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Summit protestors agree on disagreeing

From NBC's Ali Weinberg
At the beginning of President Obama's heath care summit with a bipartisan group of congressmen, two opposing camps of activists gathered their signs, lab coats and megaphones to rally across the street from Blair House, the site of the half-day meeting.

The two groups railed against each other on 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, trying to drown each other out with shouts of "Medicare for all!" and "Kill the bill!" But both sides had one large point of agreement: neither support the bill in its current form.

"We don't like what's in this bill," said Gregory Junemann, the president of International Federation of Professional Technical Engineers, a union which includes health care employees. Junemann was protesting with a group in favor of a public health insurance option, a provision that does not appear in the Senate version of the bill.

As a union member, Junemann was also concerned about the "Cadillac tax," a surcharge on individuals and families with pricier policies, which House Democrats and union members contend would unfairly affect organized laborers. "They have to raise the surcharge tax to a point where it doesn't hurt our members," Junemann said.

David Barrows, a Washington D.C. resident, came to the event sporting a popular look among pro-public option activists: a hospital gown over his clothes with a plastic bare bottom visible beneath the gown and a sign around his neck that said "Are you covered?"

Barrows said he was a strong supporter of health care reform, but when asked about the current bill, Barrows said, "I think it's a big sellout, a big phony operation. What they're doign is giving the corporations just much more money and of course they're going to jack up their premiums and prices."

Barrows and the opposing "kill the bill" group agree that the health care bill leaves much to be desired. But when Barrows encountered a member of the other camp, a woman waving a "Don't Tread on Me" flag, the results were explosive.

"You're not listening to me!" the woman, who chose not to give her name, said.

"It's like, joe the plumber. You always use the same things over and over and beat it to death," Barrows responded.

When the woman brought up the sordid conditions found in a wing of the Walter Reed Army Hospital several years ago as an example of faulty government health care, Barrows said, "That's the Army. It's Pentagon-run."

"That's the government!" a bystander pointed out.

"Well, are we going to let it stay that way, or are the people going to run this government?" Barrows shouted, then trying to rally his debate partner against a common foe. "Congress and the president both do not listen to us. I'm not for that bill across the street," he explained.

Joe Winton, a New Jersey native, shared the opposing camp's dislike of the health care bill, although on virtually opposite points. "We're all for health care reform but for reform, not a takeover."

Beth Bowman, a native of McMinn County, Tennessee, wore a sweatshirt from her local Tea Party chapter to the rally. When asked what she thought about the proceedings of today's summit, she said, "Sham Wow!"

"This is a wonderful photo op for President Obama to portray the Republicans as being obstructionist," Bowman added.

Bowman also expanded on her support for the ideology of the conservative Tea Party movement. "I've never been politically involved; I've voted all my life and I'm a lifelong Republican, but what they did with Sarah Palin, absoltuely crucifying her, got me motivated," she said.

When asked if she would vote for Tea Party candidates against a Republican, however, Bowman demurred. "I'm not going to split the vote," she said.