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At U-Md., Obama Calls on Young Adults to Back Health-Care Reform

President Obama spoke to a large crowd at the University of Maryland hoping to infuse a new sense of enthusiasm in young Americans about the health-care debate.

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By Anne E. Kornblut and Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 17, 2009; 5:23 PM

With his health-care overhaul slowly moving through Congress absent Republican support, President Obama turned to a solidly young, liberal audience on Thursday morning, rallying students at the University of Maryland to help him face the "defining struggle of this generation."

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"When you're young, I know this isn't always an issue that you have at the top of your mind. You think you're invincible. That's how I thought," Obama said at the university's Comcast Center.

Obama tailored his remarks to the student crowd, hoping to arm young people -- who are among the least likely to purchase health insurance but could form an important core of a new health-care system -- with new facts and enthusiasm in the debate. Obama declared that young people would be able to stay on their parents' insurance longer -- until age 26.

"I may not be the first president to take on health-care reform, but I'm determined to be the last," he said. "The good news is, we are now closer to reform than we have ever been," he said, estimating that there is about 80 percent agreement in the House and Senate. His brief mention of the plan put forward Wednesday by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) -- one of the few comments the White House has made on that proposal -- drew boos from the audience.

And he highlighted his administration's experiment with alternatives to medical malpractice lawsuits. The White House announced Thursday that it would provide $25 million in demonstration grants for such efforts. The issue is dear to many Republicans, and, if it were included in health-care overhaul, could help win some support from GOP lawmakers.

"I don't think this is a silver bullet, but I want to explore the idea," Obama said. "I'm going to seek common ground in the days ahead."

The crowd was overwhelmingly friendly to the president -- Obama interrupted his speech to reply, "I love you too," to one person in the audience who had called out to him -- but one heckler caused Obama to briefly pause and ask what the commotion was. The protester was in the back of the arena, however, and the president continued talking. When security officers escorted the man out, the rest of the audience stood and cheered.

Outside the building, where the Maryland Terrapins play basketball, a smattering of people made their case against the Obama plan. Samantha Bennett, 20, a junior majoring in communications, held up a sign that read: "UMD Students Against Nationalized Healthcare."

"This is really a university that has a liberal viewpoint, so we wanted to come out and present the minority view of conservatives," said Bennett, who is from the Baltimore area. Bennett said the Obama plan gave government too large a role in the health-care overhaul.

Not far away, Brad Tidwell, 22, an Arlington resident who graduated from U-Md. this year, drew plenty of stares from those going inside with his sign stating "Joe Wilson was right."

"You can take or leave the civility of the issue, but Joe Wilson was completely right. They [Democrats] have done nothing," Tidwell said. "They have blocked the amendments on this bill to prevent money going to illegal aliens."

Obama made his case for reforming the nation's health-care system by citing anecdotes and statistics, including, "More than one-third of all young adults have trouble paying their medical debts." He added later, "In the United States, nobody should go broke because they get sick."


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