Facing more heated questions, Specter tries humor

Sen. Arlen Specter, facing more jeers and taunts during another town hall meeting Wednesday, sought to defuse tensions about health care reform debate with a few jokes.

Discussing people who had also come to Tuesday’s forum in Lewisburg, Specter said, “I consider it a compliment that you want to come back.” At one point, he even jokingly booed himself as a way of poking fun at the reaction he has been getting.

Specter, who once finished second in a Washington celebrity stand-up comedy contest, told reporters afterward the change in disposition was intentional.

“I was able to find a few lighter moments … to ease up on some of the pressure,” he said. “I don’t want to overdo it. I don’t want to make that anything is funny or trivial.”

More than 400 people packed into a Penn State University ballroom Wednesday morning, with hundreds more outside after being turned away from the filled-to-capacity room. As in previous stops, opponents occasionally drowned out the Republican-turned-Democrat.

Earlier Wednesday, Specter said on CBS’ “The Early Show” that he thinks people who have been angrily disrupting town hall meetings across the nation are “not necessarily representative of America,” but should be heard.

“Traditionally people who come to town meetings have objections,” Specter said after the State College event. “They may not be representative of America, but they are significant, and their views have to be taken into account.”

The bitter sessions underscored the challenge for President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats as they try to win over an increasingly skeptical public on the far-reaching task of revamping the nation’s health care system that could costs billions of dollars.

“What’s up with all this? This is socialism,” said Randy Hook, 50, of Hopewell, being cheered on by some attendees. “What about the money and speed of all this? If this is for the people what’s the big hurry.”

After looking Hook in the eye, Specter walked away and answered, “We’re slowing down. We’re taking our time to do it right.”

Among the most common questions was whether the senator would sign up for a single-payer option if passed by Congress in health care legislation. Specter said he thinks a single-payer option ought to be on the table, but has little support in Congress.

Some critics praised Specter for having courage to face detractors, while others derided him or his Democratic colleagues as arrogant, and being out of touch with Americans.

“If a bill is proposed that I think is unwise, I will vote against it,” Specter said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.