Yesterday, the day after the headline making town hall meeting in nearby Lebanon, Pennsylvania, Senator Arlen Specter called the area’s largest newspaper, the Harrisburg Patriot-News, to request time with the editorial board and local reporters. Specter faced off yet again yesterday with an angry crowd over health care, this latest one in State College, home of Penn State. “Good morning” said one student. “Is it?” Specter snapped. A transcript of the later editorial board meeting was published today.
Beginning by saying “we have to acquaint the American people with the facts” and that “there are a lot of rumors,” he answers the second question by zeroing in on Rush Limbaugh and talk radio, later adding that the raucous town hall meetings across Pennsylvania have in fact “influenced” him and that he “didn’t expect” what went on in Lebanon.
The question asked by the Patriot-News was: “What message is not getting out correctly to Pennsylvanians?”
“The message that is being circulated is filled wit h rumors and influenced very heavily by talk radio. Rush Limbaugh can reach more people than your editorial today. What can be done to acquaint (the) American people with the facts?”
For a moment he appears to endorse a “requirement” that “every insurance plan” have a provision for an “annual exam paid for by the insurance company.” Immediately, as if realizing he is already in the troubled waters of government mandates on the private conduct of individuals, he backtracks: “Not mandatory, but voluntary and paid for to encourage people to take it.”
Having been pounded relentlessly on Tuesday with talk of death panels and euthanasia, he says: “Nobody ought to decide for anyone else what kind of medical care they get in the final days, weeks or near end of life. But people ought to be informed. I got informed by my wife years ago about a ‘living will’ and I said ‘yes, ma’am’ and we had a living will.”
Praising the savings this could generate, he is asked if this could be enough savings “without increasing taxes.” Specter: “Yes, without increasing taxes.”
Asked if his town hall meetings were “poor timing,” he responds by saying he’s done them for 30 years and the current round was “scheduled long ago.” But he added: “I didn’t expect what went on in Lebanon.”
Patriot-News: “Have your views shifted at all based upon the comments you are hearing at these town hall meetings?”
Specter: “It has influenced me. Even though they may not be representative, they are significant, and the temperature is boiling.…The people who are going to these meetings are on the edge of the ledge. Even if the whole country isn’t this way, if this many people are feeling this, we have to take it into account. And you don’t know that if you sit in the Senate Office Building. If you stay inside the Beltway, it’s a great cocoon.”
Asked what advice he would give President Obama “based on what you are hearing at these meetings,” Specter says: “The principal piece of advice I would give — and I intend to pass this on personally, not just to you — is to specify how he is going to fulfill his statement of no addition to the deficit. Tell us what the programs are going to cost to insure the 47 million…what are the president’s figures….If we could deal with the deficit, there would be a lot more acceptance.”
Specter ended this way, in a response to the question “Is there anything you can compare this to in your career?”
Specter, who as a young lawyer served on the staff of the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, answered with a wry reference to the man who killed presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald:
“No…Maybe questioning Jack Ruby.”
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