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Obama visits St. Louis to continue health overhaul push

Photo: UPI/Bill Greenblatt

By St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis – President Obama rallied supporters at St. Charles high school on Wednesday, continuing his campaign to overhaul health care.

Speaking to a cheering crowd packed into a small, stuffy gymnasium, President Obama said the time for debate is over, and called on Congress to act now to pass health care legislation. The president described the status quo as unsustainable, saying that if Congress fails to act, insurance companies will continue to increase premiums.

Mr. Obama said his health care plan incorporates the best ideas of Democrats and Republicans, striking a middle ground between government-run health care, and a system dominated by insurance companies.

"So I don't believe we should give either the government or the insurance companies more control over health care in America," Mr. Obama said. "I want to give you more control over health care in America."

The president said his plan would pay for itself by eliminating fraud and wasteful spending, and would provide affordable health insurance to small businesses and the uninsured.

After the event in St. Charles, the president headed downtown to the Renaissance Grand Hotel for a Democratic fundraiser, where he praised Sen. Claire McCaskill.

The money raised at the event will go toward the Senatorial campaigns of McCaskill and Robin Carnahan.

An early supporter of the Obama campaign, McCaskill praised the president for sticking to his guns in the face of a populist backlash against his attempts at a healthcare overhaul.

"Right now there are a lot people whispering in his ear, saying 'you know, cut your losses and move on,'" McCaskill said. "'Do something popular and forget the rest.' Trust me he feels that pressure every day but you know what? He's different."

McCaskill is not up for reelection until 2012. Robin Carnahan hopes to replace Kit Bond in the Senate this year, but she did not attend either of Mr. Obama's events on Wednesday. The White House said Carnahan was in Washington on a previously scheduled trip.

Outside the hotel, several hundred tea party activists protested the president's policies, and earlier Wednesday more than 2,000 people attended a town hall meeting on health care held in St. Charles by Republican congressman Todd Akin, who opposes the President's plan.

In a conference call with reporters, Congressman Roy Blunt, a Republican from southwest Missouri who is also running for Senate this year, said Mr. Obama's message that the overhaul is needed is not resonating with Americans.

"Four dozen speeches, 52 speeches, people get it and they don't want it," Blunt said. "Even the people who like many aspects of the plan understand that the biggest reason not to do it is it costs too much and it's crippling Medicare and it's not the direction the country should be going and it costs jobs."

The president's critics on the left also made their voices heard. A local group that's pushing Senator Claire McCaskill to support a public health insurance option held a rally outside the downtown fundraiser.

Activist Chris Powers said real health reform is not possible without a public option.

"The public option would contain costs, would hold insurance company accountable, and would allow every American maximum freedom to select their own insurance plan," Powers said.

Forty-one U.S. Senators have signed a letter in support of the public option using parliamentary reconciliation rules, when the Senate combines its health bill with the House version.