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Reform Debate Rages on at Town Halls

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As the Obama administration was dealing with blowback from liberals after signaling over the weekend its willingness to abandon the controversial public insurance option, Members continued to talk to their constituents about health care reform Monday.

In Honesdale, Pa., Blue Dog Coalition member Rep. Christopher Carney (D) took 21 questions at a town hall; all but three of them related to health care, according to the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader.

“I was one of those Blue Dog Democrats that slowed the process down a little bit so we can have this conversation,” Carney said, according to the newspaper. “We need to do something. The question is what. The question is how fast. The question is how much will it cost.”

About 300 people attended the meeting, and about 100 were turned away. Questioners were given numbers when they arrived and corresponding numbers drawn out of a bowl determined who got to question Carney.

Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, Sen. Arlen Specter and his Democratic primary opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak, used the day’s town halls for politics, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

At a meeting with veterans in Philadelphia, Sestak accused Specter of a “lack of leadership” that led to a backlog of claims at the Veterans Affairs Department. Specter, on the other hand, continued to hammer the former Navy vice admiral for missing 104 votes in the House while campaigning in Pennsylvania.

“If he were still in the military, absent without leave, he’d be court-martialed,” the Senator said.

In Mississippi, Rep. Gene Taylor (D), another Blue Dog, told an overflow crowd of about 1,000 people that he opposes the public insurance option, according to the Sun Herald in Biloxi.

“The health care bill is projected that even with the changes that are coming out, if they are able to get them out of it, it is costing us maybe $900 billion tax dollars more, $900 billion of new debt,” he said.

Fellow Blue Dog Allen Boyd (D) held three of the 14 town halls he has scheduled this month Monday in northern Florida. In Cross City he told an audience of about 200 that he would never vote for a health care plan that doesn’t meet four criteria, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

“Those are not running up the deficit, preserving patient choice of doctors and other providers, reducing the growth of health costs and extending coverage to the estimated 48 million who lack insurance,” the newspaper noted.

Energy and Commerce ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas) met with constituents in Marquez on Monday, according to Bryan/College Station’s KBTX. They were united against health care reform.

And in Dallas, Reps. Pete Sessions (R) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) found a new way to conduct a town hall. With a Southern Methodist University professor serving as moderator, the two squared off on health care in front of a crowd of about 300, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. While Johnson argued for the public insurance option and universal coverage, Sessions argued that individuals should gain equal footing with corporations when getting insurance.

Republicans “believe that every single person should be able to earn their healthcare ... and take it with them from year to year, job to job,” he said.

See the full list of Tuesday’s town halls at Congress.org.

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