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Obama asks faith leaders to push reform

From NBC's Athena Jones
President Obama called on religious leaders to help pass a health-care overhaul, by knocking on doors and sharing the truth about the plan's proposals to counter those who have been "bearing false witness."

He made the push during brief remarks on a conference call Wednesday with faith leaders to discuss what he calls a moral obligation to revamp the health-care system to ensure that no one in America is denied basic health care, because they lack insurance or cannot afford the exorbitant fees sometime charged by insurers.

"I know we've got thousands of people on this call from many different denominations of faith," Obama said, "but the one thing that you all share is a moral conviction. You know this debate over health care goes to the heart of who we are as a people."

Negotiations on health-care legislation in Congress stalled in the days leading up to the August recess. Since then, the administration has struggled to get its health-care message out to the American people in the face of inaccurate information about what an overhaul would do. Today, the president sought to fight what he called "deceptive attacks" and "ludicrous ideas" that have been spread by opponents of health care revamp.

"I know there's been a lot of misinformation in this debate and there are some folks out there who are frankly bearing false witness," he said.

Obama called the notion that his proposed changes to the health care system would lead to so-called death panels "just an extraordinary lie," said the idea that they would require federal funding for abortions or provide insurance for illegal aliens was not true and told callers the plan would not amount to a government takeover of health care or to cutting Medicare benefits for the elderly.

"These are fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation and that is that we look out for one another," he said. "That I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper and in the wealthiest nation on Earth right now, we are neglecting to live up to that call."

Before the president joined the call, White House Director of Domestic Policy Melody Barnes answered questions from clergy from around the country. Barnes assured one caller, a Catholic nurse from Pennsylvania, that the president's health-care plan would not change a "long-standing policy" that states that federal funds will not be used to fund abortion and said the president was "still committed to" a public option but was also open to other ideas that would increase choice and competition.

Also on the call was Derrick Harkins, the pastor of Washington, D.C.'s 19th Street Baptist Church -- a church the Obama family visited before the Inauguration in January. Harkins asked all the participants on the call to visit a Web site -- www.faithforhealth.org -- and promise to fight for reform and to encourage their friends and family to do the same. The Web site allows you to click a link that reads "40 minutes for health reform".

"Pledge to do all you can in support of health reform over the next 40 days," said Harkins, a reference to a number appears frequently in the Bible. (It rained for 40 days and 40 nights during the Great Flood and the Israelites spent 40 days in the wilderness, etc.)

Even before the conference call was over, the Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele released a statement in response -- with some of those myths included:

"President Obama was hoping to be on offense during the month of August to travel the country and put on the hard sell for government-run health care," the statement read. "Instead, President Obama is frantically struggling to shore up his base. The religious left talks about their desire for 'social justice.' No bill that funds abortion or strips health care services away from seniors and low-income Americans can or should be considered just, and that is precisely what the president's plan does."