U.S. President Barack Obama waded into the public war of words over his administration's proposed health-care reforms Tuesday, saying the plan's opponents are deliberately trying to "scare the heck" out of people.
During a town hall-style appearance before 1,800 people in New Hampshire, Obama rejected the "wild misrepresentations" of his plan by special interests aiming to block legislation in Congress by creating "boogeymen out there that just aren't real."
He also ridiculed stories swirling around the health-care town hall events, such as rumours the government would set up "death panels" that would decide who lives and who dies, or that the White House was creating an "enemies list" using email addresses of people who oppose reform.
Raucous and sometimes violent clashes have some Democrats accusing Republicans and health industry lobbyists of using fear and lies to try to kill the White House plan.
Opponents of Obama's plan, however, insist the country can't afford to provide health care to the 47 million Americans currently living without it.
Obama said he welcomed a "vigorous" debate over the plan, but encouraged people to talk "with each other and not over each other."
"Where we do disagree, let's disagree over things that are real, not these wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that's actually been proposed," Obama said to applause.
The president, who appeared to pick people at random from the crowd to ask questions, ticked off his list of all that health-care reform won't do, saying it won't dictate which doctors a patient can see or cut benefits to seniors already on government-run medicare.
Obama insisted democracy will determine whether reform to the health-care system happens. He also reiterated his determination that the plan — with a projected cost of $1 trillion over 10 years — be paid for without adding to the soaring U.S. deficit.
He added the real danger lies in failing to address the rising cost of health care that is contributing to the deficit already.
"What is truly scary, what is truly risky, is to do nothing," he said.
Unlike Obama's town hall event, Democratic senators Arlen Specter and Claire McCaskill faced hostile crowds at similar meetings in their home states of Pennsylvania and Missouri.
At the Pennsylvania forum, one woman, nearly shaking in anger, stood directly in front of Specter and said the reform bill "is about the systematic dismantling of our country."
The U.S. Congress has delayed plans to vote on the proposed health-care reform legislation until after the August break.