Obama, House Leaders Promise Health Care Bill By August

(CBS)
President Obama and key congressional leaders announced on Wednesday that the House of Representatives will vote on a comprehensive health care reform package before August.

"Our legislation will be on the floor by the end of July, I am quite certain," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said outside the White House.

Mr. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden had just finished meeting in the Oval Office with congressional Democratic leaders heading up health care reform, including Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Charlie Rangel, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Henry Waxman, and House Education and Labor Committee Chair Rep. George Miller.

"We've got to get it done this year," Mr. Obama said with respect to health care reform. Repeating himself for emphasis, the president said, "We've got to get it done this year. Both in the House and the Senate. We don't have any excuses. The stars are aligned."

The president played down criticisms about the cost of health care reform -- the administration has estimated the president's reform proposals would cost the federal government at least $634 billion over 10 years.

"People across the political spectrum like to throw barbs...about debt and deficits," Mr. Obama said, adding that "the most significant driver by far (of growing national debt) is ever-escalating health care costs."

Still, Mr. Obama and Pelosi acknowledged other financial strains on the federal government that cannot be ignored in the health care debate, namely social security and Medicare.

"Health care reform is entitlement reform," Pelosi said.

Officials on Tuesday said Medicare will pay out more in benefits than it collects this year and will be insolvent by 2017.

"As we learned yesterday, pressures on Medicare are growing, which only underscores the need for reform," Mr. Obama said.

The president called "affordable, accessible, high quality health care for all Americans" one of the "key pillars of a new foundation for our economy."

The president pointed to his meetings this week with business leaders and health care industry representatives as an indication of the broad support for health care reform. He said he will continue meeting in the coming weeks and months with congressional leaders on the issue.

"I'm committed to building a transparent process to get this moving," Mr. Obama said.

Representatives of the health care industry on Monday said they could curb the growth of health care costs by $2 trillion over 10 years. The president said that along with bringing down costs, any package for reform must uphold two other basic principles: "Americans have to be able to choose their own doctor and plan, (and) all Americans must have access to quality and affordable health care," he said.

Pelosi praised the president for his leadership on health care, saying that Mr. Obama has done more to promote the issue than has been done "since Medicare was established." She mistakenly said the program, which was signed into law in 1965, dates back to the 1950's.

The president also congratulated Rep. Waxman on reaching a deal on comprehensive energy reform and climate legislation. The House Energy and Commerce committee on Tuesday reached a compromise on a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The bill will seek a 17 percent reduction of emissions below 2005 levels by they year 2020.

Mr. Obama reiterated his support for a market-based cap on carbon polution, which he said will drive the "new energy economy."

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