Obama battles health care chatter
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — This is not the August that President Obama had planned.
Obama, who initially demanded that the House and Senate pass health care overhauls by now, was playing defense at a town-hall-style meeting here Tuesday, his signature initiative under increasingly fierce fire.
The session at Portsmouth High School lacked the chanting and catcalls that has disrupted hometown meetings some members of Congress have held, but the president found himself having to deny his proposals would lead to rationing, socialized medicine or government “death panels” to oversee end-of-life care.
“I’ve seen some of those signs,” Obama said, ridiculing accusations from opponents that he wants to create “death panels that will basically pull the plug on grandma because we’ve decided that it’s too expensive to let her live.
“I’m not in favor of that,” he told 1,800 people inside the hall while about 1,000 demonstrators outside shouted at each other across police cordons.
The fact that Obama felt the need to deny plans to “pull the plug on grandma” and that the White House moved to schedule a trio of town-hall meetings — the president will hold one in Bozeman, Mont., on Friday and another in Grand Junction, Colo., on Saturday — reflects growing concern within the administration that the most vociferous critics of his health care plans are now dominating the debate.
The reason the White House had pushed for congressional action before the August recess began was precisely to avoid this scenario: critics filling the summer lull with protests and ads that could raise concerns and rally opposition to Obama’s top legislative priority.
“It’s amplified the stakes,” Republican strategist Kevin Madden says of the demonstrations, saying the White House was “late in responding” to them.
“It wasn’t something (the White House advisers) wanted the president to get involved in right away, but they could see what was happening,” says Democratic consultant Peter Fenn. “You’ve got to answer the crazy charges.”
So Obama was a man on a mission in the Granite State, repeatedly trying to reassure the crowd and his broader national audience that a health-care overhaul would make the system work better for them, not worse.
“For all the chatter and the yelling and the shouting and the noise, what you need to know is this: If you don’t have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options, once we pass reform,” he said. “If you do have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or a government bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need.”
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