Obama, Dems set deadlines for health reform

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Saying the “stars are aligned,” President Obama said Wednesday that Congress must send him a health care bill this year, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised her chamber would vote on one before August.

Pushing his health care overhaul, Mr. Obama met at the White House with House Democratic leaders on the issue, then laid out broad principles that must be met by any bill Congress passes. He also described health care reform as the key ingredient in entitlement reform — challenging Republicans who worry about spending and debt to support his efforts.

“We’ve got to get this done this year, both in the House and in the Senate. We don’t have any excuses. The stars are aligned,” Mr. Obama said.

The fight on Capitol Hill is heating up, with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, saying the government should consider taxing health care benefits as a way to raise revenues and potentially move away from the system of health care insurance tied to employment. Mr. Obama opposed that during the campaign, but was silent on it Wednesday, instead laying out three broad principles he said must be in any final package.

The principles include: bringing down rising costs of health care delivery; ensuring patients can choose their own plans and doctors; and making sure all Americans have access to affordable health care.

In laying out his principles, he’s following the path of former President George W. Bush, who in most of his big legislative fights would set out principles and then leave the haggling to Congress.

Standing with the president, Mrs. Pelosi twice promised to have a bill through the House before the chamber breaks for summer recess.

She also praised the president for his efforts to expand health care coverage for children and veterans, saying he’s already “done more to promote health care … than has been done in our country since Medicare was established in the ‘50s.”

Medicare was created in 1965 as part of President Johnson’s Great Society, and is one of the programs Mr. Obama now says is in danger of swamping the federal budget unless health care costs are tackled. While during the campaign he described health care access as a moral issue, this week he’s also turned it into a spending issue, and used it to challenge Republicans worried about the nation’s short-term deficits and long-term debt.

“If we don’t reform how health care is delivered in this country, then we are not going to be able to get a handle on it,” he said.

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