A few hours before President Barack Obama flew into town for a speech in St. Charles Wednesday, more than 2,200 people gathered at the St. Charles Convention Center to rally against the president’s healthcare plan.
State and federal legislators railed against Obama’s plan, saying it will bankrupt government and the healthcare system and would ration medical treatment while endangering personal freedoms. Speakers were loudly cheered by a crowd that packed the convention center room.
Obama was scheduled to speak around 4 p.m. Wednesday across town at St. Charles High School. The focus of his speech is healthcare reform.
The convention center meeting, arranged by U.S. Rep. Todd Akin’s office, was billed as a town hall meeting. It featured state leaders spoke on how healthcare reform would affect Missourians. U.S. Congressional leaders appeared by videoconference and blasted the federal bill.
State leaders, including Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, state Sen. Scott Rupp R-2nd District, and state Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-19th District, spoke at the event. U.S. Congressional leaders spoke via videoconference from Washington, D.C.
Akin compared Obama’s healthcare bill to remodeling the kitchen when all that’s needed is to fix a leaky faucet. He said the plan could bankrupt America and the healthcare system.
"It is a clear and present danger to America," Akin said. He said the move is unconstitutional.
Obama and proponents say the healthcare reform is necessary to keep premiums from spiraling. Republicans say the plan, which would require coverage of millions more Americans, puts undue burdens on insurance companies and small businesses.
Rhetoric on both sides has been fiery and emotional, and Wednesday’s rally was no exception.
Akin unfavorably compared Canada and England’s socialized healthcare systems to the free market system in the United States, noting that U.S. Citizens have higher cancer survival rates.
Kinder said an unfunded mandate in the federal bill would require the state to spend more than $6.5 billion on healthcare while Missouri already is making cuts to balance its budget.
State Sen. Scott Rupp, a Republican who represents parts of St. Charles County, told the crowd the bill would use taxpayer funding to pay for abortions. Proponents of the healthcare plan have said that’s not true.
Rupp said Missourians had to choose to stand up for freedom.
"There is no more important issue than to protect the rights of the unborn," Rupp said.
Davis, who is running against Rupp in the Republican primary for state senate, compared the federal government to a bully she faced in the seventh grade. She said her mother told her the only way to stop a bully is to stand up to him.
"That’s what we need to do to the federal government," she said.
Davis and state Sen. Jane Cunningham also discussed the state’s Health Care Freedom Act, a bill that seeks to prevent any business or individual from being forced to participate in health care system.
Visitors ranged from businessmen to Tea Party protesters to parents with kids in tow. A handful of people protested outside the convention center on Veterans Memorial Parkway.
After the meeting, Charles Rogge of St. Charles sat on a bench outside the convention center, his walker within reach.
"This gives us hope," said Rogge, talking about the conference. He said he had hip replacement surgery three months ago and needs his other hip replaced, too.
"I’m worried that if I have this done four to six years down the road, I might be on a long waiting list to get it done," Rogge said.
Others were concerned about the government controlling more of their lives.
"I believe it’s a power grab," said Janet Allquist, president of the K & N Patriots, a Tea Party group that meets on Saturdays at the intersection of highways K and N. "We’re trying to bring to people’s attention that this would bring one-sixth of the American economy under federal government control."
Before the event, a small fife and drum corps played along the sidewalk outside the convention center while a handful of protesters held up signs reading "Say no to socialism," and "Under Obamacare, I’d be dead."
"We’re out here to remind our country that our early founders gave their lives for freedom at a time when we would give up our freedom for healthcare," said 16-year-old flute player Peter Bringe of St. Charles County. His mother, Lida Bringe, held up a yellow flag with a snake and the Revolutionary War slogan "Don’t Tread On Me."
Sandy Garber said the Tea Party groups are not angry but determined. She said one goal will be to return Congress to Republican control.
"My husband was in the Vietnam War, and he did not fight for socialism," Garber said. "We will not tire and we will not fail."