Despite the dim prospects of getting a bill from Congress in the next couple of weeks, President Barack Obama defended his insistence on an August deadline for health care legislation, saying there is no time to waste because the American people need relief now.
"If you don't set deadlines in this town, things don't happen," the president said in a prime time press conference tonight.
However, he hedged his bet on the deadline by noting that if the bill Congress produces is not a good one by his standard, then he will not sign it.
"I won't sign a bill that doesn't reduce health care inflation so that families, as well as government, are saving money," he said. "I'm not going to sign a bill that I don't think will work."
Obama also said he would reject any legislation that is "primarily funded through taxing middle class families."
But Obama continued to push both the House and Senate to pass health care reform bills before they break for their August recess and urge lawmakers, especially Republicans, to move beyond the "game of politics."
"This debate is not a game for these Americans [affected by problems with the current system], and they cannot afford to wait for reform any longer," Obama said in the East Room of the White House. "They are counting on us to get this done. They are looking to us for leadership. And we must not let them down."
Obama used the presidential bully pulpit to project his talking points on health care reform and, at times, reverted to the professorial tone that marked the press conferences early in his presidency. In the nearly hour-long press conference, Obama only called on 10 reporters and delivered a seven-minute answer to one question.
Obama reiterated that health care reform is tied to improving the nation's struggling economy and said several times that he inherited a massive deficit from the Bush administration.
"If we do not control these costs, we will not be able to control our deficit," he said. "If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket. If we do not act, 14,000 Americans will continue to lose their health insurance every single day. These are the consequences of inaction. These are the stakes of the debate we're having right now."
Obama also reasserted his pledge to not let health care reform increase the nation's deficit.
"I have also pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our deficit over the next decade -- and I mean it," he said.
Obama commited to getting legislation finished this year.
"We will pass reform that lowers cost, promotes choice and provides coverage that every American can count on, and we will do it this year," he said.
Obama heads to Ohio Thursday for a tour of the Cleveland Clinic, which he cited tonight as "a role model for some of the kind of changes that we want to see."
"They've set up a system where patient care is the number-one concern, not bureaucracy, what forms have to be filled out, what do we get reimbursed for," the president said. "Those are changes that I think the American people want to see."
The president will also hold a town hall event on health care at a high school in the Cleveland suburbs.
Obama defended the stimulus plan, which has been criticized for not doing enough to create jobs quickly and being too costly.