July 29th, 2009
01:09 PM ET
5 years ago

Grocery workers ready to 'produce' for Obama


BRISTOL, Virginia (CNN) – I came here to the birthplace of country music a day ahead of President Obama's town hall on Wednesday afternoon because this rural area along the Tennessee border has a special place in the commander-in-chief's heart.

After finally beating then-Sen. Hillary Clinton in those grueling Democratic primaries, Obama launched his general election campaign right here. And then proceeded to carry the commonwealth of Virginia - first time for a Democrat in 44 years - on his way to winning the White House. Now he's hoping Bristol will help engineer another improbable victory on health care reform.

After a town hall in North Carolina, the president is literally taking his sales pitch to the produce aisle here at the Kroger supermarket. Most employees here are union workers who have generous health benefits. The conventional wisdom back in Washington is that the insured don't want to pay higher taxes to pick up the tab for the 46 million who are uninsured.

But over the course of the last two days, I've talked to a lot of supermarket employees and was surprised to learn that the assumption the president's critics are making could be wrong. Democratic - as well as Republican - employees told me they would be willing to pay higher taxes to get a reform bill, with a few important caveats the president will have to pay attention to.

Phil Younce, a frozen food clerk who voted for McCain, told me he's worried Obama is rushing the health push just like the stimulus battle. "Like the last one, too hurried, lot of mistakes, things that shouldn't be," he said.

And Steve Shipplett, the producer manager at Kroger, also had a warning for the President. Despite being an Obama voter, Shipplett told me he's nervous that his benefits may be taxed to cover the uninsured, and he's worried about whether this will prevent him from having the money to retire in a few years.

"He's going to have to spit out some numbers and let the public know exactly what it's going to cost them and what they're going to have to give up," Shipplett told me, adding: "That's where he's going to have step up and sell it to us. He's going to have to sell us - you know let us know what it's going to cost us and what's going to happen if we don't address this issue now."

But Shipplett said he believes the President has mostly sold him on the notion that the current skyrocketing costs are unsustainable, and he's willing to step up despite his reservations. "We've got to do something, and if it means me paying these taxes to get this reform through I would begrudgingly do it, yes," he said.

And back in the frozen food aisle, Younce said as a Republican he'd be willing to pay his fair share too. "No matter what, somebody has to pay for it," he said. "Comes to us, the people working. And we'll have to pay for it one way or another. I just hope we can come up with a plan that is worth paying for."

It's important to note both men are making under $250,000 a year, and the president has reiterated his promise not to raise taxes on people in that income category. Nevertheless, both men said they could live with Obama breaking that promise as long as the rich pay their fair share, and the president lays out some specifics showing this plan will actually work - so their hard-earned tax dollars don't wind up down the drain.


Filed under: Health care • President Obama
soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. mjm

    "so their hard-earned tax dollars don't wind up down the drain."

    That's just it. The government can't do anything without lot's of waste. Medicaid and Medicare taught us that. Not to mention the stimulus bill and TARP.

    I love how they say "as long as the rich pay their fair share.."

    Who do you think is paying for everything already? Is it fair for one man to be taxed 35-40% and another man 15-20% for living in the same country? T

    That person making $250k pays close to $80,000 in taxes today without healthcare reform. Is that the fair share you're talking about?

    July 29, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  2. Reality

    You know its funny. I am in the over 250k category (and a republican)and I have never minded paying my fair share. However, I dislike paying more than my share for people who don't pay a fair share. Obama, don't worry about the rich paying a fair share or the middle class. We are working and paying our taxes, for the most part. Find a way to get the free loaders off the books and I'm sold.

    July 29, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  3. Sick -n- Tired

    Ah! Put the word "produce" in the headline and show a picture of a produce section in a grocery store! I get it now,................Whew......................., Almost had me there for a second! Well............I suppose CNN is, at the very least, witty, if nothing else. You little tricksters you.

    July 29, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  4. Esco

    I wonder if the President will purchase groceries for those in attendance...LOL.

    July 29, 2009 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  5. hadelaide

    And of course, Ed Henry is there to put his "spin" on what should and should not be said. Ed, you can never find the positive in anything but thinks that pushing the negative will give you credence. You think you hold the title of "doyen" that "scoops are not given exclusively to you.

    When you are dropped from CNN, hope you have enough money to buy health insurance from the insurance companies whose only focus is to get profits over the health of a nation.

    July 29, 2009 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  6. Parkett Lovelace

    No, no, Bristol: thumbs down on nationalized health care.

    July 29, 2009 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  7. Lisa, Saugus MA

    I don't know how much Kroger's union gets there employees per hour but if it is enough to pay for extra tax...let them do it!

    Maybe that's what we need a volunteer system. Those who partake in the health care system proprosed are the ones that get taxed. Those who do not want it or are happy with things the way they are now, no extra tax.

    I mean if my neighbor buys something and I don't, I don't get the bill for the item he/she bought...the same principle should go for health care.

    See that was easy huh? Think people will volunteer?

    July 29, 2009 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  8. WeThePeopleOfVA

    Are you sure Obama's not going to pitch it in the Kool-Aid aisle?

    July 29, 2009 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  9. Scott, Tucson

    Looks like Obama with the exemption of politicians and those belonging to the UAW and illegals, is going to hit us middle class with new hefty taxes to cover his health care plan folks. But we knew he would.

    July 29, 2009 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  10. twitwits are the new nitwits

    This bill better get passed or we will march on the companies and put the CEOs photos on the internet along with where they live so all Americans know where they are among us.

    July 29, 2009 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  11. Rob

    The way his popularity is tanking, by 2013 the only job phrase he'll be able to say is "Would you like fries with that?" But then I have faith that he'd managed to mess that up royally too.

    July 29, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  12. parrothead

    I am from East Tn near Bristol and I am proud that the working folks understand how important this issue is more than the politicians.

    Hey politicians. You have great medical care. My wife is a clinician and the health care system is broken !!! We working folks have very very poor health care with deductables and co pays that virtually guarantee bankruptcy to the common man if he gets sick. The only thing that this type of insurance does is protect the hospital and the doctor. You the consumer still get to go bankrupt.

    July 29, 2009 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  13. Rondo

    We are already paying for most of the uninsured, so if we can do it more efficiently, I would be willing to pay more to make sure everybody is covered.

    July 29, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  14. Real Republican

    What about illegal immigrants? Who pays for them? Is Congress and the Senate on the public health care plan?

    Hang onto your hats, here come the taxes

    July 29, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  15. andrea

    Same here: I have government benefits. I do not pay for them and I have more than 25 years of service so I have benefits for life when I retire.
    Still I am willing to pay extra taxes to have a National Health System - one payer - the Federal Government. I am not willing to pay to fill the pockets of private insurers.
    I am willing because it is the right thing to do for my country and for my children.

    July 29, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  16. xargaw

    Union people, better than anyone else in the country, realize that collectively we are all better of than the "every man for himself" route. If we have a good public option that helps everyone, those that are currently insured will have a smaller burden. The insured are already paying for the uninsured through higher premiums and higher costs. It is a national travesty that we allow people to go without care in this country. Other countries see healthcare as a human right. It should be the same here.

    July 29, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
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