care. The health care bill is about government control. The health care bill is about eliminating the liberty and freedom to choose what’s best for you and your family.—

Chanting “Kill the bill,— crowds poured into the Senate office buildings following the rally. However, unlike the raucous Nov. 5 “House call— protests that resulted in almost a dozen arrests and general disorder in the House office buildings, the interactions between staff and protesters were mostly calm and peaceful. According to Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, no arrests were reported resulting from the protests.

Rather than targeting Democratic leadership offices, organizers encouraged protesters to visit their own Senator’s office.

Waiting in line to visit Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s (D-N.J.) office, Joe Hegarty reported that he and his wife, Dorothea, traveled from New Jersey for the rally.

“It looks like we’re not going to see Sen. Lautenberg because he doesn’t have time to see us peasants,— Hegarty said. “I guess we’re going to see staffers and we’re going to sign something to lodge our objections to the health bill.—

The afternoon rally followed a morning sit-in, organized in part by the Tea Party Patriots group. About 50 demonstrators conducted sit-ins in Senate office buildings, demanding to speak directly with their Senators.

At the afternoon rally, Mark Meckler, national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, reported that upon visiting Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (ID-Conn.) office, protesters were threatened with arrest by Lieberman staffers. Lieberman’s office could not be reached for confirmation.

Emily Yehle contributed to this report.

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