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The Montana Standard - Obama: End the War, Pass Energy Policy and Health Care Reform

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The Montana Standard - Obama: End the War, Pass Energy Policy and Health Care Reform

By Mike Dennison

Democratic Sen. Barack Obama speaks during a press conference after attending Butte's annual Fourth of July Parade and a picnic at Montana Tech Friday. Walter Hinick / The Montana Standard

For his first task as president, Barack Obama said Friday he'll call in the nation's top military officials and "tell them we have a new mission": End the war in Iraq.

Next on the list is reforming the nation's health-care system, so everyone in the nation has basic health care and costs are reduced for families and businesses.

And, third, craft a new energy policy that "requires a shift away from the sort of wasteful energy usage of the past, and to develop alternative fuels like solar, wind and biodiesel," Obama said in an interview on his campaign bus near the Montana Tech campus.

Obama, 46, a U.S. senator from Illinois and the presumptive Democratic nominee for president this year, spent the day in Butte, taking in a Fourth of July parade and attending a picnic with hundreds of well-wishers and supporters.

But he also took time to chat with local reporters, both on his bus and on the grounds of the World Museum of Mining, standing before a small grove of aspen trees that wavered in the breeze preceding an afternoon thunderstorm.

Obama said he has a good chance of winning in Montana because people are struggling here and will respond to his message of change and reform, to stop the war in Iraq, to reduce the weight of energy prices and ensure access to public lands.

Obama has been polling strongly in several Western states where Democrats traditionally lose in presidential elections, Montana included.

Yet Republicans have signaled they certainly won't be rolling over in these states, and will go after Obama on at least one issue dear to the hearts of many Montanans: Gun ownership.

Earlier this week, the Montana Republican Party called on Obama to "clarify his muddled record on the 2nd Amendment," saying Obama has a record of supporting restrictions on gun ownership.

Obama said Friday he believes in "common-sense gun laws" allow law-abiding citizens to purchase and own firearms, including items such as background checks when buying guns.

"There is not a sportsman or hunter in Montana who is a legal possessor of firearms that has anything to worry about from me," he said.

Regarding the war in Iraq, Obama repeated his call for bringing home U.S. troops in a "careful and deliberate fashion," consulting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

On health care, he said he wants a system that regulates insurers more stiffly and helps people who can't afford health insurance acquire it. But he's not in favor of a national, single-payer system like Canada or other countries, that offer the same care for all, usually financed by taxes.

"The problem is, we've got a legacy of employer-based health care," he said. "People are accustomed to those sorts of arrangements and they're fearful about what they might have to give up in a transition to a different system." Obama said his plan works within the system we have now, offering "alternatives" to families who can't get insurance now and finding ways to lower premiums for all.

"And we've got to emphasize prevention, which is the most important thing we've got to do long-term," he added.

Obama also said his broad base of donors make him the candidate who can stand up to well-heeled special interests who have been controlling policy in the country.

The Obama campaign doesn't accept money from political action committees or from people who are federal registered lobbyists. However, it has accepted tens of millions of dollars from big individual donors connected with insurance, Wall Street investment houses, hedge funds, banks and pharmaceutical companies.

"When we have 1.7 million donors, there is no donor that we're dependent on, there is no industry that we're dependent on," he said. "I can say ‘no' to anybody because I've got a broad base of support.

"I've been able to show independence not only in the past, but will be able to show independence as president."


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