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Frank Pushes Health Care Reform Before Hostile Crowd

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U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., right, is presented with literature as he enters a senior center in Dartmouth on Tuesday. (AP)
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., right, is presented with literature as he enters a senior center in Dartmouth on Tuesday. (AP)

Rep. Barney Frank lashed out at protester who held a poster depicting President Obama with a Hitler-style mustache during a heated town hall meeting on federal health care reform.

"On what planet do you spend most of your time?" Frank asked the woman, who had stepped up to the podium at a southeastern Massachusetts senior center to ask why Frank supports what she called a Nazi policy.

"Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it," Frank replied.

Frank, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, sought to assure more than 500 people attending the rowdy meeting that the average taxpayer wouldn't be hurt by plans currently under consideration in Congress.

Some of those attending the meeting organized by the Democratic Town Committee of Dartmouth shouted and booed as Frank and others addressed the crowd.

At one point, Frank asked the crowd: "Which one of you wants to yell next?"

One topic asked of Frank was whether undocumented residents would get coverage under the health insurance bill passed by the House.

"Illegal aliens are specifically excluded from any assistance in the bill," Frank said.

In an attempt to dispel the protesters' disbelief, Frank went on to read the exclusion provision. Some of the people who told Frank they oppose expanding health insurance explained that they did so even though they themselves would benefit, but did not want to do so at the expense of taxpayers.

Tyler Dawbin of Easton said he lost his job and is worried he will lose his health insurance, but he still does not support changes proposed in Congress.

"My situation is my own. I walked into it. I'm responsible for it. Why would I obligate the people who are surrounding me in this room right now to pay for my personal stress?" Dawbin said, to rising cheers from the audience.

Frank told people at the meeting that some money for health care changes could come from pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

Several people wanted to know how the government would pay for the reforms without worsening a growing federal budget deficit.

At least two dozen protesters gathered in small groups outside, handing out pamphlets and holding signs criticizing the overhaul, Mr. Obama and Frank. Some of the posters read: "It's the economy stupid, stop the spending" and "Healthcare reform yes, government takeover, no. Tort Reform Now"

Audrey Steele, 82, from New Bedford, said she does not want the government to get involved with health care because "they just make a mess of everything," referring to the $700 billion bailout of financial institutions that was used to pay for lavish conferences and hefty executive compensation.

Others at Tuesday's meeting were more supportive of reform.

Dr. Sheila Levitt, a physician from Newton, said she hoped for changes that would support primary care physicians who aren't paid as much as specialists. She said some of the rowdy critics at Tuesday's meeting appeared to be using the same "talking points" as those who showed up at similar meetings around the country.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This program aired on August 19, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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