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Barack 'I am not a socialist' Obama sells healthcare reform in Green Bay

June 11, 2009 | 11:57 am

President Obama selling his health care plan at a town hall in Green Bay, Wisc. June 11, 2009

President Obama brought his campaign for healthcare reform to a town hall in Green Bay, Wis., today.

Pitching a program that would cost $1.5 trillion over the next decade, Obama acknowledged that his plan to cover uninsured Americans will cost "a good deal of money at a time where we don't have extra to spend."

But with premiums going up three times faster than wages, with 46 million people in America uninsured "and a whole bunch of people who are under-insured," the president said that "we've got to solve the problem now before it overwhelms the whole economy."

The White House, understanding that the president's plan faces an uphill battle on Capitol Hill, put Obama on the road in hopes of spurring public pressure. Acknowledging that the ground in Congress is soft, Obama asked Americans to lobby lawmakers to vote on the issue now. "This next eight weeks is going to be critical," he said. "If we don't get it done this year, we're probably not going to get it done."

Repeatedly, as if the ghost of Hillary Rodham Clinton were sitting on his shoulder, Obama said that he would not mandate a plan and was open to all ideas on how to reform the health insurance system. Without mentioning the former first lady (now his secretary of State) or her flawed plan by name, the president said, "One of the approaches I've tried to take is to not just put down my plan and to just say it's my way or the highway."

As for Republican fears that he secretly plans to socialize medicine, Obama said, "Great Britain has a system of socialized medicine. I don't know anybody in Washington who is proposing that. Certainly not me." With the U.S. government now owning huge pieces of the private sector, such as GM and Chrysler and half of Wall Street, Obama likewise rebutted charges that he is some sort of megalomaniac who wants to run the healthcare system too.

"I've got enough stuff to do," he said. "I've got North Korea and Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq. I don't know where people get this idea that I want to run stuff. I think it would be great if healthcare system was working perfectly."

Finally, told that one questioner's daughter had skipped her last day of school to attend the town hall meeting with the president, Obama asked her first name, which is Kennedy. Perhaps thinking of Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, a key figure in the healthcare debate who is battling brain cancer, Obama proclaimed it a terrific name and wrote a note to her teacher.

No word yet on whether the student or the teacher gets to keep the presidential autograph.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Gerald Herbert / Associated Press

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