CANTERBURY — While two of his Democratic rivals argue over how they'd negotiate with hostile countries, presidential hopeful John Edwards is focused on hostile insurance and drug companies.
The former North Carolina senator told hundreds of supporters in a sunny back yard Sunday that he disagrees with other candidates who believe the best way to overhaul the health care system is to negotiate with insurers and pharmaceutical companies. Those groups will not give up their power voluntarily, he said.
"I've been fighting these people my whole life and have beaten them my whole life," said Edwards, a former trial lawyer. "I think the time to talk to them is after you've beaten them."
Edwards has proposed requiring employers to provide insurance or contribute to the coverage of every worker. The government would pay for insurance for lower income people and subsidize what other families pay. He also would cap the amount insurance companies can charge for profit or overhead at 15 percent and would pay for the $90 to $120 billion a year plan by repealing President Bush's tax cuts for people who make more than $200,000 a year.
"When are we going to express our outrage about this stuff? How long are we going to be nice?" he shouted later in Hooksett. "We're past that. We've got to stand up and fight these people."
That line brought his audience of builders, telephone line workers and other union members to their feet, though the crowd was less happy with his refusal to commit to appointing a union member as Secretary of Labor as other candidates have promised to do if elected.
"I can't tell you what you want to hear on that," he said.
He added that the list of possible candidates he's been working on includes some union members.
On health care, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee responded that Edwards, the former lawyer, is part of the problem.
"Americans are losing access to health care because of the 'out-of-control legal system' and frivolous lawsuits, like those that helped John Edwards make his fortune," said Amber Wilkerson. "Now Edwards wants to raise taxes for working families and allow big government in Washington to take over our health care system from patients and their health care providers."
Her comments echoed those of Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, who have been criticizing Edwards for proposing a hike in capital gains taxes for people who make more than $250,000 a year.
"Along comes Romney and Giuliani attacking me — what a surprise," Edwards said Sunday in Londonderry. "The best I can tell, Romney and Giuliani — they're George Bush on steroids. They want to give us four more years of George Bush. Lord knows this country can't take four more years of George Bush."
While he was quick to criticize Republicans, Edwards said Democrats should be focused on improving the country, not fighting with each other — a reference to the recent tiff between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.
Clinton and Obama have been picking on each other about whether they would meet with United States' enemies without preconditions. Clinton — like Edwards — said she would not; Obama said he would.
"When we're in this battle for change ... the last thing we need is two Democratic candidates fighting with each other instead of fighting for change," he said.
After a long day of campaigning in the heat, Edwards grew a bit frustrated at the last of his five stops, impatiently interrupting a voter in Windham whose rambling comments about reverse mortgages and the 2004 election showed no signs of heading toward a question.
"That's enough. No, you stop. You've talked enough," he said as the man continued to speak. "Are you going to give me a chance to respond or are you just going to give a speech? Why don't you sit down and let me respond."
The exchange ended amicably however, and the two shook hands and smiled.