Concord Monitor - Obama Calls for Government Reform
By Shira Schoenberg
The federal government must shake the influence of special interest groups, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama told nearly 1,000 voters yesterday in Keene and Nashua.
"People are frustrated with the way Washington does business," Obama said. "People want to know why drug and insurance companies write health care bills and oil companies write energy bills. People want to know, 'When are you going to do something for us?' "
Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, has tried to turn his relative lack of national political experience into a virtue, positioning himself as a Washington outsider anxious to change the system. The message seemed to resonate with the crowds that greeted him yesterday.
"He's a fresh face without a lot of political baggage behind him," said retired physician Mel Schupack of Walpole, who attended a 350-person rally at Keene Recreation Center. "He's not coming with connections, people he's indebted to from 10 years ago."
In previous talks, Obama has detailed specific ways he would reform government. In Congress, he introduced ethics reform that bans gifts and meals from lobbyists, ends subsidized travel on corporate jets, requires disclosure of who is sponsoring earmarks, and introduces tighter disclosure requirements on political contributions from lobbyists.
He said yesterday that officials in his administration would be barred from later lobbying him, and he would not allow anyone to regulate an industry where they had worked.
During his presidential campaign, Obama has often noted that he's refused to accept contributions from federal lobbyists or political action committees. But according to the Boston Globe, during eight years in the Illinois Senate, almost two-thirds of money raised for his campaigns came from PACs, corporate contributions or unions. His U.S. Senate campaign committee collected more than $1.3 million from lobbyists and PACs, the Globe found.
"There's no reason to believe we can't make the lives of our children and grandchildren better than ours are," he said in a speech given in Keene and at an outdoor event in Nashua with nearly 800 in attendance .
On health care, Obama said the U.S. spends twice as much per capita as Germany or France.
Rather than raising more money, he said he advocates changing the current system - focusing on prevention, managing chronic diseases and improving technology. He said reform could save up to $150 billion a year, which could be used for developing universal health care and paying out Medicare and Medicaid.
At a roundtable with a handful of invited guests at Lindy's Diner in Keene, Obama said if he were starting from scratch, he would probably propose a single payer health care system, but because of existing infrastructure, he created a proposal to improve the current system.
Obama also focused on education and the environment, saying he would invest in early childhood education, increase pay for teachers, subsidize more direct student loans, increase fuel efficiency standards and cap emissions of greenhouse gases.
On foreign policy, Obama responded to recent criticism over his comments that he would meet leaders of enemy states without preconditions. His top Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, said she would not meet with such leaders, because they could win a propaganda victory.
"I'm not worried about losing propaganda wars with dictators," he said. "As long as we know our interests, we can talk to anyone."
Obama's harshest criticism was reserved for the Bush administration which he said, "behaves as if the Constitution is a nuisance to be avoided rather than the foundation of our democracy."
He criticized the administration for leaving a "legitimate war" in Afghanistan to invade Iraq, a war Obama opposed from the outset.
If elected, Obama said he would leave Iraq, talk to Iran and Syria about stabilizing the region, restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, and fight al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In a question-and-answer session in Nashua, he said he could envision Iraq's three main ethnic groups consolidating in different geographic areas, similar to a plan proposed by presidential candidate Joe Biden, a Democratic senator from Delaware. But Obama added that such a plan could not be imposed by the U.S.
Although many voters said they were still undecided, and some questioned his lack of experience, a large number already wore Obama pins and shirts.
Veronica Bodden, 26, a stay-at-home mom from Hudson, said she respects Obama's position on lobbyists. "Ethics is a banned word over there right now, and he'll bring ethics back to the White House," she said.
"He'd like to see something done in D.C. other than business as usual," said Bill Reed, a Vietnam veteran. Reed praised Obama's work at minimizing the lobbyist influence and cutting pork in spending bills. "That's not how the U.S. is supposed to be," he said.
Alan Willard, a retired Newport businessman and undecided voter, said reforming Washington is "damn near impossible." But he said he still respects Obama's vision. "He has a quality John F. Kennedy had that he can inspire people to be better Americans."