President Barack Obama fought back against critics of his drive to remake US healthcare, but stopped well short of agreeing with top allies that outspoken foes of the plan were "un-American."
"We are having a vigorous debate in the United States and I think that's a healthy thing," Obama said as he attended his first North American summit in Guadalajara, Mexico, while US lawmakers were on a month-long August break.
"I suspect that once we get into the fall and people look at the actual legislation that's being proposed, that more sensible and reasoned arguments will emerge, and we're going to get this passed."
Obama was scheduled to travel to Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Tuesday for what could be a rowdy "town hall"-style meeting at a time when some foes of his healthcare overhaul have shouted down lawmakers holding similar events around the country.
The president's Democratic allies in Congress have alleged those boisterous displays are part of an orchestrated campaign of disinformation and intimidation aimed at cowing lawmakers out of backing his ambitious plan.
"Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American. Drowning out the facts is how we failed at this task for decades," Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wrote in USA Today.
Asked whether Obama agreed, White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters aboard the Air Force One presidential airplane that "there's actually a pretty long tradition of people shouting at politicians in America."
But "if you just want to come to a town hall so that you can disrupt and so that you can scream over another person, he doesn't think that that's productive," Burton said as Obama headed back to Washington.
"And as a country, we've been able to make progress when people actually talk out what our problems are, not try to shout each other down."
Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner denounced Pelosi and Hoyer's comments, saying: "To label Americans who are expressing vocal opposition to the Democrats' plan 'un-American' is outrageous and reprehensible."
On another front, the White House took aim at "rumors and scare tactics" aimed at derailing Obama's healthcare reform plan, unleashing a battle-tested strategy adapted from his 2008 White House run.
Obama unveiled a new Internet site, www.whitehouse.gov/RealityCheck, inspired by his campaign's fightthesmears.com site, which countered rumors like the debunked but persistent claim that he was not born in the United States.
In an email message to supporters, senior White House adviser David Axelrod trumpeted the new site's "information and a number of online tools you can use to spread the truth among your family, friends and other social networks."
The website allows users to email videos and fact sheets, receive updates via social media like the Twitter micro-blogging site and Facebook, and tell the White House "what myths we should address next."
"Given a lot of the outrageous claims floating around, it's time to make sure everyone knows the facts about the security and stability you get with health insurance reform," said Axelrod.
In one video, Obama domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes took aim at claims that the sweeping overhaul includes a plan to drive the elderly into forced euthanasia.
The video includes remarks by Republican Representative Virginia Foxx that the Democratic plan could "put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government" -- a charge frequently echoed among foes of the legislation.
From behind the desk of her West Wing office, Barnes directed viewers to the relevant section of the bill, saying it would allow people to get advice on such issues as "living wills," and underlines there is "nothing mandatory."
Source: AFP Global Edition