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Obama Takes Health Care Battle To The People

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep, good morning.

We have a sign this morning with the plan to overhaul health care maybe changing under pressure. The sign came from Kathleen Sebelius. Shes the secretary of health and human services and that makes her a key voice for the presidents health care proposals. She said it is not essential that the health care plan include a public health insurance option that would compete with private insurance companies. Sebelius told ABC and CNN the administration just wants some form of greater competition. In a moment well talk about that shift with NPRs Cokie Roberts. We begin with the presidents efforts to sell his proposals.

Here is NPRs Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA: The presidents battle on health care is being fought on multiple fronts. There is the messy give and take of trying to win votes in Congress -thats where Secretary Sebelius comments about compromise come in. Theres also the PR campaign - trying to craft a positive message to make the general public believe in what youre doing. And you need to deal with those who are trying to stop you. Fighting the information wars has been a focus for the presidents recent health care town halls. Mr. Obama told an audience Saturday, in Grand Junction, Colorado, that the country has been here before.

President BARACK OBAMA: Thats what happened when FDR tried to pass Social Security. They said that was socialist. They did. Verbatim, thats what they said.

GONYEA: Same with Medicare, he said. Critics accused Presidents Kennedy and Johnson of pushing a government takeover of health care.

Pres. OBAMA: These struggles have always boiled down to a contest between hope and fear. It was true when

(Soundbite of clapping)

Pres. OBAMA: Social Security was born. It was true when Medicare was created. Its true in todays debate.

GONYEA: That talk of hope made this event and other town halls last week in Montana and New Hampshire sound like the 2008 campaign all over again. Just as in the campaign, there were plenty of people who walked away convinced of the presidents mission.

(Soundbite of clapping)

GONYEA: Cathy LaPerriere is from Evergreen, Colorado.

(Soundbite of clapping)

GONYEA: shes a social worker.

Ms. CATHY LAPERRIERE (Social Worker): I mean, I think were at a point in history where we do need a change. And no change is going to be easy. I think that theres going to be fear involved. I mean, anytime theres change involved, people are fearful.

GONYEA: Her husband Dan LaPerriere is a family physician at a rural hospital. He too supports the president but says he still wants more details from him, particularly on preventive care.

Dr. DAN LAPERRIERE (Family Physician): I still would like to hear more about how we can incentivise physicians to encourage patients to lose weight to control diabetes. But right now, were pushed so much to see so many patients in short amounts of time, that I dont see how we can try and encourage them further on those preventative things which will save money in the long run.

GONYEA: But even if these town halls look like campaign events, the people who come are not all here to lend their support - far from it. Lorenda Conrad(ph) is from Blake Park, Colorado. She is a mortgage broker who said theres a need for health care reform, but she is emphatic that the government should not be too involved or else it will only make things worse.

Ms. LORENDA CONRAD (Mortgage Broker): Where does this stop and where does the government clip putting their hands in? Not right. He needs to stay out of it.

GONYEA: The president says he will pay for the cost of the health care overhaul and the cost of ensuring many of the 46 million Americans currently without insurance by cutting out waste in the way health care is currently administered. He has also said he might force people who earn more than $250,000 a year to pay more in taxes. Lorenda Conrad is in that income category - she says she hopes the entire effort dies in Congress. The president never gets the chance to sign a bill.

Ms. CONRAD: I hope that it doesnt get to him. I hope that they really sit back, take a look at what theyre doing, who theyre going to make pay for this. I dont agree with that. I dont agree with it at all. I think that everyone needs to pay something.

GONYEA: But despite the political and philosophical differences evident within the audience, the town halls the president has hosted have been free of the rancor so prominent at congressional events this month. That too seems an important part of the administrations campaign - to show the president having a civil give and take to counter all the noise being made elsewhere.

Don Gonyea, NPR News in Phoenix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Don Gonyea
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.