A bizarre scene at the America’s Future Now conference. Two protests have interrupted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s speech, but she continued on above the very vocal protests as the crowd alternately cheered and shushed.

Code Pink held up a large banner reading “Stop Funding Israel Terror,” but they remained mostly silent. A much louder protest came from nursing home activists who confronted Pelosi shortly after her speech began, arguing for the Community Choice Act. A woman yelled “I don’t want to be taken out of my home!” Apparently she is talking about being forced to go into a nursing home. Speaker Pelosi engaged with the protester, suggesting that the Class Act takes us down the road of long-term care. But the protest refused to stop and indeed grew louder. “I’m not going to leave, I’m going to deliver my speech, the Speaker said, and she continued on above the din.

It’s unusual to see Code Pink as the silent protest among the two. And the most confused person at all was the lady giving sign language on the side of the stage, wondering what to sign, the protest or the Speaker’s speech.

Well, the whole conference was about making power uncomfortable.

More in a minute.

…Pelosi said “Listen I’m used to noise, I talk to the Democratic Caucus everyday.”

Pelosi’s actually giving a pretty good speech, under the circumstances. She’s focused, despite the very loud protest going on. Good for the conference for refusing to eject the protesters.

…Pelosi tells the assembled “Thank you for your impatience as advocates for change.” As Marcy Wheeler, sitting next to me, said, “I think she actually means it.” And she gets a standing ovation from the crowd at the end.

…OK, so I got a little more information on the nature of the protest. The group ADAPT, which fights for the rights of the disabled, organized it. Madeleine McMahon, an activist with ADAPT, told me that Speaker Pelosi has refused to support the Community Choice Act (HR1670), which would remove a mandate in Title XIX of the Social Security Act that all states receiving Medicaid funding provide nursing home services, making community-based alternatives optional. 2/3 of federal dollars for long term care in Medicaid must support nursing homes under current law.

The Community Choice Act provides an alternative and will fundamentally change our long term care system and the institutional bias that now exists. Building on the Money Follows the Person concept, the two million Americans currently residing in nursing homes and other institutions would have a choice. In addition, people would not be forced into institutions order to get out on community services; once they are deemed eligible for the institutional services, people with disabilities and their families will be able to choose where and how they receive services. Instead of making a new entitlement, the Community Choice Act, makes the existing entitlement more flexible.

McMahon said they had 215 votes lined up for the Community Choice Act, but could not get it over the line. She also expressed anger about the FMAP funding for 2011 being taken out of the jobs bill. “A leader could have gotten five more votes, including her own,” McMahon said. She added that ADAPT had tried numerous other channels to confront Pelosi over this issue but could not get her to pay any heed. She faulted the nursing home industry lobby for this bias toward their businesses in funding mandates. With the disabled expected to grow by 2 times its current number by 2030, ADAPT believes it crucial that the groups they represent have the choice of community-based options.

So it’s a legitimate, material issue, and while Pelosi delivered a pretty decent performance above the din, hopefully she heard the concerns, too.

UPDATE: This video, when it finishes processing, should give you a feel for what went on.

David Dayen

David Dayen