GLENSIDE, Pa. — President Barack Obama took his pitch for health care legislation on the road Monday, urging voters in suburban Philadelphia to make their voices heard above the political echo chamber in Washington and demand an up-or-down vote now in Congress.
"It's time to make a decision. The time for talk is over. We need to see where people stand," Obama told about 1,800 people at Arcadia University.
Saying he was happy to be out of Washington — in a visit that had him on the ground for only about two hours before he returned to the White House — Obama said the capital had grown obsessed with how a vote on health care legislation would affect the November congressional elections.
In that environment, he said, it's crucial that voters contact Congress and make themselves heard.
"They need to hear your voices, because right now the Washington echo chamber is in full throttle," he said. "It is as deafening as it's ever been. And as we come to that final vote, that echo chamber's telling members of Congress, 'Think about the politics,' instead of thinking about doing the right thing."
Yet appealing for a popular uprising easily could cut both ways, as some voters in the Philadelphia suburbs are impatient in their demand that Congress pass Obama's proposed health care legislation while others are just as vocal in opposition.
"It's time to do something. We help every country on Earth. We help communist countries. We help Muslim countries. But we have 35 million Americans without health care. How is that right?" said Pat Moroney, a software salesman from Blue Bell, Pa.
"And what he says about Congress is true. They're only concerned about their next election."
His wife, meeting planner Maureen Moroney, was even blunter, saying that Obama should cast aside any thoughts of his own re-election if that's what it takes to enact a health care overhaul.
"We voted for it. Make it happen," she said. "Do what you were elected to do. ... If he's a four-year president because of it, so be it."
Daryl Solomon, a custodian from Philadelphia, applauded when he heard Obama say that the legislation is needed to rein in runaway health insurance premiums. "The premium shouldn't be doubling," he said. "We haven't had anything that would help us for years."
Hanna Romberger, a college student from Glenside, liked it when the president said that his proposal would allow people to stay on their parents' insurance until they reach age 26. "My older sister lost her insurance last year," she said. "She's a bartender now, but she doesn't get insurance there."
If Obama stirred anyone to call or write to Congress, however, he also probably riled up opposition.
"I'm against all the spending," said Meg Panas, a retired teacher from Valley Forge. "It's another bubble. We have no money. We simply can't keep borrowing more and more."
She said she'd like Washington to make some changes, such as limiting malpractice awards against doctors to help reduce costs. "But I'd like it done piece by piece so we can evaluate it," she said.
The vast size of the health care legislation angers or scares a lot of opponents, from those who don't think the government should be doing anything to those who want some changes but would prefer them to be taken up one at a time.
Opponents voiced other complaints as well.
"There should be some regulation of the insurance industry, but not this," said Henry Bulitta, a chiropractor from nearby Chester County.
"I'm a big supporter of limited government. This health care bill goes way too far. ... Let the free market take care of it."
"Mandated health care is unconstitutional," said April Molnar, an interior designer from Harleysville, Pa. "Obama is charming, but we have to see through it."
Dawn Pipkin, an insurance company auditor from Philadelphia, listened to the president harangue her industry for raising premiums, and said it was unrealistic to think that the government could limit those premiums as long as medical costs went up. "The hospital and doctors' charges are astronomical," she said. "If they cut those, they could insure more people."
Despite Obama's call for people to lobby Congress, it wasn't clear whom the president was trying to reach with his short visit here or a similar trip to Missouri planned for Wednesday.
While the Montgomery County suburbs outside Philadelphia are always a battleground in congressional and presidential elections, they aren't a battleground over health care legislation. The members of Congress whose districts reach into these suburbs already have made up their minds.
"I wouldn't say that this is about any specific targeting," White House spokesman Bill Burton said. "If you look at where we're going, it doesn't really have an impact on a particular member. But Philadelphia is a place where they are seeing these rising costs really crush ... families and businesses and local government. So that's really why the president is going to Pennsylvania and Missouri."
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