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Obama calls for resolve on health care reform

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WASHINGTON — With Congress in recess, President Barack Obama has become the most visible proponent of a health care overhaul, bringing his push for reform around the country.

Individual legislators also met the public in their home states and districts but in many cases were met with vitriolic protests.

In Portsmouth, N.H., Obama told a town hall audience to ignore reform opponents seeking to “mislead” Americans.

“For all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary is if we do nothing,” he told a friendly crowd.

That same day, Republican turned Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter was taunted and jeered as he defended health care reform at a town hall in Lebanon, Pa. Some lawmakers went so far as to replace public gatherings with teleconferences or stepped up security to marginalize protesters.

For his part, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell contended that Democrats were trying to “demonize citizens who are energetic about this.”

Obama said: “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.”

Obama took his message to the road in the wake of waning support for his plan and amid a slide in his popularity.

By a 55% to 35% tally, voters were more worried that Congress would spend too much money and add to the deficit than that it would leave the status quo, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released in early August. More than half of voters (52%) disapproved of Obama’s handling of health care, up from 42% a month earlier.

“President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress appear to be losing the public relations war over their plan to revamp the nation’s health care system,” said Quinnipiac University Polling Institute assistant director Peter Brown. “Americans are more willing to scrap a health care overhaul than they are to increase the deficit in order to produce such legislation. That’s a bad omen for the White House and Congressional leadership as they try to sell their plan to the country this month before the vote counting gets serious on Capitol Hill in September.”

Obama has been active in the halls of Congress, talking to Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) regularly. Given the controversy over a public health insurance option, the committee is believed to be favoring nonprofit insurance cooperatives over a government-run plan.

The president indicated at a town hall-style meeting in Colorado that government insurance was dispensable, saying, “The public option, whether we have it or we don’t have it, is not the entirety of health care reform. This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it.”

Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D., W.Va.), however, called a public option “a must.”

The Baucus committee is being watched more closely than others because its legislation stands to carry the most weight in determining a final bill. Rep. Jim Cooper, a conservative Blue Dog Democrat from Tennessee, went so far as to call the debate in the House “a sideshow.”


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