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Foster's Daily Democrat - Obama Explains Stance on Health Care, Talks International Expertise

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Location: Dover, NH

Foster's Daily Democrat - Obama Explains Stance on Health Care, Talks International Expertise


DOVER — Barack Obama says if he's elected president, the nation's health care business would be beamed into households.

Speaking about his plan for universal care — which he insisted is virtually the same as two of his rivals in the race for the Democratic nomination — the Illinois senator said he'd get different groups to agree on a plan in front of television cameras.

The process would be much different from the approach rival New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton took in 1993, he said, when "they decided to go behind closed doors ... and not let anybody in the room."

"We will have a long meeting" of doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, employers, workers, patient advocates and, without letting them monopolize things, insurance and drug companies, Obama said Tuesday, during an editorial board meeting with Foster's Daily Democrat. "It may last a month. It may last two months. It will be on C-SPAN."

Televising the meeting will empower the public, making it harder for special interests to operate, he said.

Though Obama's plan doesn't mandate Americans get health insurance, he said it's "pretty much" the same as plans put forth by Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. Their mandates are toothless as long as they don't say how they're going to enforce the mandate, he added.

Obama reiterated he'd consider other options, including a mandate, if there are "still a bunch of malingerers out there" avoiding getting coverage.

Obama said his plan would allow people to stay with private coverage, or go with a government plan that would be as good as what's offered to Congress. He said prevention and wellness, not just treating disease, would be emphasized, while technology would be enhanced to improve quality and cut costs. It is a move he said would free up $150 billion a year to subsidize care for people who don't have insurance.

Much of the meeting centered on foreign affairs, an area in which Obama's critics have said he lacks expertise. The United States' standing in the world drove some of the conversation, giving Obama a chance to highlight what he sees as one of his strongest attributes in the campaign.

"The day I am inaugurated I believe ... the world will look at America differently," he said, "and I think the next president has to engage in a level of personal diplomacy that is unmatched in recent history in order to repair the damage that has been done by the Bush administration."

Obama said America needs a foreign policy that's not solely centered on military power.

"I think I can be a more effective messenger than any other candidate in promoting renewed respect for America, understanding between our country and other countries and mobilizing and galvanizing the international community to deal with some of these international threats," he said.

"Nobody's rooting more for success in Iraq than me," he said. "I intend to be the next president of the United States and I would love for it all to be settled and wrapped up in a nice pretty bow by the time I am sworn in, because we have a lot of other problems to deal with and we're going to need to free up that ten to twelve billion dollars that we're spending every month."

Obama has pledged to remove troops from Iraq within 16 months, but he'd keep a force to protect the U.S. embassy and make targeted strikes against terrorists. He would not say how large that force would because he does not know what the situation will be.

"If we see a serious effort by the Iraqi leadership to arrive at an agreement and an accommodation and you've seen continued reductions of violence, then you need one level of troop protection for the embassy," he said. "If things have gone to hell in a hand basket then you need another ... It's not my job to specify troop levels. My job is to tell our commanders on the ground, 'Here's your mission. Protect our embassy, protect our diplomats and our humanitarian workers in the area and make sure al Qaeda in Iraq, or other terrorist organizations inside of Iraq are not re-establishing bases there.'"

He added: "What I can say unequivocally is the war as we understand it will be over. We will not have permanent bases inside Iraq. The occupation will be done."

Asked how Iraqis or the international community keep Iran and other states from interfering with Iraq, Obama said that's out of U.S. hands.

"The notion that somehow we can prevent Iran from having influence in Iraq when we installed a government whose leadership was trained in Iran, and has direct relationships with Iran, is contradictory," he said. "What we have to do is negotiate a settlement that recognizes the interests of the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds. We have to recognize that Iran is going to be a player in the region ... It's legitimate for them to want to have influence in the region. What is illegitimate is for them to build a nuclear weapon that could trigger a nuclear arms race... them funding Hamas and Hezbollah ... them threatening Israel and its right to exist, but they were engaging in that rhetoric before Iraq."

Iran supplying improvised explosive devices and other weapons to anti-U.S. militias is the one area directly related to the war in Iraq, he said.

Obama said it's critical the U.S. talk directly to Iran "around those areas of behavior" that damage American interests and destabilizes the Middle East.

While there need to be "clear red lines" for the country to abide by, the U.S. should not be afraid to offer incentives, including membership to the World Trade Organization, normal diplomatic relations and an end to decades-old sanctions, he said.

"If we have a conversation directly with Iran, and they reject and rebuff those offers we will have still sent a message to the Iranian people that we are willing to listen, which can strengthen the moderates inside Iran and weaken (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad," he said. "It's a lot harder then to demonize us if we have come to the table in good faith."

Asked how he'd respond to an event on the scale of the 9/11 attacks, Obama took a strong, but global stance.

"You find out who did it and you strike and retaliate and take them out," he said. "You make sure you have the homeland capacity to care for the people who have been injured, and you, I think, once again try to recapture the world community's attention and mobilize the world's sympathies around rooting out terrorism once and for all."

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