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Unions To Take On Conservative Groups Health Care Town Halls

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The nation's largest federation of labor organizations has promised to directly engage with boisterous conservative protesters at Democratic town halls during the August recess.

In a memo sent out on Thursday, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney outlined the blueprint for how the union conglomerate would step up recess activities on health care reform and other topics pertinent to the labor community. The document makes clear that Obama allies view the town hall forums as ground zero of the health care debate. It also uses the specter of the infamous 2000 recount "Brooks Brothers" protest to rally its members to the administration's side.

"The principal battleground in the campaign will be town hall meetings and other gatherings with members of Congress in their home districts," reads the memo. "We want your help to organize major union participation to counter the right-wing "Tea-Party Patriots" who will try to disrupt those meetings, as they've been trying to do to meetings for the last month. ...

(Remember the hooligans - many of them Republican Congressional staff - who harassed Florida vote counters in 2000? We can't let that happen again!)."

A showdown between unions and grassroots conservative organizations could make for an August full of fireworks, with even more dysfunctional town hall meetings. The AFL-CIO is planning to target 50 "high priority districts," in addition to organizing telephone town hall gatherings.

But while the union conglomerate seems poised to flex its political muscle on Obama's behalf, it may find some friction on the policy front. Detailed in Sweeney's memo are certain legislative priorities that are clearly at odds with what seems likely to be produced in the Senate Finance Committee's compromise bill.

Sweeney describes it as a "requirement that ALL employers 'pay or play,'" that the final bill have "a robust public health insurance plan to compete with private insurers and drive down health costs," and that the legislation contain "relief for company/union funds providing pre-Medicare retiree coverage, and no taxation of health benefits!"

The AFL-CIO also promises to "Redouble our efforts on Capitol Hill against taxation of benefits OF ANY KIND, for including ALL businesses in the requirement to provide coverage, and for a robust public health insurance plan option."

According to reports on Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee is considering compromise legislation that will contain no public option for insurance and would tax health-care benefits of the most generous plans.

UPDATE: AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Richard Trumka sends out a scathing statement about the town halls, hitting on Sweeney's themes and calling the events corporate funded.

Every American has the inalienable right to participate in our democratic process. Our politics is passionate, heartfelt and often loud -- as was the founding of our nation. But that is not what the corporate-funded mobs are engaging in when they show up to disrupt town halls held by members of Congress.

Major health care reform is closer than ever to passage and it is no secret that special interests want to weaken or block it. These mobs are not there to participate. As their own strategy memo states, they have been sent by their corporate and lobbyist bankrollers to disrupt, heckle and block meaningful debate. This is a desperation move, meant to slow the momentum for change.

Mob rule is not democracy. People have a democratic right to express themselves and our elected leaders have a right to hear from their constituents -- not organized thugs whose sole purpose is to shut down the conversation and attempt to scare our leaders into inaction

We call on the insurance companies, the lobbyists and the Republican leaders who are cheering them on to halt these 'Brooks Brothers Riot' tactics. Health care is a crucial issue and everyone - on all sides of the issue - deserves to be heard.

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