Specter Faces Rambunctious Crowd at Town-Hall Meeting

Posted August 11, 2009 at 12:09pm

LEBANON, Pa. — Hundreds of fired-up Pennsylvanians crowded into a town-hall meeting hosted by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) on Tuesday — many of whom voiced their opposition to health care reform proposals that Congress will consider in September. Far more people were turned away at the door once the room reached capacity, and they rallied outside as the line to get in snaked around several city blocks.While the audience started off with boos and several people shouted throughout the event, Specter took 30 questions and comments for more than an hour. Much of the opposition focused on a public insurance option, but others expressed concerns about whether health care reform would use tax money to fund abortions. A minority of the 250-person audience voiced support for health care reform.At the end, Specter said he was “impressed— with his constituents’ knowledge of the health care proposals, particularly the House bill, and said he would take the word back to his colleagues that more Members should hold town-hall meetings, even though some events have erupted in shouting matches and in some cases have turned physical.“I’m looking forward to a civil discussion,— Specter said in his opening remarks before handing the microphone over to people who had arrived early enough to get a number to ask a question. “There’s a lot of anger in America … and a lot of cynicism about Washington.—Many of the questions were in fact comments, including one woman who said she was angry that elected officials have referred to activists like her as un-American rabble-rousers. Specter said he was committed to free speech and left the morning session for another town-hall meeting in the state.Tim Trimble, who runs his own manufacturing company, Trimble Associates, in Lancaster, Pa., said he woke up at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday and was among the first in line at Harrisburg Area Community College’s Lebanon campus, which hosted the event. He arrived before 7 a.m., and the event started at 9:30 a.m.“It was too important to miss,— Trimble said in an interview before Specter arrived.Trimble asked the seventh question, during which he explained his opposition to a public insurance option. He concluded: “Keep the government out of it. We’re doing just fine.—Larry Berardi of Lancaster, Pa., was among the minority at the meeting who said he supports comprehensive health care reform legislation and favors the public insurance option.“On a personal level, there are several of us in our family who don’t have health insurance,— said Berardi, who does have coverage through a part-time employer. “They rely on the ER, and that puts the cost on everyone.—Berardi said he hopes Specter will support a single-payer, government-run health care system. “People who are conservative are getting very loud and angry,— he said. During the event, Berardi, who was sitting in the back of the auditorium, got into an exchange with another participant who does not support the public insurance option. “You sit down,— he told the other man. “You sit down,— the other man replied.Eventually, they both sat down.During the session, Specter, who also fielded comments aimed at him for switching political parties earlier this year, pledged not to vote for a reform bill that would add to the budget deficit. He also said he wants to stop insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.And he explained that Congress is still “debating— the issues, meaning many things — including the public insurance option — remain on the table.The vast majority of the comments and questions were focused on health care, but some participants expressed their opposition to the economic stimulus legislation, the automobile company bailout and cap-and-trade bills to combat global warming.Several attendees said they were pleased that Specter is keeping up the town-hall meetings despite the angry comments he is receiving. One person noted that Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pa.) has not scheduled such a session in the district.