Obama: Health Care Overhaul Is 'Not Some Government Takeover'

As town hall protests get louder, Obama takes push to historically red state.

Aug. 14, 2009— -- Repeating much of the same rhetoric he has employed in recent days, President Obama took his health care push out West, to Montana, and continued to tout his plan while assailing critics for fear-mongering.

The president's remarks today focused on health insurance reform and specifically those whose coverage was dropped because of medical conditions.

"We're no different than ... ordinary Americans," Obama said. "We're held hostage at any given moment by health insurance companies that deny coverage ... It's wrong.

"It's bankrupting families, it's bankrupting businesses, and we're going to fix it when we pass health insurance reform this year," the president added to a cheering audience.

Taking aim at his critics for having "selective memory," the president hailed his administration's stimulus plan but warned that the work is not complete yet.

"We started with this mess and we're pulling out of it, but it doesn't mean we're out of the woods," he said to applause. "Health insurance reform is one of the key pillars of this new foundation."

The president also dismissed notions that his overhaul plan would entail a government takeover or resemble the system in the U.K. or Canada.

"Every one of us, what we've said is, 'Let's find a uniquely American solution,'" he said. "Let's build on the system that already exists."

Obama faced approximately 1,300 attendees in a state that has historically favored Republicans and where Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took the 2008 presidential vote. The president was preceded by the state's Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has been working on a bipartisan solution to health care reform.

Tickets for the Montana event were first-come, first-serve. Both protesters and supporters were represented outside the venue where the event took place.

Tomorrow, the president will hold a similar town hall meeting in Colorado to continue his health care push.

Democrats Up Rhetoric

While some town hall meetings have been relatively calm, in others, passions have flared. Meanwhile, supporters of health care reform have upped their rhetoric.

No stranger to the debate, former President Bill Clinton stepped into the battle last night, pointing the finger at Republicans for fueling the fire.

"The most danger to the most people is sticking with the status quo," he told a crowd of liberal activists and bloggers at a conference in Pittsburgh on Thursday. "It is bankrupting America, making families insecure and undermining the future of the country."

Clinton highlighted the urgency of passing reform, saying it is "politically imperative" that Democrats do so.

"One thing we know and that I've lived through -- if you get out there and you don't prevail -- the victors get to rewrite history," he said.

Urging Americans to keep going on reform, the former president -- whose own efforts for health care reform in office were unsuccessful -- expressed confidence that a bill will pass, even if the GOP is not on board.

"They have no chance to beat health care unless they can mortify some moderate and conservative Democrats, because they don't have the filibuster," he said.

But even if a bill were to pass, it's not going to be an easy August for lawmakers back in their home states for summer recess. For a very vocal, very angry minority of Americans, this has been a summer of discontent.

Health Care Hurdles

Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Penn., had multiple experiences with frustrated constituents this week. In town halls across the state, he was assailed for not following the Constitution and the people's choice.

"I'm tired of not being heard and represented. My trust and faith in the U.S. government has been destroyed," one angry constituent in Kittannning, Penn., lashed out Thursday. "Please explain to me, sir, how you can morally and ethically support nationalized health care, which is in direct violation of the Constitution, our oath, and against the majority wishes of your constituents."

The former Republican's reply was greeted with boos.

"I do not support nationalized health insurance," Specter replied. "I will have the current plans people want maintained. The opposition to a public option is exactly what it says -- an option and a choice. I do not support nationalized health insurance."

While members of Congress face heat back home, in Washington special interest groups are dispensing cool cash and lining up lobbyists for the September fight.

A Bloomberg News investigation released today shows that three new lobbyists register each day. For every sitting member of Congress, there are about six lobbyists pushing their health care priorities, and more than 1,600 organizations have hired more than 3,300 health care lobbyists.

Those lobbyists are unlikely to calm tempers any time soon as the fight over certain measures, such as a public option, intensifies.

"The president is demanding that we introduce a government-run insurance option," Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said in an MSNBC interview Thursday. "The hundreds and hundreds of people turning out at my town hall meetings, people all across the country, know that the minute the federal government starts offering free health insurance, whether the bill says they can keep their health insurance or not, millions of employers are going to cancel the health insurance that they have."

Some Democrats are rethinking their traditional town hall meetings in light of the heated outbursts.

"The Democratic party is having a really bad August," said former speaker of the House and Fox News consultant Newt Gingrich. "When you have members who can't even go to a town hall meeting because they are afraid to meet their own constituents, you really have a party in shambles."

Democrats say the disagreements are not a sign of disarray, but of democracy.

As the president pushes for health care overhaul, some of his opponents have uppped their rhetoric. Patients First, the project of a private, conservative group called Americans for Prosperity, had already planned a bus tour this week in Montana to rally people against Obama's health care proposals. The group adjusted its schedule to have a stop in the town of Belgrade to coincide with the president's visit, and lead organizer Jake Eaton said he expected 500 to 1,000 people sympathetic with the group's cause to show up.