Obama makes impassioned plea for health-care overhaul at a town hall in Nevada

Harry M. Reid and President Obama tackle a town hall in the Senate majority leader's home state.
Harry M. Reid and President Obama tackle a town hall in the Senate majority leader's home state. (Laura Rauch/associated Press)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 20, 2010

LAS VEGAS -- Residents of this struggling tourist mecca vented their frustrations about health care at a town hall meeting Friday with President Obama, giving the president a fresh opportunity to make an impassioned plea for the overhaul effort now stalled in Congress.

Obama appeared with Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), a key ally who faces a tough reelection battle this year. In a city that has deeply felt the economic decline, Obama argued that he and Reid are focused on the economy, jobs and housing.

But the participants he called on repeatedly brought Obama back to the subject of health care -- a topic he seemed eager to discuss just days before he hosts a gathering of Republican and Democratic leaders, a televised summit aimed at restarting health-care debate.

One woman asked whether the overhaul would benefit volunteer health clinics that have popped up across Nevada to provide free care for residents who don't have insurance. A dentist asked about how it would impact dental coverage. A disabled flight attendant described the despair that has come with having no insurance.

"This whole problem has drove my life really to almost not having a life at all," the woman said. "I don't know where else to turn. I don't know who else to talk to about the problem."

Jacket off, shirtsleeves rolled up, Obama sounded once again like the health-care fighter his administration rolled out last summer in town hall meetings and speeches across the country. He challenged Republicans to come to the summit Thursday with a plan to fix the health-care system -- or get out of the way.

"So show me what you've got," he said, addressing the GOP directly. "But don't let the American people go another year, another 10 years, another 20 years without health insurance reform in this country."

The effort to pass comprehensive health-care legislation screeched to a halt last month when Republican Scott Brown's victory in the Massachusetts Senate race cost Democrats their filibuster-proof majority.

The White House plans to post its preferred version of a health-care overhaul online by early next week. At the town hall, Obama said he, Reid and others are "going to move forward the Democratic proposal. We hope the Republicans have one, too."

Republicans have been highly critical of the upcoming summit, deriding it as political theater and declining to say whether they will attend.

Meanwhile, a Reid spokesman opened the door Friday to the use of a fast-track budget procedure known as "reconciliation" to revive the so-called public option, a government-run health insurance plan to compete with private plans. Reconciliation bills cannot be filibustered in the Senate -- meaning they need just 51 votes to pass -- but rules limit their contents to provisions that affect the federal budget. A public option was included in the House version of the health-care bill but not in the legislation the Senate passed before Brown's election.

"If a decision is made to use reconciliation to advance health care, Senator Reid will work with the White House, the House, and members of his caucus in an effort to craft a public option that can overcome procedural obstacles and secure enough votes," Reid spokesman Rodell Mollineau wrote in a statement.

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