July 29th, 2009
01:09 PM ET
13 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. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    People are willing to pay higher taxes to get this reform. Not only that, there is significant waste already in Medicare which will more than likely cover majority of the cost to cover most of the uninsured. On another note, he should've chosen a Food Lion or Farm Fresh rather than Kroger. Kroger is the most expensive.

    July 29, 2009 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  2. Aaron

    The final package of the healthcare reform proposal must include the Public Option as well as private insurance coverage. Competition of these coverage programs will lower and contain healthcare costs over time. Furthermore, employers must be required to provide healthcare insurance to their employees or pay into the public insurance system. I would propose that if individuals do not enroll in either a private or public plan, they will be automatically enrolled in the public plan.

    July 29, 2009 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  3. Nationalism is our answer!!

    I want to know what benefits would be offered. I currently have health insurance through an employer but despite the premiums and deductibles, some health services are not included or cost extra. What type of health reform is he proposing? What is the average premium paid by self-insured and insured through work. Also, what about the college students who opt to purchase health insurance through school? lots of questions – where are the answers?

    July 29, 2009 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  4. Nationalism is our answer!!

    The biggest question is how much are the taxpayers going to have to pay? They can't pass a bill without us knowing what we are getting ourselves into. Come on people, SPEAK UP!!!!

    July 29, 2009 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  5. S M R

    The first stimulus package was signed by Bush With no oversight, so don't blame that one on Obama. SEE: the GOP is the problem from every possible angle.

    July 29, 2009 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  6. carol

    this is ANOTHER "CON" job. Where did you say that " BRIDGE FOR SALE " is ? The American public will buy just about anything if the packaging is wrapped up in pretty paper and has nice ribbon on it. Note: the ribbon s are really strings – strings that will strangle us all in the end. BEWARE !

    July 29, 2009 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  7. Henry Miller

    "...employees told me they would be willing to pay higher taxes to get a reform bill...

    Okay, how about this: People willing to pay higher taxes may do so, but leave those of us who aren't willing out of it.

    And "the rich" already pay vastly more than their "fair share," especially when you consider that 40% of the population pay nothing at all and just laze back, California style, voting themselves ever more government freebies at someone else's expense.

    July 29, 2009 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  8. Emma

    I am willing to pay higher taxes for us to have universal health care.

    I would rather pay upfront than allow the insurance company tell me how much I owe by raising my premiums, determining what kind of coverage to provide me, determining the kind of health care I receive and determining whether my illness fall into a pre-existing clause that they use to determine who receives coverage. YES, I said it. I will pay higher taxes to provide preventive medicine and to help cut skyrocketing health care costs.

    July 29, 2009 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  9. Barry NiFong, Hawaii

    Obama has already raised taxes on those making under $250,000 by signing the tobacco bill where most smokers are lower income. Those making under $250,000 will have to be taxed to pay for this spending. Just another Obama lie.

    July 29, 2009 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  10. MCD, SF, CA

    Workers' Comp rates that your company has to pay are thru the roof! A single-payer system would eliminate the WC system thereby elimating the sky-high rates your company has to pay. Your company would then have more money which could possibly result in a raise for you. Do not believe everything that the opposition to gov healthcare is telling you.

    Don't let Big Business scare you and by all means, DO NOT let them tell our Congress what to do. Healthcare SHOULD NOT BE A FOR-PROFIT SYSTEM!

    July 29, 2009 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  11. The Lonely Libertarian of Liverpool NY

    NO, NO and NO, I pay too much of my hard earned money in taxes now! I am saying no more! I'm drawing the line in the sand and I will not pay any more. I pay over 56% of my gross income in taxes now. What is health care going to do for me? Nothing but raise my taxes to over what 60, 65, 70 % !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    And retirement what is that? Putting my children in college ended my retirement. but now I'm over fifty and facing job loss because at my age and with over twenty years on the job, I'm a cost liability to my company and they have no choice but to let the workers who are over fifty go.
    I know! How about reducing spending!!!!!!
    You want this health care reform so much, than find the three trillion dollars somewhere in the existing budget.
    I’ll vote for anyone who will reduce spending and thus actually reduce my tax burden.

    July 29, 2009 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  12. NAVY JACK

    union benefits that translate to the operating statements as part of total employee cost.
    do you ever wonder why Kroger's regular everyday shelf prices are so much higher than their national competitors?
    please don't recite the "double coupon" mantra .
    that translates as a business expense or reduction in profit as well !

    July 29, 2009 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  13. Obama=Trickle up Poverty

    Sure, hold a fake town hall meeting with a bunch of Union employees. How about Obama hold a town hall meeting with people who are opposed to his idea. If he is trying to gain support he needs to address the concerns of people who are AGAINST this plan and people who don't want their taxes raised to pay for everyone else. We, the taxpayers pay way too much of our income in various taxes and I am NOT willing to pay anymore taxes, we pay more than enough and all they do is throw our hard earned money away and then come crying back for more. Where does it end?

    July 29, 2009 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  14. kishen c.rao

    prices need to come down on grocery....Milk is 3/ dollars, silly, cucumbers is 1.20 silly...they need to drop the prices.....Gas is coming down....

    July 29, 2009 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  15. Stacy from Leesburg, VA

    I was just down in Bristol and had lunch at a restaurant along I-81 and I had a conversation with a resident that had just been laid off from a local manufacturing plant and was working two part-time jobs in order to make ends meet. The insurance that he had was lost when he was laid off and it was near impossible for him to find reasonable insurance for him and his family. So, let’s not mince words here. He clearly was not lazy and looking for a handout as some posters have written here. He was a family man who is getting a raw deal of having to choose between a house payment or insurance. These are the people that need an affordable public option in order to contribute to America. So I ask everyone refrain from dangerous assumptions of who wants the public options.

    July 29, 2009 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  16. dominican mama 4 Obama

    Keep pitching it Mr. President. Your strongest suit is your presentation. Only you can help combat the fear mongering, and blatant planted lies about this plan. You still have the trust of the people that you'll do right by them.

    July 29, 2009 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  17. Hugo

    Keyword in article – Union and Union paybacks! How much for your vote to support thuggery, socialism and expanded government control? Free markets for FREE MEN! Open your records Usurper in Chief, prove the birthers wrong!

    July 29, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  18. Breck

    President Obama's comment on employees supporting higher taxes for his health reform bill doesn't match up to the declining support in the recent polls. No one wants higher taxes especially in tough economic times. Everyone wants health care or better care. Make all doctors and health care providers government employees. Then, the health care system will retain only the professionals that are in their field to help others and not only in it for the paycheck. Good example is the underpaid military. They put their lives on the line for the President and for their country when called...so should the doctors do so much for this country now.

    July 29, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  19. dee-dee, NY

    I am so glad someone is paying attention to the little people.
    Like those two men I would willingly pay more taxes if it mean every one will get Health Insurance. I only make 35.000 a year but will do my share to make sure health care is availabie to everyone

    July 29, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  20. FAYE, NV

    That is the problem the rich want the poor to suffer and make them even richer. "..am I my brother keeper"? If it was left to the rich they would rather leave the poor to die and fade away.

    July 29, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  21. Cynthia

    ed henry I know it breaks your heart to report that republicans and democrats are supporting the President.

    July 29, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  22. GOP= GRUMPY OLD PEOPLE

    These have been the most intelligent people I have heard interviewed in a long time. The Republican guy may be repeating a little FOX news rhetoric but everyone knows that we can't afford not to pass a healthcare reform bill even if it means paying higher taxes. I tell you the truth I don't make a lot of money and some how I end up owing taxes anyway so atleast this tax money will go for something I want to happen. I pray that it won't hurt anyone tax wise but how else would this ever happen. I want to think that I live in the greatest country ever but this is one thing that other countries have us beat on and you know we Americans won't settle for less than being on top.

    Let's get er done!!!! Repubs and Dems

    July 29, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  23. yuri

    From what we heard, the message from the grocery store to BHO and the public will be a "mixed bag' or a whole ""new can of worms".

    July 29, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  24. Bill

    "Nevertheless, both men said they could live with Obama breaking that promise as long as the rich pay their fair share." The rich already have health insurance, their fair share is $0. Socialist ideas starting to flow with the poor?

    July 29, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  25. Traj

    I love my President, and I think he is on the right track. Keep doing a great job Mr. President. PRESIDENT "OBAMA". Dang that sounds good.

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