Forces on both sides of the political aisle are squaring off for a battle royal at President Barack Obama's healthcare summit Thursday.
Activists on both the left and the right are gearing up for major protests and demonstrations, all part of an ongoing tug-of-war to influence the outcome of the summit.
Members of Congress stepping out of their limousines will be greeted by sign-waving protesters on both sides of the aisle.
One group of healthcare reform proponents, Melanie's March, walked the 135 miles from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., to take part in the debate.
The conservative grass-roots movement, led by tea party organizations, will be a major presence at Blair House as well.
Blair House is the venue for the summit involving Republicans, Democrats, and healthcare officials. It begins at 10 a.m. and continues to 4 p.m., with a break for lunch.
The opening remarks of the televised event will be made by Obama, who is expected to defend the $950 billion dollar proposal he tossed into the public arena earlier this week.
The WDC organization led by Lisa Miller is teaming up with Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips to host a conservative grass-roots rally outside Blair House, which is across from the White House. Its purpose: to voice strident conservative opposition to Obamacare.
"The American people have rejected this trillion-dollar takeover of healthcare," Phillips stated in an e-mail to his members calling for support at the rally.
Several busloads of marchers are expected, but the crowd's size is difficult to predict due to weather and the summit's midweek timing.
At 11:30, once the summit is under way, the tea party members will march to the JW Marriott Hotel a few blocks away. There they'll attend an event featuring Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., and Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., called Critical Condition: The Patients' Summit.
The Patients' Summit will give citizen-patients an opportunity to tell their own stories regarding U.S. healthcare and government regulation. It will be webcast on the AmericansForProsperity.org Web site.
"The government is destroying the private [healthcare] industry," Miller, who sells insurance, tells Newsmax. "Now [Obama] is calling to forcibly cap rises in premiums. He's sounding more and more like a dictator every day, completely ignoring state's rights. It's very alarming."
Premiums are going up, Miller says, due to "higher claims that are higher because of the cost shifting and price fixing, and the inability of states to set competitive markets."
Left-wing organizations plan to counter the influence of the tea party organizations with their own rallies and events. In addition to the Melanie's March group, MoveOn.org, Health Care for American Now, the SEIU, and other organizations announced earlier this week a Virtual March for Real Healthcare Reform.
A joint news release by the group stated: "During the Virtual March for Real Health Care Reform, we'll send a million messages to Congress to make sure they know that voters want them to get to work and get health care done. Our message is simple: It's time for Washington to stop stalling. Pass real healthcare reform now."
Although some tea party leaders scoff that a virtual march is what an organization does when it can't get people to turn out in large numbers, the MoveOn.org Web site shows that more than 1 million respondents have provided a name and e-mail address to join the campaign.
Republicans have expressed concern that the entire summit will be used to score political points against them, and paint them as obstructionists because they refuse to go along with a big-government takeover of healthcare reform.
GOP Rep. Mike Pence commented on “Meet the Press” Sunday: "Republicans are ready to work. But what we can't help but feel like here is the Democrats spell summit, S-E-T-U-P. And all this is gonna be is some media event, used as a preamble to shove through Obamacare 2.0."
Bill Galston, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton who works at the Brookings Institution, suggested to FT.com that Pence's view may not be that far off.
“I’m sure from the standpoint of choreography that the White House would like to come as close as possible to repeating the president’s success in Baltimore, and give the president a chance to shine,” he said,
Most analysts believe the president gave a persuasive performance last month at a House Republican retreat in Maryland last month.
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