August 11th, 2009
12:27 PM ET
9 years ago

Specter faces angry crowd at town hall meeting

LEBANON, Pennsylvania (CNN) - A hostile crowd shouted questions and made angry statements against overhauling the health-care system at a town hall meeting Tuesday led by Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter.

The meeting drew an overflow crowd of 250 people, with more gathered outside the hall to demonstrate for and against President Barack Obama's push to expand health insurance for 46 million people now without coverage while bringing down costs.

It was the latest in a series of emotional public meetings on the health-care issue that have prompted Obama and Democratic leaders to complain of a campaign by opponents to drown out the debate with unruly disruptions.

At one point, Specter shouted into his microphone that demonstrators disrupting the proceedings would be thrown out.

"We're not going to tolerate any demonstrations or any booing," he said after one audience member shoved another making an unsolicited speech. "So it's up to you."

Many in the crowd identified themselves as conservative Republicans, with one man noting they had voted Specter to Congress before the senator changed parties earlier this year.

Related video: Watch more of Specter's Tuesday town hall

A woman prompted a standing ovation by telling Specter: "I don't believe this is just health care. This is about the systematic dismantling of this country. … I don't want this country turning into Russia, turning into a socialized country. What are you going to do to restore this country back to what our founders created, according to the Constitution?"

Specter responded by noting his support for the Constitution as a past chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on issues such as warrantless wiretaps.

"When you ask me to defend the Constitution, that's what I've been doing," Specter said.

However, Specter also noted that overhauling the health-care system is about America taking care of all its people.

"In our social contract, we have provisions that see to it that you take care of people who need some help," he said.

Several people asked if a health-care bill would mean taxpayer dollars would pay for others to get abortions. Specter responded that any measure passed by Congress would allow people to choose a plan that didn't cover abortions.

The senator agreed with the crowd on some issues, saying he opposes mandatory counseling on end-of-life issues called for in a House version of health-care legislation. Specter also vowed he would never support any bill that increased the federal deficit or took away a person's right to choose their health-care coverage.

"I am opposed to anybody making a decision for you or me or anybody else about what health-care plan we should have," he said.

Emotions ran high, with questioners complaining of government intrusion in their lives on health care and other issues. One man implored Specter and the government to "leave us alone," while another said the message Specter should take back to Washington is that he and others "want our country back."

The shoving incident occurred early in the 90-minute session, when a man started shouting that he had been told by Specter's staff that he could speak, but he didn't get one of the 30 cards distributed to people allowing them to ask questions. Another man stood up and shoved the protester, and Specter approached the men shouting for calm.

"You and your cronies in government do this kind of stuff all the time," the protester shouted before leaving the hall. "I'm not a lobbyist with all kinds of money to stuff in your pockets. I'll leave you so you can do whatever the hell you do."

Specter remained calm most of the time, except when a woman asked if the bill meant a 74-year-old man with cancer would be written off by an overhauled health-care system. He responded angrily, calling such a scenario a "vicious" rumor.

The senator also tried to inject some humor, making sure to thank the lone person among the 30 questioners who supported health-care reform.

Obama calls a health-care overhaul essential for ensuring long-term economic stability.

However, congressional action on a health-care overhaul has slowed due to strong Republican opposition. Neither chamber met Obama's desired goal of passing a bill before their August recess.

In particular, the Republicans and some Democrats reject a government-funded public health insurance option, which they believe would lead to a government takeover of the health-care system. Most Democrats want a public option to ensure coverage is available to virtually all Americans and provide competition to private insurers.

Updated: 12:27 p.m.

Filed under: Arlen Specter • Health care • Pennsylvania • Popular Posts
soundoff (294 Responses)
  1. sharon

    I thought the Sen. handled the questions and the crowd respectfully.

    August 11, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  2. sarah

    Americans are most easy people to brain wash, and Republicans know that very well and spreading false informations about Health Care Reform. USA is the only Western Nation having only Private Health System . How many of you fill when one of hostile Country Leader comes and tell you the fact 45 mill. Americans are without Health care, this is National disgrace. Of course to some does not mean anything about other just ME,ME and ME. PROFIT FIRST-PEOPLE LAST . Where is compassion and generosity????
    Take a look at other Westen Countries, Germany, France, Britain, Canada , Sweeden their Health Plan covers all citizens who are taken care of very well.Healthy people Strong Country.

    August 11, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  3. Jeff

    For those who aren't paying attention, the majority agree that we need health care reform. Why is it again Canadians live longer than Americans? Isn't health care after 50 just keeping people alive? This is health care not religion, get your facts straight if your going to oppose it. Its not like you won't be able to pay to stay with your crappy provider now, but don't expect those who are feeling they are getting ripped off to stick around.

    August 11, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  4. Dave

    I don't think, as Americans, we can work with this hostile brand of conservatism any more.

    It is looking more and more like extreme Islamicism and having the same effect. There are plenty of conservatives with whom we can disagree and still work with, but this kind of idiocy, which is long fostered by the likes of W., are not going to work.

    America will be on the decline if we allow moronic bullies of any party to control our public policy.

    August 11, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  5. Gary, Indiana

    These people have every right to show their outrage. And for Arlen Specter or anyone else telling them they are not allowed to boo, etc. – that's ridiculous. Has he forgotten about "freedom of speech, press, and expression"?

    August 11, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  6. David in NC

    If these people wish us not to have socialized medicine and the government out of our lives, maybe it's time to end Medicare, Medicade, VA benefits, and Social Security. After about a month let's hear thier opinionon socialization.

    August 11, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  7. Jeff, NY

    I wish that people would understand the facts before berating our members of congress:

    (1) If people don't want government run insurance they can chose any number of private plans. Government run insurance will not be forced on people.

    (2) Bureaucrats in Washington will not be deeming people to sick for treatment. They will, however, want doctors to follow the best available medical information for treating illnesses.

    (3) Private insurance companies already limit the treatment that sick people get and what doctors you can visit. Only they are doing it based on their bottom lines and not based on the best-practices of medicine.

    Our healthcare system right now is broken and we need health insurance reform now!

    August 11, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  8. indianapolis

    The continuous rumors and lies by some in the Republican part (and even more so by the radical right-winged "media") is doing nothing by harm. These kinds of antics are the very reason your party is falling apart at the seams. Instead of trying to tear down America because you got a heavy dose of reality last November, why don't you all step up and really try doing something productive. I've never in my life seen so many people preferring failure for the whole because their "guy" didn't win. It's mind boggling.

    August 11, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  9. Mary

    Honestly, I think that whatever Obama and the Democrats put on the table for any action, the Republicans and their followers will throw a temper tantrum about it. Its not about the bill or the "socialism," its really about control.

    I'm independent, and while I did vote for Obama, there are some things his administration has/is doing that I don't agree with. I have been on both sides of the argument, where I needed state funded health care and now I do have a private insurance. Its frustrating, both ways, but we cannot simply ignore people's health concerns... At the same time, we cannot allow people to abuse the system either.

    Both parties are wrong about various things. I wish people would just calm down and listen to each other.

    August 11, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  10. Eli

    Remember how the mainstream media and their friends on the left loved and laughed about the Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at President Bush?

    August 11, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  11. Paul

    Welcome to socialism, and the end of the America our forefathers envisioned. AND – that is not a good thing.

    August 11, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  12. Jeff in DC

    I think it's ironic when a woman asks a 79-year-old Senator who has cancer if the health reform he advocates will protect people in their 70s who have cancer. I also think it shows that people are incredibly ignorant and stupid, and have no idea what they're talking about. I believe in freedom of speech, but I'm not as generous about the freedom to be ignorant. The anti-reform protesters are the same psychobabble T-baggers that brought us George Bush Junior. Why do they still get to talk?

    August 11, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  13. Russell

    I'm gonna tell it like I see it, and what I see is a group of whites , because you really never see other minoritiesacting this way , for some of the whites , it's really not about the healthcare bill , for them it's about not wanting a black president , if i'm not mistaken, healthcare reform wopuld pretty much make insurance companies become a lot more honest , and if some of these whites would be honest with themselves , insirance companies are already monopolizing your healthcare already , so what's wrong with the government offering a little competition among insurance companies , yet they continue to rape us with no regard to who is dying or need healthcare , so really what is this agenda of these people that come to these rallies , like I said simply put I alot of whites period have a problem with a black man as president ...because if you don't want to reform our healthcare system then you are truely an idiot........................

    August 11, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  14. nurse

    How does it insure competition when the gov is a competetor AND sets the rules.

    August 11, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  15. Darrel from Denver

    So here is my proposal....

    If you are an employer, you must offer Health Insurance to your employees. Whether this is your own plan worked out with Insurers, or a pooled plan worked out with other employers, or a government managed plan worked out with insurers for those wishing to go that route, makes no difference. A plan must be offered.

    If you are unemployed, then you will be covered by a government funded and managed plan.

    If you are a pensioner, then you are covered by government funded and managed plan, unless you happen to be lucky enough to be covered by your pension plan (not likely, but possible, I suppose, perhaps more so if you are a government retiree).

    End of story. All Americans covered.

    If we wish to keep government costs down, then do something about unemployment and ensure FICA and Medicare/Medicaid contributions are adequate and used solely for those purposes.

    August 11, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  16. Judy

    I watched the entire Spector meeting, making the headline that this was a angry crowd was misleading. I thought that this was a pretty calm crowd. People treated him with respect. Yes, they did not agree with him, but they were not out of line. Not like when the left sends in the SEIU members, now they cause the crowd to be angry.

    August 11, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  17. Ariana, VA

    Like I said before, Democrats protest war. Republicans protest healthcare. No wonder the GOP is shrinking.

    August 11, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  18. Shari, NY

    Says one protester: “I don't want this country turning into Russia, turning into a socialized country. What are you going to do to restore this country back to what our founders created?”,

    Herein lies the CRUX of the problem – Fear plus lack of understanding and foresight. Past administration foul-ups have translated into a nightmare for the current administration.

    August 11, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  19. montag24

    I wonder how many of the town hall protestors who fear government-run programs are enrolled in Medicare and collect Social Security. Are any of them military veterans who have been treated by the Veterans Administration? Did any of those vets spend any time at the Walter Reed or Bethesda Naval hospitals?

    Just wondering.

    August 11, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  20. Jesse Greer

    If this health plan is so great then why will Congress and the administration not be required to participate in the plan? This single fact should make any intelligent person question the Democrats urgency in passing this bill. Personally, I think if we go to a universal health care plan everyone, without exception, should be required to participate in the plan and be subject to any and all provisions of the plan. I'm tired of bills being passed when no one has read through the entire bill and I think everyone in Congress should have to sign a statement saying they have read and understand the entire bill and accept personal responsibility for any problems or harm done to anyone resulting from passage of said bill. It's time to remind everyone in Washington that they work for us, not rule over us.

    August 11, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  21. Martin Marprelate

    It seems that Republicans these days walk in the same distinguished train as Al-Quaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorists.

    August 11, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  22. Steve-O

    There is something in common with these protesters: they are all white, they are all old, they are all angry. So let's be honest: aren't these the same people who were hosting "tea parties" when the Democrats were trying to pass the stimulus, when the economy was in free fall? Aren't these people the extreme right wing who are constantly looking for an outlet to vent their hate, and now they've found one in the town hall meeting? The reason why they are shouting is no one is listening. The reason why no one is listening to them is they don't listen to anyone else. So instead of productive dialogue, we have screaming matches with this demographic. Come to think of it, maybe euthanasia isn't such a bad idea.

    August 11, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  23. janice brooks

    I think the senator did a good job in putting the rules for the meeting in place. It was the only way to hear people's comment in an orderly fashion. I'm glad he allow the last gentlemen to speak because that is what this country is all about.

    if some of our people will remember the only way we got medicare is the majority of the congress (mostly democrates)voted on the very system many of our older people enjoy.

    This is another case of the democrates trying to take our of all of our people, since the repulicans have never made any effort s to do anything about health care when they were in power.

    August 11, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  24. nurse

    Why do Ihave to pay for illeagles health care ?
    Sec 152 pg 50-51

    August 11, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  25. Michael B

    I can't believe the man in the video says that god will judge you. Do you honestly think Jesus wants people to have to pay for healthcare? Do you think Jesus was a capitalist? I don't understand how republicans (who are predominantly pro-Christianity) think that god is on the side of greedy people who want to be taxed on nothing. Newsflash – Jesus was all about sharing the wealth. Democrats should be pointing that out. Get with the times America, give your country health care like the rest of the first world counties.

    August 11, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
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