Obama Prepares to Defend Health Care Plans

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
About the last thing the White House wants today is for President Obama to get a lot of sycophantic questions at his town hall meeting on health care.

It would look more staged than usual, and Mr. Obama is seen as the best defender of his proposals to overhaul health care coverage in America.

In fact, three times at his news conference yesterday in Guadalajara, Mexico, he said it's a "healthy thing" that the American people have a "vigorous debate" about health care.

The White House denies it has tried to keep critics and opponents of the Administration proposals from getting tickets to the Town Meeting today in Portsmouth, N.H.

"We expect that there will be a vigorous debate," says Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, "and we look forward to it."

As a politician, Mr. Obama has shown he can easily respond to the most pointed or critical questions and make the case for his proposals.

"The president thinks that if people want to come and have a spirited debate about health care, a real vigorous conversation about it, that's a part of the American tradition and he encourages that," says Burton.

The White House concedes that there's passion in the arguments of critics and opponents of the president's health care plan, but "there's passion on the other side too," says Burton.

The president today will focus on the less controversial "consumer protection" provisions of the health care plan he wants:

• An end to denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions and
• A cap on out-of-pocket expenses for health care recipients
• Forbid health insurance companies to reduce or end coverage when a subscriber gets sick.

Burton says Mr. Obama is looking forward to the town meeting but believes "the American people are foursquare behind getting some kind of health care reform."

The White House thinks "there's obviously been some orchestration" of some of the opponents who show up at congressional town meetings on health care. But Burton concedes "there are people who do have legitimate concerns and questions" about it.

"If you want to have a tussle over an issue, that's fine," says Burton. But he says "screaming so that you can't hear the answer to whatever the complaint is – isn't moving the ball forward for anybody."

Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/markknoller.
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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.