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March 11, 2010 at 11:59 AM

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Seattle boy convenes Senate leadership on health reform

Posted by Kyung M. Song

WASHINGTON -- It's not often that a Senate news conference features a speaker who's shorter than the lectern.

Yet 11-year-old Marcelas Owens of Seattle, whose mother died at 27 while uninsured, took command of a packed room in the U.S. Capitol Thursday to plead for health-care reform. The fifth grader at Orca K-8 was flanked by the top Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Sen. Charles Schumer and Sen. Patty Murray.

In Owens, the Democrats found a telegenic spokesman: a preternaturally poised kid who lost a parent at age 7.

Owens recounted how his mother, Tifanny, died of pulmonary hypertension, a lung disorder, in 2006 after she lost her job and her health insurance. Tifanny Owens had been active with Washington Community Action Network, a Seattle-based consumer advocacy organization. The group belongs to a nationwide coalition called Health Care for America Now, which paid for Owens' five-day trip to Washington, D.C.

Durbin noted that 70 Americans die each day for lack of health insurance. Yet, he said, Republicans want to go slow on health-care changes.

"How much time can we take?" Durbin asked.

The politicos spoke for only a couple of minutes apiece. But that was long enough for Owens to drift into fidgety shifting before the assembled journalists. A well-practiced hand on the shoulder from Murray snapped him out of his oblivion.

Murray momentarily seemed to choke up as she spoke of meeting Owens at a health-care rally in Seattle last year. That sent Owens' grandmother, Gina Owens, who was standing behind Murray, to quietly begin crying and sniffling. Durbin whipped out a tissue and slipped it to Owens.

The news conference ended after 15 minutes. Gina and Marcelas Owens are flying back to Seattle Friday after a whirlwind week of rallies, interviews and lobbying.

"I hope we changed some votes," Gina Owens said.

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