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Thursday, August 13, 2009

 6:35 PM 

Health care, demagoguery hot topic at Petri town hall meeting

WATERTOWN -- Both sides of the health care debate traded cat calls at a town hall meeting U.S. Rep. Tom Petri held Thursday afternoon that included one testy exchange the lawmaker had with a member of the audience.

Columbus resident Keith Peterson challenged Petri to support requiring all members of congress to sign on to a public option offered in a version of the health care legislation now before lawmakers. Petri, R-Fond du Lac, refused, telling the town hall meeting he wouldn't be baited by a "demagogue."

"You've got to be kidding," Peterson said, speaking loudly enough into the microphone to spark feedback. "You're a Republican? ... Why, you've got me fooled, buddy."

Most of the talk at the meeting centered on the ongoing health care debate, which has sparked a series of contentious town hall meetings around the country. Thursday's event was largely civil.

However, there were catcalls yelped throughout the meeting as those on one side of the issue mocked those on the other side.

An elderly man voiced his support for the plan, saying that Medicare has provided care for millions and done it relatively well. He received a spattering of applause along with some chuckles and audible sighs. When another attendee railed against the growing cost of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, several different attendees yelled, "Get over Bush!"

Several people told Petri the government should "get out of health care" while bringing up various statistics. Supporters of the bill yelled, "Get your facts!"

"There's a lot of uncertainty about what the legislation contains or does not contain," Petri said. "The truth is that it's not defined very clearly in the legislation."

Petri spent almost the entire town hall meeting listening to the attendees without giving his own opinion on the issue, except to say he voted against the bill in committee. He told the attendees that he and his family are members of a Health Savings Account policy and he successfully added an amendment adding HSAs to the bill during a committee meeting. But a similar amendment was taken out of the bill in a different committee.

"So I don't know where that stands," Petri said.

The meeting had two emotional moments. A visibly upset veteran told Petri that something "needs to be done" for returning soldiers suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma. Another man came with his son who was severely injured and blinded by "some illegals." His adult son attempted to stand up and nearly fell, bringing at least two women to tears. The father then said that "illegal aliens" would be covered by the universal health care bill proposed in Congress.

Supporters of the legislation have insisted that is not true.

Watertown Mayor Ron Krueger said 150 people attended the meeting inside the room, with probably another 100 outside the door.


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