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Extremist Outbursts At Town Halls Put GOP In Tough Spot

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National conservative groups organizing angry protests on health care reform at congressional town halls this week are drafting behind the "birther" movement, claimed Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) at a press conference on Wednesday.

The eruption of the extreme wing of the GOP -- the "more difficult people in that political party," as Brown gently put it -- is making compromise less likely, he added.

"One-third of that party still believes the President of the United States was not born in this country," Brown said, referring to a recent Research 2000 poll. "You know that Olympia Snowe and Chuck Grassley, when they would maybe like to move, are constrained by some of the more difficult people in that political party."

Although some protesters have told local reporters that they are genuinely upset about health care reform, conservative organizations like FreedomWorks and Conservatives for Patients Rights are said to be working covertly to recruit anyone willing to cause a scene. Brown and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Wednesday that they don't think reform proposals are threatened by the protesters, but Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) took a more jaundiced view, arguing that health care reform is too important not to be concerned.

"We're utterly desperate and serious about it, we're trying to interpret it to the people we represent who in our states desperately need it, and we're precluded from doing so by these kinds of tactics. It's stunning to me," Rockefeller said. "It disrupts the message. The story becomes the disruption, not the message."

After an early barrage, Democrats are preparing to fight back. The Democratic National Committee and the White House are working to tar the protesters as representatives of a disaffected rump party, and House leaders laid out strategy on a caucus-wide conference call Wednesday morning.

"Health insurance reform opponents are trying to stop the debate. They are afraid of the facts," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office said in a statement Wednesday evening. "While the special interests and Congressional Republicans have been encouraging disruption of public events to try to stop the debate about health insurance reform, Democrats continue to use the August district work period to communicate with our constituents about the health insurance reform embodied by America's Affordable Health Choices Act."

One early success came on Monday, when Texas Democratic Rep. Gene Green's riposte to angry shouts against government-run health care forced many protesters to sheepishly confess that they themselves are on Medicare (around the 4:30 mark):