WATKINSVILLE - A large contingent of Athens and Oconee County liberals turned out to conservative U.S. Rep. Paul Broun's town hall meeting on health care reform Tuesday morning.
The crowd of about 400 people at the town hall meeting, held at the Oconee County Civic Center, was split evenly between those who support Democratic plans for health care reform and Republicans who, like Broun, oppose it.
The Democratic turnout added a different flavor to the gathering. Broun's four previous town hall meetings during the monthlong congressional recess that ended Monday were attended almost solely by constituents who agree with him.
The event was lively but peaceful. Some audience members heckled Broun, and there was at least one brief shouting match, but there was no violence, and no one had to be removed.
"I was surprised at how civil the discussion stayed," Athens resident Duncan Elkins said.
Democrats held up green signs that said "Not true" and booed whenever Broun said something they disagreed with. Republicans gave Broun standing ovations when he made a point they liked - often at the same time.
The substance of Broun's hourlong presentation was nearly identical to previous town halls in Evans, Clarkesville, Greensboro and Madison, but he toned down his rhetoric in front of the split audience. For example, he did not slam down binders containing a copy of a Democratic reform bill like he did in front of Republican audiences.
Broun urged Democratic leaders in Congress to slow down and consider market-based Republican approaches to reform.
"Health care is too big of an issue to do quickly," he said. "We need to do it right. Barack Obama spent more time picking out puppies for his kids."
When questioned about why he did not hold a town hall meeting in his hometown of Athens, Broun insisted he wants to hear from everyone and to work with Democrats for bipartisan reform, drawing cries of outrage from partisan critics who said they do not believe he is open-minded or responsive to constituents who disagree with him.
Broun argued that health care in the United States is fine, but the way it is paid for needs to be changed. America's health care system is the best in the world, he said.
"We cannot destroy that," he said. "On the other hand, we have health care financing, which is broken."
Broun said he will introduce his own health care bill in "a week or two." Less government regulation and a free marketplace will bring down costs, he said.
The Democrats' proposal is too costly, will sacrifice jobs and leans too heavily on government bureaucrats, Broun said. It also would cover illegal immigrants and fund abortions with tax money, he said.
The bill specifically prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving benefits and would allow, but not require, the public-option plan to fund abortions as long as the money comes from premiums. Democrats argue they can control health care costs, make reform revenue-neutral and preserve jobs that employers will shed as costs continue to skyrocket.
Tuesday's town hall meeting was the final one Broun scheduled this summer. Afterward, he flew to Washington, D.C., where Congress was back in session and is expected to vote on a health care bill in October.