The debate in the United States over health care reform is growing more heated, and President Barack Obama is making an all-out effort to cool the rhetoric and save his legislative priority.  Mr. Obama is taking his case directly to the public.

The debate, in some cases, has turned ugly.

Members of Congress are hearing strong opinions in community meetings with angry constituents.  

At one such meeting on Tuesday morning in Pennsylvania, Senator Arlen Spector - a Republican, recently-turned-Democrat - came face-to-face with a screaming protester.   As a security guard stood nearby, the man raged at the senator.

"I am not a lobbyist with all kinds of money to stuff in your pocket, so that you can cheat the citizens of this country.  So I'll leave and you do whatever the hell you please to do," said the protester.

The scene was more sedate a few hours later when President Obama took questions from the citizens of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

There were no protesters at this town meeting and no hecklers.  But Mr.Obama used the opportunity to comment on the tone of the national debate.

"There has been a long and vigorous debate about this.  And that is how it should be.  That is what America is about, is we have a vigorous debate. That is why we have a democracy.  But I do hope that we will talk with each other and not over each other," he said.

The president said health care reform deserves serious consideration.  He said a lot of misinformation is being spread by critics of reform, adding that it is necessary to clear the air.

"Where we do disagree, let's disagree over things that are real, not these wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that has actually been proposed," he added.

Mr. Obama sought to dispel the notion that he wants the federal government to control all health care, or that he plans to radically cut the government program that already subsidizes medical care for the elderly.

He said opponents of health care reform are spreading such rumors in an effort to scare the American public.

"For all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary, what is truly risky is if we do nothing!" He said.

The Obama administration is fighting back with a series of presidential events this week on health care, starting with the community meeting in New Hampshire.  At the same time, it is bolstering the White House Internet site to respond directly to questions and concerns about the reform process.