Obama visits Sycamore

By Justin Gallagher

Following a few brief remarks, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama opened the floor to more than 350 attendees at Saturday’s town hall meeting – his 21st since his election.

The audience did not focus on one topic and the discussion touched on several issues.

With the renewal of the Patriot Act on the horizon, a number of residents expressed concern about its applications.

There are tools in the act that do not aid the war on terror, Obama said, such as eliminating judicial oversight in obtaining phone wiretaps. The act does, however, provide law enforcement with some valuable tools.

For this reason, Obama said he is co-sponsoring the Safe Act, a bill that preserves the utility of the Patriot Act while leaving out its questionable aspects.

The Patriot Act passed quickly after Sept. 11, 2001, which was the primary reason for its flaws, Obama said. Now lawmakers have a more accommodating environment to deliberate in.

Moving to the country’s fiscal situation, Obama said the Bush administration is trying to do too much at once.

The Democrat repeated three times over, “You can’t have a free lunch.”

Taxpayers cannot support a war, pay for an expensive prescription drug program, expect to build roads, provide scholarships to college-bound students and receive tax cuts, he said.

“We’ve basically taken out a credit card on our kids,” he said.

Commenting further on fiscal stability, the senator discussed Social Security.

“The more you hear about it, it seems the less people like it,” he said with regard to the president’s plan.

The program, in the short run or long run, is not facing bankruptcy, he said. The problem is once the baby boomer generation retires, the program will support only 75 percent of the benefits citizens are entitled to.

Obama said the president’s plan is flawed and that there are many methods of fixing the problem.

As 4 percent of income would be earmarked for private accounts, there would then be a shortage of funding for current retirees, leading to trillions of dollars in transitional costs, Obama said.

The Medicare program is where the real problem lies, he said. During the same time Social Security could realize a $4 trillion debt, Medicare would accumulate a $28 trillion debt.

Funding to Medicare will be cut as per the federal budget, and this will serve to compound rising healthcare costs, he said.

Healthcare workers are on the front lines of the clash over health-care funding.

Beyond high malpractice insurance costs, the lack of sufficient funding is causing doctors, especially obstetricians, to leave because their pay is not arriving in a timely manner, said Gloria Dennison, a nurse from Kishwaukee Community Hospital. Come July 1, the hospital will have only two obstetricians to deliver 800 babies.

Overall, audience reaction was positive, with sporadic clapping and cheers. Members of both major parties were in attendance.

Jane Ovitz, a Sycamore resident, said she liked the diverse crowd and felt they were interested in Obama’s concerns as he was with theirs.

Rita Root, a pastor at the United Church of Christ, 612 W. State St., said “What impressed me most is he holds liberal viewpoints and doesn’t apologize for them.”

Root is upset by how conservative Christians are dominating moral issues discussions, saying they are not wholly representative of Christians.

“As long as people like Obama are in the party, we have a chance to take back the discussion,” she said.

Brian Cain, a senior anthropology major and part of the small student attendance, was generally pleased with the discussion, but would have liked more dialogue on education.

He said he likes that Obama was not afraid to label America as a culture of anti-intellectualism where people brag about not reading.