By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 11, 2009 1:33 PM
LEBANON, Pa., Aug. 11 -- Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) confronted a barrage of sometimes hostile questions at a raucous town hall meeting here Tuesday, facing frustrated voters who booed and jeered him over his party's plan to overhaul the nation's health-care system.
About 300 people packed an auditorium at a community college as hundreds staged dueling rallies outside. Inside the hall, Specter answered questions from 30 voters, most of whom self-identified as conservative.
One man, angry that he was not among those selected to ask questions, walked into the aisle waving a piece of paper, interrupted the senator during a response and started yelling at him.
"Do you want to be led out of here?" Specter asked the man. "You're welcome to go."
"I'm going to speak my mind before I leave, because your people told me I could," the man replied, adding: "You can do whatever the hell you please to do. One day God's going to stand before you, and he's going to judge you and the rest of your damned cronies up on the Hill. And then you'll get your just desserts. I'm leaving."
The man was escorted out of the hall as the event was broadcast live on national television.
"Okay," Specter told the crowd. "We just had a demonstration of democracy."
Specter is barnstorming Pennsylvania this week, holding town hall meetings on health care as he gears up for a reelection fight next year. He faced a similar response last week at a town hall in Philadelphia with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
At the meeting here, most of the questioners were civil but still voiced anger at Specter, President Obama and other Democrats in Washington. Some accused Specter of allowing the government to take over health care and violating their constitutional rights.
"You have awakened a sleeping giant," said Katy Abram, 35, a stay-at-home mother from Lebanon. "I don't want this country turning into Russia, turning into a socialized country."
Specter fielded 13 questions before someone voiced support for the health-care reform efforts. Questioner No. 14, Marilyn Boogaard, said she was nervous to stand up and say something positive about Democrats' health plan for fear of being booed.
"I almost didn't want to ask my question because it's so intimidating," said Boogaard, 58, a nurse practitioner from Lebanon.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Specter said he is not surprised by the passion voiced by voters at town hall meetings, but he disputed the view of some Democrats that those assembled at town halls are mostly part of an organized conservative movement.
"A lot of it is grass-roots and some of it was organized," Specter said. "I'm very careful not to criticize the people who organized."
He said it has been difficult for him and other Democrats to explain their health-care plans to constituents.
"The objectors have gotten ahead of the curve, and a rumor is a lot harder to dispel," Specter said. "The old saying is, 'It's harder to build a house than it is to knock out a house.' So it's a struggle."