"TV loves a ruckus," Obama tells placid town hall

President Obama was challenged on his proposals at Friday’s healthcare town hall in Montana, though the event did not produce the heated exchanges many lawmakers have faced around the country.

Obama took questions from a man who described himself as a “proud NRA member” who gets his information from cable news, as well as someone who sells insurance for a living.

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After joking that in Montana they have moose and elk but in Washington there is “mostly bull,” Obama faced polite but tougher challenges on his plans to pay for healthcare and what was described as his vilification of the health insurance industry

The NRA member said he watches cable news because he doesn't “like the spin that comes from them other places.” He told Obama that he keeps hearing “bull” on healthcare reform because Obama “can't tell us how you're pay for this.”

“The only way you're going to get that money is you're going to raise our taxes,” the man said. “You said you wouldn’t do that.”

Obama gave a lengthy answer that acknowledged the questioner was “absolutely right that I can’t cover another 46 million people for free.”

But he said the cost of expanding health insurance to the uninsured could be done without breaking his campaign promise to not raise taxes on families making more than $250,000 a year. Obama said to thirds of the approximately $900 billion could come from finding savings in the existing system, including the elimination of “subsidies” to private insurers.

The other third, he said, would come from taxing those making more than $250,000, which Obama said would include himself.

Obama also made a point of thanking the man for asking his question in a respectful manner.

The health insurance salesman questioned Obama about the vilification of the health insurance industry during the debate. Obama responded by saying that while some insurance companies have been “constructive,” others have helped to fund the anti-reform ads driving the debate in another direction.

Still, Obama said he didn’t mean to demonize the industry.

“I'm not vilifying the health insurance industry,” Obama said, adding that if he was he would “say that private insurance has no place in the healthcare market.” Obama said some people believe that, but he doesn’t.

Obama said the rowdy town hall meetings characterized by shouting matches that have dominated cable news shows are not representative of what is happening at most town halls.

“TV loves a ruckus,” Obama said. “What you haven't seen, and what makes me proud, are the many constructive meetings going on across the country.”

As he has been forced to do in the weeks since losing control of the healthcare message battle, Obama repeatedly insisted that he is not advocating government-run healthcare in the form of a public insurance option.

Obama was introduced in Montana by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who has frustrated some Democrats in his effort to win bipartisan support from a group of Finance Committee members trying to negotiate a compromise on healthcare reform.

Obama hailed Baucus as a man who is “working tirelessly” to get reform passed.

Baucus, buttressing Obama’s argument at the need to fight back against misinformation in the healthcare debate, said he has been mimicking the work of the television show “Mythbusters.”

Baucus said he is targeting anti-reform “myths” like the talk of rationing healthcare and so-called “death panels.”

“There is plenty of dishonesty out there about what healthcare reform will and will not do,” Baucus said. He added: “These outrageous myths are being busted wide open. They're just plain baloney.”

The town hall in Montana was the first of two Obama plans during a trip through several Western states. He’ll hold another one tomorrow in Colorado.

The week’s debate on healthcare has been shaped by angry town hall meetings, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s charge that healthcare reform proposals in Congress would create “death panels” that would force euthanasia on the elderly.


This story was originally posted at 3:23 and updated at 5:17 p.m.