Obama Braces for Tough NH Healthcare Meeting

Monday, 10 Aug 2009 10:58 PM

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A day before facing a potentially boisterous town hall in New Hampshire, President Barack Obama praised the spirited debate over his healthcare plans on Monday and predicted "sensible and reasoned arguments" would ultimately prevail in Congress.

Obama plans to pivot his message somewhat on Tuesday, addressing people who already have insurance through their employers and highlighting how his proposals would affect them. The White House is retooling its message amid polling that shows Americans — especially those who have coverage — are skeptical of Democratic proposals to expand to cover many of the 50 million or more uninsured.

On Monday, in his first North American summit, Obama met with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, covering such shared hot topics as trade barriers, drug violence and the expected resurgence of swine flu. But questions about domestic policy — Obama's drive for overhauls to U.S. healthcare and immigration policy — followed him to Mexico and stole the biggest share of the hour the three leaders appeared together before reporters.

Concerns over Obama's healthcare reform proposal are heating up town hall meetings, chat rooms, and radio shows in the U.S. — driving his poll numbers down and threatening the future of his highest domestic priority. While Congress is in recess for the month of August, lawmakers are hearing from constituents worried about divisive issues such as the government's role in healthcare and the costs of an overhaul.

Republicans say the heated debate is a sign of widespread public dissatisfaction with Obama's ideas. But with some of the anxieties spilling into angry disruptions and even threats, Democrats have accused Republicans of orchestrating the events to sabotage legislation. In an article published Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wrote: "Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American."

Obama stayed away from such provocative language.

"We are having a vigorous debate in the United States, and I think that's a healthy thing," he said, repeating that thought three times. But, he said, the dynamic will change once the recess ends and the lawmakers — and the debate — return to Washington.

"I suspect that once we get into the fall and people look at the actual legislation that's being proposed, that more sensible and reasoned arguments will emerge. And we're going to get this passed," he said.

Obama will face a town hall audience Tuesday in Portsmouth, N.H.

Foes of his plans have disrupted events with members of Congress, and the White House is bracing for such incidents on Tuesday, though Obama's town hall audiences have tended to be orderly and supportive. White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters traveling back to the United States with Obama aboard Air Force One that there is plenty of emotion from both sides on the issue.

"Well, I think there's actually a pretty long tradition of people shouting at politicians in America," Burton said. "The president thinks that if people want to come and have a spirited debate about healthcare, a real vigorous conversation about it, that's a part of the American tradition."

Separately, the White House turned to the Internet on Monday to challenge what the administration contends are misconceptions about Democratic plans.

The government Web site takes on claims made by critics that the changes would result in rationing of healthcare, encourage euthanasia, or endanger Medicare.

"Given a lot of the outrageous claims floating around, it's time to make sure everyone knows the facts about the security and stability you get with health insurance reform," said White House senior adviser David Axelrod.

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