War of Words Over Health Care Cools

By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 3, 2009

Another storm over health-care rhetoric blew through the House this week, prompting Republicans and Democrats to trade accusations that the other had crossed the line marking good taste and civility in the chamber. But by week's end, the thunder seemed to have passed and both sides appeared ready to move on.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) sparked the uproar Tuesday night, saying on the House floor of the minority's health-care proposals: "Republicans want you to die quickly."

GOP leaders immediately demanded an apology. They likened his remarks to Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouting "You lie!" during President Obama's September address to a joint session of Congress.

Grayson not only refused to apologize, but he also further drew the GOP's ire by calling the deaths of uninsured Americans a "holocaust" and then by referring to Republicans as "knuckle-dragging Neanderthals." (He later allowed that "holocaust" wasn't "the best choice of words.")

"His despicable remarks were not an impassioned speech gone awry. They were part of a premeditated effort that was followed up with another insulting barrage of insults and attacks," responded National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said: "It's time for the Democrat leaders, and the speaker of the House herself, to rein in some of the rhetoric that she decried several weeks ago."

Democrats instead charged Republicans with hypocrisy, publicizing examples of GOP lawmakers making intemperate remarks about Democrats' health-care plans.

"Apparently Republicans are holding Democrats to a higher level than their own members," Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. "If anybody's going to apologize, everybody should apologize."

Republicans have threatened to introduce on the House floor a resolution disapproving of Grayson's remarks, just as Democrats did with Wilson. But they have not yet followed up on their threat.

Even if Grayson's remarks do not resurface on the House floor, they may yet have an impact on the campaign trail.

Florida's 8th district, based in Orlando, has long been represented by Republicans, but Grayson rode into the House on Barack Obama's coattails. Both Democrats won the district with 52 percent of the vote, with Grayson ousting incumbent Ric Keller.

Republicans have not settled on a candidate for the 2010 election. (Spain's committee has launched a Web site, AlanDisGrayson.com, to collect campaign contributions for the eventual nominee.) Yet, despite the lack of an opponent and the advantages of incumbency, veteran political handicapper Charlie Cook rates the race a "tossup."

Grayson has a history of controversial remarks, including calling talk show host Rush Limbaugh a "drug addict" and joking that former vice president Richard B. Cheney "liked to shoot old men in the face." But many Democrats are rallying to Grayson's side. The lawmaker said he had raised more than $100,000 for his reelection campaign since his remarks on Tuesday.

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