Barack Obama works the crowd at a Bristol, Va. rally - Erica Yoon photo.
BRISTOL, Va. - Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama pitched his health care plan “for all Americans” Thursday to a friendly ticket-only audience of regional Democrats and Southwest Virginia United Mine Workers.
Obama said at the Virginia High School rally that everywhere he goes, he hears “heartbreaking stories” involving America’s health care system.
For years, Obama said, candidates have made promises about fixing health care but nothing happens.
“The reason is the big drug and big insurance companies spent a billion dollars over the last 10 years stopping reform from happening, writing another check and making sure the lobbyists get their way, and the American people don’t get any relief,” claimed Obama, who said he and the Democratic National Committee would not take campaign contributions from Washington lobbyists and political action committees.
Obama said that under his health care plan, private health insurers would lower premiums while others would be able to buy into a national plan.
“You will not be excluded for pre-existing conditions,” he promised. “We will negotiate with the drug companies for the cheapest available price. We will emphasize regular checkups, regular screenings so we have a health care system instead of a disease care system. I will do this by the end of my first term.”
He called GOP presidential opponent John McCain’s plan to offer tax cuts for health insurance a “Bush Light” plan more in line with policy promoted by current President George W. Bush.
“I respect John McCain,” Obama said. “He is a genuine war hero. My differences with him are not personal. They have to do with policy....premiums have gone up four times faster than wages...McCain is offering a tax cut that doesn’t amount to half of the cost of an average family health care plan.”
But not every medical situation, Obama explained, will be covered under his plan.
“Liposuction is probably not going to be covered, guys,” Obama said.
After Obama concluded his opening remarks, a 95-year-old supporter handed him a walking stick during the question-and-answer session of the event, and Obama seized the moment.
“If members of Congress don’t pass my health care bill...I’m ready. I’ll have my stick,” Obama said to boisterous applause.
Obama also called McCain’s pitch for a summer gas tax holiday a “gimmick” and said America should invest in alternative fuels and clean coal technologies.
High gas prices, Obama said, are one instance of families struggling to make ends meet.
“We just went through an economic expansion period before this most recent downturn where corporate profits were up, the stock market was up, the economy was actually growing, and the average family income went down by $1,000...the first time it had ever happened since World War II,” he said. “The economy was growing but you have less money in your pocket. People are working harder and harder just to get by.
“It’s harder to save, it’s harder to retire. Millions of people are in threat of losing their homes because nobody was minding the store and regulating the mortgage lenders so we have a full blown foreclosure crisis.”
Obama also said he would oppose extending Bush’ tax cuts for upper income Americans. “If you’re making $250,000 or more you’re going to pay a little more taxes,” he promised.
In response, the Tennessee Republican Party said Obama’s rally used an “elitist approach in stark contrast” to McCain’s recent event in Nashville, which was open to the public and “at which McCain cheerfully answered several questions from obvious Democrat partisans.”
“John McCain holds an open town hall meeting in the middle of one of Tennessee’s most Democratic counties, while Barack Obama decides he doesn’t want to risk getting hard questions from non-supporters in a very conservative areas,” said Bill Hobbs, communications director for the Tennessee Republican Party. “While Obama talks about unity and reaching across partisan lines, John McCain is the one who has been doing it.”
Still, Obama supporters turned out in droves for the rally.
Shawna Lichtenwalner, an English professor at East Tennessee State University, was in line to attend the 11:45 a.m. event before 8 a.m. During the primary season, she was an Obama campaign volunteer who worked in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina.
“I have a lot of confidence that he has a chance to go all the way,” she said of Obama. “It’s going to take hard work. I’m not going to take anything for granted, but I think we can get this done.”
Obama told supporters the end point of his campaign isn’t winning the general election.
“The end point is making your lives better,” he said. “That’s the reason we’re in this auditorium today. Southwest Virginia is an example of so much that is good about this country. But so many people have been forgotten. There are good hard working decent generous people in beautiful towns all throughout this region but Washington hasn’t been listening to you and hasn’t been paying attention. I’m to let you know I’m going to be paying attention.”
For more about Obama go to www.barackobama.com.
For more about McCain go to www.johnmccain.com.