Political Notebook

Obama pitches health care overhaul to skeptical seniors

President Obama held a town hall meeting yesterday at the Holiday Park Multipurpose Senior Center in Wheaton, Md. President Obama held a town hall meeting yesterday at the Holiday Park Multipurpose Senior Center in Wheaton, Md. (Larry Downing/Reuters)
June 9, 2010

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WHEATON, Md. — President Obama sought to sell the health overhaul law yesterday to skeptical seniors, launching a defense of his presidency’s biggest accomplishment as the election season gets under way and the Gulf oil spill dominates news.

The questions Obama got from a crowd at a senior center in suburban Maryland, and from others listening on the phone, suggested that plenty of doubts remain even now that the rancorous health care debate has faded from the headlines.

With crucial midterm elections looming, the administration is determined to put the law’s benefits front and center as they are enacted, in hopes of winning over public opinion for the new system and generating confidence in leadership by Obama and his Democratic allies controlling Congress.

Yesterday’s event was timed to coincide with the release later this week of the first batch of $250 checks to seniors who fall into Medicare’s prescription drug coverage gap, known as the “doughnut hole.’’ Some 4 million elderly and disabled people will get checks this year, a down payment on the law’s approach to closing the gap over the next decade.

The first question came from a woman in the audience: Why can’t he close the doughnut hole faster?

Obama’s answer: “It’s very expensive.’’

The next question was from a listener in Illinois who wanted to know whether participants in the private insurance plans in Medicare, called Medicare Advantage, would lose benefits.

The answer is yes, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But Obama didn’t come out and say it, explaining instead that Medicare Advantage plans are overpaid and subsidized by the majority of seniors who are on regular Medicare, something that’s also true.

“What you need to know is that the guaranteed Medicare benefits that you’ve earned will not change,’’ the president said.

The Medicare rebate checks will be the first tangible benefits most recipients will be seeing from the law Obama signed in March, and the first batch of 80,000 is supposed to go out tomorrow.

—Associated Press

Romney’s childhood home demolished in Detroit
DETROIT — A former childhood home of 2008 Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was demolished yesterday as part of Detroit’s plan to wipe out thousands of dangerous and blighted houses from city neighborhoods.

It took an excavator only about an hour to knock down the walls and cave in the roof of the 5,500-square-foot house where Romney’s family lived from 1941 to 1953 — years before his father, George, was elected Michigan’s governor.

Unlike thousands of other vacant houses in the city, the structure at 1860 Balmoral in Detroit’s exclusive Palmer Woods area wasn’t open to trespass, neighbors said as it crashed and crumbled to the ground.

The house on Balmoral is in an area of Detroit where there are few vacancies.

“Blight is like a disease and will spread if not addressed,’’ Mayor Dave Bing said in an e-mailed statement.

Wayne County seized the house from its current owners in court in 2009, declaring it a nuisance.

—Associated Press

Stage set for left vs. right in Maine race
AUGUSTA, Maine — Tea Party movement favorite Paul LePage surprised even himself with a commanding win of the Republican primary for governor yesterday, while state Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell emerged as the Democratic nominee, setting the stage for a general election featuring a limited-government conservative and a liberal state house insider.

LePage, 61, the Waterville mayor, called his victory with more than one-third of the vote “absolutely overwhelming.’’

“It says that Maine people are not only angry but they want a fiscal conservative to go to Augusta to reduce spending, reduce taxes, and get some common-sense regulations back in Augusta and get out of the way and let us earn a living,’’ he said.

Mitchell, 69, an attorney, is the first woman in America to serve as both state Senate president and state House speaker. The former teacher served 12 terms in the Legislature and for seven years on the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.

She told supporters her win “speaks to the politics of hope and not fear, to the politics of bringing people together, not to the politics of division.’’

—Associated Press