Specter faces angry health care crowd

August 11, 2009 2:32:55 PM PDT
Republican-turned-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter is facing a barrage of sometimes hostile questions about health care from wary and frustrated voters.

TEXT: Complete Text of Bill HR 3200 - America's Affordable Health Choices Act

Republican-turned-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter faced hostile questions, taunts and jeers as he gamely tried to explain his positions. It was likely a moment of deja vu for the five-term lawmaker facing a tough re-election next year. Just a week ago, Specter encountered a tough crowd at a Philadelphia town hall.

INTERACTION: What do you think of Obama's health care plan?

At a crowded community college, Specter heard from speaker after speaker who accused him of trampling on their constitutional rights, adding to the federal deficit or allowing government bureaucrats to take over health care.

"You'll be gone, by God the bureaucrats will still be here," said one man.

"My children and grandchildren are going to pay for this," said another.

"One day God will stand before you and judge you!" shouted a third man before security guards approached and he left the room.

Specter said he wouldn't vote for a bill that adds to the deficit. He also said he wouldn't support a bill that extends coverage to illegal immigrants. None of the bills in Congress would provide health insurance to illegal immigrants.

Specter explained repeatedly that there is no single Senate bill yet for him to talk about since the Finance Committee hasn't finished writing one. That explanation was usually met by boos from the crowd. Many had read portions of a bill passed by three committees in the House and tried to get Specter to respond to that.

One woman tried to make it personal for Specter, alleging the Democrats' plan would not provide care to a man in his 70s with cancer, like Specter had.

"You're here because of the plan we have now," she said. Specter showed some heat at that.

"Well you're just not right," he said. He called her claim a "vicious, malicious" rumor.

The passions of the crowd illustrated the problems for Democratic lawmakers around the country as they try to use the monthlong August recess to promote Obama's health care overhaul agenda. There's not a single plan to promote, which Specter later told reporters made his job harder, along with the complexity of the issue. The House bill is more than 1,000 pages long.

And, Specter said: "The objectors have gotten ahead of the curve." Asked why, he cited talk radio, among other factors.

Democrats are trying desperately to regain control of the debate, with the White House posting a new Web site designed to dispel what it called "the misinformation and baseless smears that are cropping up daily." House Democratic aides have set up a health care war room out of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office designed to help lawmakers answer questions about the legislation.

Though his popularity is slipping in polls, Obama himself is repeatedly trying to make the case to the public for passage of comprehensive legislation this year to bring down costs and extend coverage to many of the 50 million uninsured.

Specter said that in a long life in politics he hadn't seen anything like what he witnessed Tuesday and at a town hall last weekend that turned even uglier.

"There is more anger in America today than at any time I can remember," Specter said.

Many in the crowd said they came of their own accord, and several told Specter they objected to Democrats characterizing them as mobs or organized opposition shipped in by lobbyists or the Republican Party. National conservative groups are encouraging people to attend town halls, but liberal groups are doing the same - with less apparent success.

Several in the crowd wore T-shirts proclaiming: "Proud Member of the Mob."

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