Sebelius: Protesters Trying To ‘Silence Debate’

The Obama administration is recruiting union members to counter recent conservative attacks on health reform proposals.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Friday in a conference call with members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) that some people protesting at town hall meetings around America are trying to silence the health care debate.

“I had an encounter last week in Philadelphia with also some folks who feel like they don’t want to see a change in the system. They visited the town hall where I was with Senator Specter, I think, with the intent of trying to stop the conversation,” she said. “It is important that over the course of this month when members of the House and Senate are in their home communities that we have an opportunity to continue this discussion.”

Sebelius gave SEIU members a pep talk — outlining ways they could help pass President Obama’s plan. That to-do list included telling everyone they know, including using Christmas or Hanukkah card lists, to support reform. At the same time, she said, supporters shouldn’t be discouraged by the tactics of the opposition.

She also told them that her father was in a Democratic-controlled Congress with a Democratic president when Medicare passed by only 45 votes in the House. She also predicted that health reform will be similar.

“It’s an indication to me of sometimes how hard it is to change a system that people are used to,” she said. “Change is never easy.”

SEIU rank-and-file members, speaking after Sebelius completed the call, offered details of their local efforts to maintain support for the reforms. The plans include organized attendance at town hall gatherings, meetings with representatives and senators and holding marches and rallies around the country to support ehalth overhaul legislation.