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Biden Talks Up Health Reform With Montgomery Seniors

Vice President Joseph Biden arrived late to a meeting with more than t200 seniors in Silver Spring Wednesday and asked them to sign a note to his 92-year-old mother so she wouldn't scold him for his tardiness.

Biden came to Leisure World, a patch of deep blue in Democratic-leaning Maryland, with a pair of sharply defined goals in the health reform debate: to charm -- and to rally. He seemed to accomplish the first. The jury's out on the second.

He pointed to the dents opponents have put in public opinion on the Administration's reform plans, acknowledging that that was why he was enjoying a leisurely morning (which ran into the afternoon) at a retirement community in Montgomery County.


"I'll be really blunt with you," Biden said. "The polling data shows that the people who enjoy the best run government program, in Medicare, are the most skeptical about this because of all the things that were said about how we're going to undo the Medicare program. The usual overwhelming allies for health care reform historically have been seniors."

Biden's stop in Maryland followed a similar trip last week by President Obama, who came to see students at the University of Maryland. Obama sought to jazz up young people, who would be saddled with skyrocketing costs, and Biden took the elderly, who are living the challenges now. "It's a great strategy," said Montgomery Council member Valerie Ervin (D-District 5). Biden "sensed he was among people who loved him," Ervin said.

Biden, 66, kept it folksy. He described fumbling through helping his mom prepare her twice-daily regimen of seven prescriptions. In talking up the Administration's support for ditching co-pays for preventative procedures for seniors, he confided to the guys in the audience that he's been dodging his own colonoscopy. You should pay him for that, he said

But he returned often to his main rhetorical thrust: Who are you going to trust on Medicare, the Democrats he credited with fighting for it for decades, or the Republicans he accused of being content to see it wither? He faced polite questions from the left (How about just putting the tens of millions of the uninsured in Medicare?) without any of the heat, hostility or counterpunches seen elsewhere from the right.

"Politics is the art of the possible. What we have to do is figure out how we can insure more people, do it in a cost effective way that doesn't break the bank, break the budget, and do it in a way that, in fact, can get 51 percent of the members of the Congress to vote for it," Biden said.

Lillie Campbell's cell phone rang in the middle of the session, but she didn't know how to turn it off. (Her daughter, a congressional staffer who had pushed her get the phone to begin with, was calling to check up on her.) Biden told her he can't find his glasses on his head sometimes.


Biden sat down beside Campbell, 84, to listen as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius offered some details on part of the plan. (Sebelius also announced another parry in the PR fight over health care, pointing seniors to a document the administration released Wednesday on reform and Medicare. Republican plans are here.)

Campbell thought Biden was great. But she doubts her Leisure World neighbors will heed his call to get behind the reform effort.

"I don't think a lot of the people will come out. Either they don't understand or they just don't care," Campbell said. "They complain about Medicare, they complain about everything, all the time, but they don't do anything to try to help--you know, talk to each other to find out what's going on. Nobody's taking Medicare away, and they're not killing grandma. I'm a grandma! It's sad."


In an interview, U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said she thinks reform proponents made mistakes. "I felt we could have handled the information dissemination better," she said. But she said straight talk now will help push reforms through.

Mikulski talks about closing the "donut hole" as a carrot for seniors here:

She discusses trying to get Republican votes here:

Biden also described how his family's own health care costs have totaled millions of dollars. "I understand the consumption side," he said. Listen here:

By Michael Laris  |  September 23, 2009; 6:10 PM ET
Categories:  Michael Laris , Montgomery County  
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