'Pittsburgh tea party' in D.C.

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WASHINGTON -- Dale McCoy is sick of being called right-wing.

The 48-year-old Hopewell electrician stood with several thousand flag-waving protesters yesterday on the West Lawn of the Capitol to denounce health care reform and a government they claim has spiraled out of control.

"We're dead center," he said. "Those people up in the Capitol went left. We didn't move."

Mr. McCoy, a union member and registered Democrat, came down with four busloads of Pittsburgh-area residents in a trip organized by Jeff Steigerwalt of Franklin Park. Mr. Steigerwalt -- wearing a red, white and blue lei -- estimated that about 200 people, wearing American flag pins that said "Pittsburgh tea party," paid the $49 for a bus ride down -- and they only started organizing the trip Monday.

The noon rally featured speeches from Republican members of Congress and celebrities, and chants of "Kill the bill" and "No you can't," a play on President Barack Obama's chief campaign slogan.

Another popular proclamation: "You lie!"

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., the man who shouted the phrase at Mr. Obama during an address to Congress, was among yesterday's speakers.

Though the topic of the day was health care, the tea partiers' grievances were many: climate change legislation that would create a cap-and-trade pollution market, bailouts for banks and the auto industry, and out-of-control national debt. The protesters accused Mr. Obama and Congress of leading the nation down a path to communism.

"Things are not right in this country," said Larry Thomas, 60, of Cranberry. "We're going to wake up one of these days and the lights are going to be on and it will be like, 'Where did my country go?' "

Dan Rush, 36, a coal miner from Washington, Pa., is shipping off to Afghanistan soon with the Pennsylvania National Guard.

"I took an oath to stand up for the Constitution against our foreign enemies," he said. "I'm here today to stand up against our domestic enemies."

The rally was trumpeted by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., a high-profile conservative voice, as a cry to lawmakers not to pass the health care bill. The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a bill that would attempt to provide health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, reform insurance industry practices and create a controversial government-run insurer, dubbed the "public option."

Many of the protesters said this constitutes a government takeover of health care, as the public option will gradually push private insurers out of business. They expressed concern about spiraling health costs but urged against the path of the Democrats' legislation.

"To upset the whole system for a few people who don't have health care is just ridiculous," said Bobbie Gick, of Dormont.

She disputed claims of the plights of more than 40 million uninsured Americans because, she said, many can afford it and choose not to buy it or are the beneficiaries of free emergency care when they can't pay.

After the rally, the throngs flooded across Independence Avenue to the House office buildings to chant some more and try to register their concerns with lawmakers face-to-face.

About 65 of them gathered in a committee hearing room to speak with Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless. When one protester asked if anyone was actually in favor of the health care bill, the room fell silent.

Mr. Altmire, though, said he met with a group of constituents in favor of reform that morning and would not indicate which way he would vote.

"I am doing everything I can to hear everyone I can, to hear where my district is," Mr. Altmire said.

He voted against the bill in the Education and Labor Committee, but said some of his initial concerns have been addressed in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's latest draft: The Congressional Budget Office has said the bill doesn't add to the deficit -- a projection disputed by the tea partiers -- and the penalties for small businesses that don't offer their employees health care will affect businesses with payrolls of $500,000 or more, rather than $250,000.

The meeting was a bit more subdued than one of Mr. Altmire's town hall meetings, but the protesters made their feelings clear.

"We are well on our way to becoming a Third World country on your watch," said Patti Weaver, of Fox Chapel.

Mr. Altmire listened to the protesters' concerns for an hour, agreeing with them on many points and saying he had serious problems with parts of the health care bill. But many grumbled that their congressman sounded like a yes vote.

"If you stand up, people will follow you," said Chad Dupill, 35, of Delmont, an ex-Marine who runs a small business that works with the nuclear power industry.

"If not, we will vote you out."

But that's not necessarily good news for Republicans, despite the fact that the top three ranking House Republicans spoke at the rally. Mr. McCoy, a registered Democrat and a union member, said he feels the only real leaders of the movement are Ms. Bachmann and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

But after the second large march on Washington this fall, there's no doubting the tea party movement's reach.

"Any intelligent person will know that for every guy that took off work today, there's 1,000 that wanted to," Mr. McCoy said.

"These aren't radicals. These are God-fearing, decent, family people -- who vote."


Daniel Malloy can be reached at dmalloy@post-gazette.com or 202-445-9980. Follow him on Twitter at PG_in_DC.


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