With a handful of protesters standing outside, U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler spoke Monday during a private luncheon at the Red Mile about President Barack Obama's proposed health insurance overhaul.
Chandler said he thinks the health insurance industry needs revamping, but he stopped short of defending the president's proposal for a publicly run insurance plan.
"There's no point in talking about it if you can't get it through the Senate," Chandler said.
He suggested that a proposal to create health insurance cooperatives is more feasible.
As a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition of Democrats, Chandler was among those on Capitol Hill who saw no reason to vote on the health care issue before the August recess.
Chandler said his goals for a health insurance overhaul are to maintain quality, cover as many people as possible and control costs.
"Our health care system is breaking," he said. "The spending we're involved in now is unsustainable."
He offered few other specifics, noting that "there is no actual bill for anybody to vote on."
However, he did take the opportunity to speak against those who say Obama's plan would create "death panels" promoting euthanasia. "It's just not true," he said. "I just don't know how I can explain it any more clearly."
Security was tight for Chandler's speech as a small group of protesters milled outside.
Seven Lexington police cars were parked in front of the Red Mile Clubhouse. Two police officers manned the area in front of the building, one stood by the registration table inside the Clubhouse, and two Lexington police officers as well as a private security officer monitored the luncheon.
Chandler has declined to hold town hall meetings on the health care issue, noting that crowds have sometimes become unruly in other similar events around the nation.
Chandler pledged to spend the August legislative recess as he spends every August — traveling the district and soliciting constituent input.
"We have a much better chance of solving our problems if people can talk ... reasonably and sensibly and calmly," Chandler said before his speech.
About the town hall phenomenon, Chandler said, "I don't guess I've seen it first-hand yet. I'll be ready for anything."
The only other Democratic member of Kentucky's congressional delegation, John Yarmuth of Louisville, has said he will hold a town hall meeting on health care in early September.
Inside the Red Mile Clubhouse on Monday, about 80 guests of a commercial realty group, the Certified Commercial Investment Member organization, dined on beef tips and garlic mashed potatoes, asked generally measured questions and gave Chandler a standing ovation at the end of his presentation.
Outside, about eight protesters opposed Obama's proposed health insurance overhaul and complained that government is already too big.
"I'm concerned about a government takeover of our private life," said Eunice Logan of Mercer County.
John Lang of Jessamine County was wearing a shirt with the words "Don't tread on me."
"I'm concerned about the government not listening to the people," he said. "They're railroading us.
Chandler's speech centered on health care and the economy, but he was particularly fiery about his vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act, commonly known as the "cap and trade bill." The measure would cap greenhouse gas emissions and allow companies that release less to sell their credits to more polluting companies.
"I thought it was the right thing to do," he said. "We've got to do something about carbon."
Chandler's critics contend he should have worked harder to defend Kentucky coal, which emits large amounts of greenhouse gases when burned.
Chandler said he thinks coal can be a "bridge fuel," but that Lexington, a sprawling city with a heavy carbon footprint, needs to develop more "green" jobs.