Obama out west

Posted 6/5/01

“… You've got bears and moose and elk. In Washington you just have mostly bull,” Obama quipped, sparking laughter among the 1,300 gathered in Belgrade, Mont., for his Friday town hall meeting.

The joke was one of several light …

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Obama out west


{gallery}08_18_09/obama{/gallery} President Barack Obama took off his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves as he answered questions during a town hall meeting in Belgrade, Mont., Friday. Tribune photo by Carla Wensky President discusses health reform before Yellowstone stopYou may not agree with President Barack Obama's views on health care, but it's likely many in the West support his recent observation on wildlife.

“… You've got bears and moose and elk. In Washington you just have mostly bull,” Obama quipped, sparking laughter among the 1,300 gathered in Belgrade, Mont., for his Friday town hall meeting.

The joke was one of several light points during the high-profile event, where the president outlined critical components of his proposed health-care plan and fielded a variety of questions — and a few accusations.

One questioner referenced Obama's earlier joke, adding that Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and the president can't find a way to pay for the health-care plan they're promoting.

“… We keep getting the bull. That's all we get, is bull. You can't tell us how you're going to pay for this … you have no money. The only way you're going to get that money is to raise our taxes. You said you wouldn't,” said Randy Rathie of Ekalaka, Mont., who identified himself as a “proud NRA supporter.”

“Look, you are absolutely right that I can't cover another 46 million people for free. You're right. I can't do that,” Obama replied, “So we're going to have to find some resources.”

He said two-thirds of his $800-$900 billion plan would be paid for by eliminating waste in the current system, such as subsidies to insurance companies.

“I just think I would rather be giving that money to the young lady here who doesn't have health insurance, and giving her some help, than giving it to insurance companies that are making record profits,” he said.

The other third — around $300 billion — would come from lowering tax deductions that wealthy Americans (those who make more than $250,000 a year) receive on their income tax returns, he said. The additional money needed for the plan may come through taxes, “but it wouldn't come on the backs of the middle class,” Obama said.

In addition to talking about how to pay for the plan, Obama spent quite a bit of his time out West outlining the necessity for health-care reform.

While the public option has received a lot of media attention, it isn't the only component of the bill, Obama said.

Much of it is geared at improving the current system, including Medicaid and Medicare.

A young mother questioned whether Medicaid coverage would change for her disabled son.

Obama said that if her son qualifies for Medicaid now, he will under the new plan as well. However, there will be some changes, he added.

“This also includes … preventive care, wellness care, because our system really is not a health-care system, it's more like a disease-care system, right? We wait until people get sick, and then we provide them care,” Obama said.

He added that it's much cheaper to pay for a diabetic's education and medication to stay healthy rather than paying for a foot amputation down the road.

The crowd was mostly supportive of Obama's proposed health-care reform, and skeptics were civil — some opponents in the crowd quietly shook their head during his address, while others protested more loudly outside near the Gallatin Field airport, where the town hall meeting took place.

Some were there to listen.

“I'm just here to see what he has to say,” said Chris Gartrell, who grew up in Shoshoni and served in Iraq. Gartrell's concern was for veterans' care, especially for all of the disabled veterans returning from the Middle East.

Others were there simply for the experience.

“I just want to see the president,” said Cheyenne Monger, 13, of Belgrade, who got a ticket an hour before the meeting started.

Her mother, Kerri, said it was “simply amazing” that Obama chose a rural town in Montana for one of his town hall meetings.

Obama tried to keep the gathering down-to-earth, perhaps in the Western style, forgoing a tie and suit jacket as he rolled up his sleeves to take questions. Later, he selected one questioner simply because she was clad in a cowboy hat.

Organizers of the meeting arranged for Katie Gibson, a Montanan, to introduce the president. The petite, quiet woman mustered her courage as her voice rose above rain clattering on the airport hangar's metal roof. Gibson, a cancer survivor, shared her struggle with multiple insurance companies that refused to cover her medical care because of her pre-existing condition. At the time when she was sickest, her worries were not about her illness or loved ones, but her medical bills, Gibson said.

Obama said her story is, unfortunately, one of many in America.