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Washington Sketch: House Democrats' rally has a lot of salt, but little pep

"In this legislation, we will immediately begin to close the doughnut hole," the speaker proclaimed.

"We won't pay for murder!" a heckler heckled.

"Prevention and wellness are an important part of this legislation," the speaker declared.

"We won't pay for murder!" the heckler repeated. Finally, police were able to silence the activists, who held a gruesome poster showing an aborted fetus and signs demanding "Kill the bill."

Pelosi and her lieutenants did an impressive job of putting together a health-care reform compromise that probably has enough support to pass. Her watered-down version of the "public option" -- leaving the government insurance plan to negotiate rates with providers rather than imposing Medicare rates -- meant that Thursday's rally included a few moderates from the "Blue Dog" coalition along with liberal Democrats.

But Pelosi's legislative finesse was not matched by her skills as a pep rally organizer. Only about 80 House Democrats, about a third of the caucus, were on the stage on the cool and gray morning. The others, Pelosi tried to explain to the crowd, "are in hearings, because the work of Congress does not stop just because we have an important message to give to you."

Another possible reason for the sparse attendance: Health care may be hugely important, but it's hard to get fired up about the nitty-gritty of policy. "The uninsured will have access to a temporary insurance program -- we're calling it a high-risk pool -- from the date of enactment until the exchange is available!" Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn (S.C.) told the rally.

A small number of people, many of them paid staffers standing off to the side, offered polite applause for the high-risk pool.

"From the date of enactment, we'll hinder price-gouging with sunshine requirements on insurance companies to disclose insurance rate increases!"

Light applause for rate-increase sunshine requirements.

"From the date of enactment, COBRA health insurance coverage will be extended until the exchange is available and displaced workers can have affordable coverage!"

Modest ovation for temporary COBRA extension.

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