August 11th, 2009
12:27 PM ET
13 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. ghost

    You know, Issa was on Bill Mauer this weekend and suggested a bill he sponsored that basically said that all people would get the same plan that they have, yet it would cost nothing. How that is possible is beyond me, but it's worth looking at the bill.

    As far as these protesters go, they really need to take that nonsense outside where it belongs. Anyone from any party that disrupts proceedings should be kicked out.

    August 11, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  2. Dave

    Funny how when "public disruptions" during town hall meetings during President Bush's term and against his policies they were described by Dem's as "Democracy in action" and when it's against President Obama's Health Care legislation, it's "an angry mob"

    Can Dem's be more blatenly hypocritical?

    August 11, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  3. Billy Bob Joe Jimmy Boregaurd (the III)

    I don't want to pay for an abortion. If you smoke for 30 years I don't want to pay for your cancer treatments. If you're a crack head I don't want to pay for your rehab. If you drive without a seatbelt I don't want to pay for your ambulance ride. If you pack your fat face with 3/4 grease burgers all your life I'm not paying for your cholesteral or your erectile dysfunction medication. The price of freedom is responsibility. We're turning into a nation of snot nosed children. If you didn't realize you needed to make a mortgage payment to live in your house, I hope you enjoy the street life.... move into that new car I just bought you.

    August 11, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  4. A man from Missouri

    Wow great argument by that man filled with facts and relevancy to health care reform. These shouting matches could all be avoided if people would realize that they DONT have to get the government health care option if they already have their own health care. The people will not be forced to get health care through the government. The govt option is aimed at the people who don't currently have health care. Introducing a new system of health care will also cause the existing health care companies to lower their sickening high price that they are charging if they want to stay in business. We need reform now so that more kids like the 13 year old girl my hometown do not get dumped in the middle of a fight with leukemia by their insurance companies for reaching the lifetime limit.

    August 11, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  5. B

    You keep thinking and hoping that Americans are growing and moving forward and then you are witness to a show of mindless people like these. It makes you think that we are in decline, and we keep telling the World that we are the greatest...........yah – right.

    August 11, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  6. Phil

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

    Which enumerated power grants the federal government the power to control health care?

    GM Takeover/bailout?

    Undeclared foreign wars?

    August 11, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  7. Scott

    How have people become so ignorant in this country to not even understand the principles on which it was founded. The difference between democracy and economics (ie socialism vs capitalism and its irrelevance to our constitution) is something we learn in high school. So is respect for others, allowing people to speak, and fact-finding.

    When the people refuse to believe the truth laid out in front of them in writing, in human stories, in facts... we have lost our civil discourse and our nation is doomed to be run by the ignorant masses, pushed about and used by those with power to manipulate through propaganda and money.

    We have lost to the coproration. We have lost to the insurance industry. We have lost our souls to greed.

    August 11, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  8. Alan Deming

    When I see many of these people crying about government run health care and not wanting to turn America into a socialist country, I wonder how many of these folks are willing to give up their Medicare?

    August 11, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  9. amberw

    That crowd looked suspiciously and heavily skewed...

    Where were the young people, people of color, people of all political backgrounds, people with pre-existing conditions, people with no insurance? It was all one type of people with the current fringe right talking points....

    August 11, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |

    Specter works for the people, if Congress doesnt do what we want and follows the Obama agenda, THEN FIRE THEM, IMPEACH THEM. Congress works for us, they are the peoples employees, if they follow a personal agenda, THEN FIRE THEM ALL.

    August 11, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  11. Teo

    First, I think it's great that people are saying things like, "I'm not a lobbyist with all kinds of money to stuff in your pockets." That is what people all over this country need to do. However, I also believe that the only people that are stuffing politicians' pockets are people who want health care with a public purchase option to fail.

    No one is standing up to Conrad, Baucus, Grassley, Enzi, and saying, "I am a citizen. I need health insurance. I don't want to go bankrupt. And I don't have millions to stuff in your pockets. What can you do for the individual citizen, not just the wealthy business lobbyist.?"

    August 11, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  12. Blembergmd

    Why do you concentrate on one of a few disruptive persons? I watched the stream on CN N and saw respectful people ask pertinate questions which were appropriate. One that struck me was from a history teacher who asked that the language in the current bills was so confusing that noone could be sure what they meant. He asked that they be written so we could all understand.

    August 11, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  13. Blue Dog

    I don't know why we should expect anything different from these meeting, the Rush's and O'Reilly's of the world sprewing their hate and discontent for any views other than theirs. If you watch Fox news, you will find them telling conservatives to disrupt these meeting.....The Right will not come to the middle it's too close to the Left

    August 11, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  14. Jill

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

    What "social contract" is Specter speaking of?

    August 11, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
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