DAVID GREENE, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene sitting in for Liane Hansen.
President Obama travels to the Grand Canyon to vacation with his family today. Yesterday the Obamas spent the morning at Yellowstone National Park where they got to see Old Faithful erupt. Then in the afternoon, the president flew to Colorado for his third town hall meeting in a week on health care.
As NPR's Don Gonyea tells us, the president's pitch for an overhaul to the nation's health care system took a personal turn.
DON GONYEA: During opening remarks in the Central High School gym in Grand Junction, the president again made the case for the need to fix the health care system. He again complained about misinformation being put out to stop changes to health care, including those debunked claims about the government death panels that would pull the plug on sick senior citizens. Then came the Q&A portion of the town hall. The president called on a man, a supporter, who wanted to hear more on that topic.
Unidentified Man: This problem with misinformation in our country, it seems to me that it's not only just hurting health care reform, health insurance reform, it's dividing our country.
(Soundbite of applause)
Unidentified Man: Is it not maybe time - I think we all know where it's coming from.
GONYEA: The president cut him off, not wanting to feed any divisions within the audience before him. He went into a lengthy answer about how if nothing is done, then Medicare and Medicaid will go broke, sending state and federal budgets into crisis. Finally, on the point of misinformation, Mr. Obama said there are fair and honest debates that can be had on the health care issue, but…
President BARACK OBAMA: What you can't do - or you can, but you shouldn't do -is start saying things like we want to set up death panels to pull the plug on grandma. I mean, come on.
GONYEA: Then the president, for the first time during these months of debate over health care, brought up an intensely personal topic: the death of his own grandmother just days before last November's election.
Pres. OBAMA: I know what it's like to watch somebody you love, who's aging, deteriorate and have to struggle with it. So the notion that somehow I ran for public office or members of Congress are in this so that they can go around pulling the plug on grandma? I mean, when you start making arguments like that, that's simply dishonest.
GONYEA: It provided an unexpected emotional underpinning to the president's arguments, which have previously been delivered in a measured, almost professorial style. Now, the audience in this town hall meeting, even in a conservative town like Grand Junction, seemed to lean heavily toward the president's positions.
Mr. Obama did still get some pointed questions. College student Zach Lane said creating a government-run insurance option will put private insurers at a real disadvantage.
Mr. ZACH LANE: How in the world can a private corporation providing insurance compete with an entity that does not have to worry about making a profit, does not have to pay local property taxes; they're not subject to local regulations?
GONYEA: The president said it's a good question, but countered that there are examples of private firms that survive while competing with government operations.
Pres. OBAMA: And in fact right now, you've got a lot of private companies who do very well competing against the government. UPS and FedEx are doing a lot better than the post office.
GONYEA: And Mr. Obama, sounding a lot like a candidate again, exhorted his audience to get out and knock on doors and to help him to make the case in the same grassroots style he used to such success last year. But the outcome this time remains far from certain.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Grand Junction, Colorado.