By Kristen Wyatt
DENVER -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says boisterous protests at health care promotions sponsored by Democrats this summer won't derail a massive health overhaul looming when Congress returns to work next month.
Pelosi, D-Calif., visited a Denver clinic for the homeless Thursday and was greeted by about 200 protesters cramming four corners of a city intersection. The crowd was mixed, about half in favor of the overhaul and half against it.
The protesters were loud but orderly, with a few heated exchanges but no reports of arrests. One side chanted 'just say no' while the other side chanted 'health care now.' Many in both camps waved American flags.
Pelosi toured the Stout Street Clinic with Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis, two Democrats from the Denver area. Afterward, she said the protests would not dissuade Democrats from a health overhaul to extend insurance to so some 47 million Americans with no health coverage.
'What you see, I think, is a display of the democratic process,' Pelosi said. 'We all respect that.'
Democrats in the House have been instructed to hold town halls and constituent meetings over the August recess to whip up support for a health care overhaul that aims to extend insurance coverage, regulate insurance companies more closely and slow the rise of medical costs. Opponents call the plan meddlesome and too expensive.
'I want liberty and freedom. I don't want this,' said Cynthia Aab of Loveland, Colo., about 50 miles north of Denver. Aab, a dental hygienist, carried a protest sign warning of government interference in health care.
Standing a few feet away, retired psychologist Ken Connell carried a sign in favor of the overhaul.
'The free market has failed in health care,' said Connell, 67.
The Denver protest is part of what Republicans nationally are calling a strategy to derail the administration-backed health overhaul. In reaction, left-leaning groups are trying to turn out picketers who like the plan. Several people interviewed outside the Denver clinic said they received e-mails urging them to protest Pelosi's appearance, or they read about it on blog.
Pelosi didn't speak with protesters, and only reporters and clinic staffers were allowed inside to hear her remarks. The speaker said Democrats welcome the protesters, though.
'We all see the interest in it on one side or the other, and that's healthy in a democracy,' she said.
In Washington on Thursday, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada accused protesters of trying to 'sabotage' health improvements.
'These are nothing more than destructive efforts to interrupt a debate that we should have, and are having,' Reid said.
But Pelosi, DeGette and Polis said they're confident the overhaul will pass this year, and they downplayed disagreement among Democrats. Polis was instrumental in leading a small revolt of freshmen Democrats on the funding of the overhaul, but he said he supports the current plan, and he stood smiling by Pelosi at the clinic visit Thursday.
'Do we have a diversity of opinion? Yes. We do not have a split,' Pelosi said.