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Former senator, Virginia governor discusses health care, energy in tour stop
By J.R. Williams -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Former U.S. Sen. and Virginia Gov. George F. Allen urged about 30 people to support "common-sense reforms" Tuesday during a town-hall meeting sponsored by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.
Held at a Holiday Inn on Front Royal Pike (U.S. 522) outside Winchester, the visit was part of a series of similar meetings scheduled across Virginia through Thursday.
Allen, a Republican and expected contender for the party's 2012 U.S. Senate seat nomination in Virginia, was joined by Kate Obenshain, a city resident who also serves as a vice president for the Young America's Foundation.
Both discussed efforts to repeal President Obama's health care legislation, reduce government spending and encourage individual activism.
"Right now, folks, it's a different world than Ronald Reagan's world," Allen said.
"We have a government that is loading us down with dangerous levels of debt, where China owns more of our government bonds than Americans.
"We have the highest tax rates on businesses in our country. We have the most idiotic energy policies of anyone in the entire world."
Much of the discussion was devoted to the repeal of Obama's health care legislation, called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The U.S. House of Representatives began consideration of legislation to repeal the law Tuesday, and a vote is expected today.
But a repeal is uncertain at best. The measure faces a Democrat-controlled Senate and threat of presidential veto. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed it at a news conference Tuesday as not a "serious legislative effort."
Ben Marchi, an Allen supporter and Virginia director for Americans for Prosperity, acknowledged the challenges the legislation faces in opening remarks, and urged the crowd to put pressure on legislators.
"That's the number one priority of this new Congress -- to repeal Obamacare," said Marchi, who is stepping down from his post March 1. "The House is set to vote on it, and we have every reason to be optimistic about them repealing it. ... But in the Senate, it's going to be a tougher fight."
Allen promoted health savings accounts and the sale of health insurance across state lines as ways to increase competitiveness between companies and individual freedoms on coverage.
Standing next to signs reading, "Winchester says hands off my health care," Allen briefly took questions from the audience during the luncheon, which lasted for more than an hour.
Dave Stegmaier, chairman of the Frederick County Republican Committee, told Allen he was worried about lost interest in the political process.
"I"m concerned about if there isn't an effort to involve the American people ... and keeping them strongly engaged in having their representatives do the work that we want done, that things are going to fall back," Stegmaier said.
Allen responded by saying elected officials have responsibility to "keep their promises."
"It's absolutely essential that this new majority in the House repeal Obamacare ... because this is clearly one of the things that people care about," he said.
Kim Nemec, a local resident who learned about the meeting through an automated call to her home, said she came to get more involved.
"The health care debate is the issue," she said. "I'm not a fan of the government standing in the way of me and my physician."
Marchi said after the meeting that the town halls will bolster his group's roster of supporters, and that the organization would lobby them to contact legislators.
"That's the charge for all of us -- to remain active, to remain vigilant, and to hold these guys accountable," he told the crowd.
Meetings were scheduled Tuesday in Leesburg, Winchester, Harrisonburg and Culpeper, with seven others scheduled across the state today and Thursday.