Health Care Dominates Obama Town Hall

Health care concerns were front and center when President Obama joined Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for a campaign-style event Friday outside Las Vegas. Obama confessed he was warned early on that health care was too tough to tackle.

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In Henderson, Nevada, today President Obama announced a new one-and-a-half billion dollar program. It's designed to help homeowners who are struggling to pay their mortgage. Nevada has the nation's highest rate of home foreclosures. But at the president's town hall meeting today many of the questions weren't about the program or even the housing crisis, they were about health care.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Health care legislation maybe in limbo so far as Washington is concerned. But health care concerns were front and center when President Obama joined embattled Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for a campaign-style event outside Las Vegas. The president confessed he was warned early on, health care was too tough to tackle.

President BARACK OBAMA: Your poll numbers will go down. And you're not going to get a lot of cooperation from the other side. I mean, that was the warning.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says he pursued the overhaul anyway because of the horror stories he hears from people who don't have health insurance, because people who do have insurance keep saying their costs go up and because run away health care bills threaten to bankrupt both businesses and the federal government.

Pres. OBAMA: We can't wait to reform the health care system. It is vital for our economy.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: It is vital for our economy to change how health care works in this country.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: It's vital.

HORSLEY: At the same time, Mr. Obama said warnings about the political cost of tackling health care were well founded. Next week the president hosts congressional leaders from both parties for a televised health care summit meeting. He urged the town hall participants to tune in.

Pres. OBAMA: Because this is - what we're proposing is - has nothing to do with a government takeover of your health care. Most of you would have the exact same health care that you've got right now but you'd be more protected and more secure. And if you don't have health care, you'd have a chance of getting health care.

HORSLEY: The president reportedly is crafting his own health care bill that will combine elements from both the House and Senate versions and be structured in a way that could pass with a simple majority, avoiding the threat of a Republican filibuster. Mr. Obama did not confirm that today but he challenged the GOP to put their own health care plans on the table.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: Show me what you got. But don't let the American people go another year, another 10 years, another 20 years without health insurance reform in this country.

(Soundbite of applause)

HORSLEY: Republican Congressman Eric Cantor warned if the president does try to muscle a bill through Congress with something less than a 60-vote majority in the Senate, any promise of bipartisanship is dead.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Henderson, Nevada.

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