Health care demonstrators gather outside Capitol

Hundreds of boisterous protesters gathered outside the Capitol on Sunday afternoon to voice their opposition to the health care legislation being debated inside.

About 300 people carrying homemade signs, American flags and banners with the colonial-era slogan "Don't tread on me" fanned out across a grassy area near the House side of the Capitol. One sign read, "Disobedience to tyranny is obedience to God," while another stated, "Obamacare (equals) death warrant for grandma."

"Just because you've got a wish, doesn't mean that it's a right," said Tom Mellon, explaining his homemade sign. "If you want health care, you go and get health care or work for it." The 62-year-old traveled from his home near Cape May, N.J., to participate in protests Saturday and Sunday.

People with megaphones led the group in chants of "Kill the bill!" and refrains of the national anthem. Cheers erupted every time lawmakers opposed to remaking the health care system emerged from a balcony off the House chamber, holding signs and waving a large flag.

Earlier Sunday, one protester got into the House gallery and shouted: "Kill the bill. The people don't want this."

As the man was yelling and ushers tried to escort him out, several Republicans stood up on the House floor and cheered.

Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts said, "I've never seen this — for the Republicans to stand up and cheer the guy on." He called the Republicans "clowns."

Outside the Capitol, Bruce Majors, 51, said he was protesting because he believes that supporters of the current bill would "slowly force everyone into a government health care system and then ration and control who gets it."

"We do need health care reform, it's just not this," the District of Columbia resident added.

Nearby, at least 100 supporters of the health care overhaul legislation waved signs and shouted call-and-response chants. Some of the counter-demonstrators' signs identified them as "People of faith for health care reform" or "Catholics for health care reform."

Barbara Lowney, 61, of Ringwood, N.J., was in town to participate in a demonstration in favor of overhauling the immigration system. But she decided Sunday morning to lend her voice to the health care reform supporters, too.

"I'm in support of health care reform for everyone and I'm concerned about the people who are disenfranchised and don't really have a voice," she said.

George Washington University student Jeff Richards, 19, said he was watching the protest on C-SPAN and decided to head over to the Capitol and lend his voice in support of the legislation. He carried a homemade sign that asked, "Before Jesus healed the leper, did he check his insurance coverage?"

As the afternoon wore on, demonstrators from both sides of the debate began to mingle, crossing the Capitol driveway that had separated them. Some engaged in heated one-on-one debates. Others formed groups and attempted to drown out each other out in shouting matches.

Adding to the chaos, several hundred marchers from the earlier immigration reform rally marched between the two groups, beating drums and chanting in Spanish. As they passed, many shouted out in support of the contingent in favor of the health care bill.


Associated Press Writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.