In N.H., Obama tackles health care critics
Associated Press | 8/12/2009, 7:09 a.m.
“For all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary is if we do nothing,” Obama told a friendly crowd of about 1,800 in a high school auditorium and a nationwide audience watching on cable television.
The White House had been ready for an unruly reception from opponents of overhauling health care. There was no sign of that, perhaps because of the makeup of the day’s crowd or out of traditional deference for the president.
Obama’s push came amid a string of disruptive health care town halls nationwide that have overshadowed his message and threatened to derail support in Congress.
Indeed, Republican-turned-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter faced hostile questions, taunts and jeers earlier on Tuesday as he tried to explain his positions at a town hall in Lebanon, Pa. Voter fears of a government takeover of health care were on stark display.
Some lawmakers, holding forums during Congress’ August recess, have gone so far as to replace public forums with teleconferences or step up security to keep protesters at bay.
But the Democratic president faced no outbursts.
The encounter was so friendly, in fact, that by the end Obama was even asking for skeptical questioners to come forward — to no avail.
He told his audience reassuringly, “For all the chatter and the yelling and the shouting and the noise, what you need to know is this … if you do have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or government bureaucrat gets between you and the care you need.”
Retooling his message amid sliding support, he addressed some of his remarks to a vital and skeptical audience: the tens of millions of people who already have health insurance and are generally satisfied with the care they get.
He said the overhaul is essential to them, too, contending that it is the way to keep control in their hands. Obama said while government bureaucrats should not meddle with people’s care, bureaucrats at insurance companies should not, either.
The president accused critics of creating “boogeymen.”
“Spread the facts. Let’s get this done,” Obama implored the crowd.
The tone was set as soon as Obama arrived. He came in to applause and told one person who shouted support, “I love you back.”
One man identified himself as a Republican and said, “I don’t know what I’m doing here.” The Democratic president said he was happy to have him in attendance.
Toward the end of the session, Obama went so far as to ask people to give him skeptical questions. The best he got were queries about why he doesn’t chastise Congress more and where the nation would find the additional doctors and nurses it needs.
Heading toward a pivotal fall debate before congressional action, Obama is scrambling to get lawmakers and the public behind what would be the most ambitious and costly changes to the health care system in decades.
He reiterated his determination that the plan will be paid for without adding to the nation’s soaring deficit.