Bear hugs and Medicare for Obama in Florida

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- President Obama spent much of the second day of his Florida bus trip talking about government healthcare for senior citizens as he campaigned in critical precincts of the state.

But his policy critique may have been overshadowed, at least locally, by something rare: an exuberant embrace from a supporter at a pizza joint in Fort Pierce.

Obama stopped by the Big Apple Pizza and Pasta Restaurant to see owner Scott Van Duzer, who runs an awareness campaign promoting blood donation out of his shop. One other striking thing about him: He stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 260 pounds.

“Everybody, look at these guns!” Obama said as he walked in, pointing to Van Duzer’s arms.


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The two men laughed and embraced – and then Van Duzer lifted the president about a foot in the air, according to a pool report filed by a White House correspondent in the room.

“Man, are you a powerlifter, or what?” Obama said, when returned to solid ground.

In fact, Van Duzer told the pool reporter, Politico’s Reid Epstein, that he can bench-press 350 pounds.

“I don’t vote party line; I vote who I feel comfortable with,” Van Duzer said. “And I do feel extremely comfortable with him.”

The picture of the two — for the record, Obama looked delighted — may have gotten the attention, but Obama was also pressing a serious argument in Florida, promising to fight any efforts to privatize Medicare.

His Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, has signed on to a plan that would give future seniors the option to receive fixed payments that they can use to purchase an insurance plan. Obama calls that a “voucher” program and argues it would end up shifting the rising healthcare costs onto seniors.

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“I want you to know, Florida, I will never turn Medicare into a voucher program,” Obama told a crowd in Melbourne.

“Their voucher plan for Medicare would bankrupt Medicare,” he said. “Our plan strengthens Medicare.”

A Romney spokesman called the statements a “false attack” and a “sign of desperation,” noting that Obama’s healthcare reform cut Medicare costs by $716 billion over the next 10 years. But those cuts were to reimbursements to hospitals and insurers, not to benefits, and were included in a budget plan put forth by Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin.

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