- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 23, 2009

President Obama told a town hall gathering in Ohio he has “no problem” with congressional delays on the health care bill so long as it’s not for political reasons.

“I want to get it right, but I also want to get it done promptly,” he said at a high school in Shaker Heights, an affluent suburb of Cleveland.

“As long as I see folks working diligently and consistently, then I am comfortable with moving a process forward that builds a consensus,” he said, adding that some in Washington support “delay for the sake of delay” or “because people don’t want to do anything that they think might be controversial.”

“You know what? That’s not how America has made progress,” Mr. Obama said.

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The remarks came just after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, told reporters his chamber would not vote on a health care plan before the August deadline Mr. Obama had set. Meanwhile, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, suggested the House may have to delay its recess — set to start July 31 — to meet the deadline.

Publicly, at least, Mr. Obama took the news of the Senate delay in stride.

“That’s OK,” Mr. Obama said. “I just want people to keep on working. Just keep working. I want the bill to get out of the committee, and then I want that bill to get onto the floor, and then I want that bill to be reconciled … and then I want to sign that bill. I want it done this year. I want it done by the fall.”

The president’s push for health care reform closely tracked his message over the past week — blasting “those who like to focus on the political back-and-forth” and attacking critics who, he said, see killing health care reform as a way of bloodying the Democratic president early in his term.

Mr. Obama said Republicans “have a lot of nerve” to criticize the cost of his plan, since they “helped get us into this fiscal hole and then try to talk fiscal responsibility.”

“I’m always a little surprised that people don’t have a little more shame about having created a mess and then try to point fingers,” he said.

When a college student asked the president how he could help, Mr. Obama enlisted him and other supporters to use “common-sense” arguments to persuade people who have been “ginned up” by the other side and news pundits. He also restated his pledge that the health care plan will be fully paid for and not add to the government’s red ink.

Mr. Obama said worried citizens must understand he won’t sign a bill that adds “even one dime to our deficit over the next decade — and I mean what I say.”

Mr. Obama also offered up a campaign line from 2008 that change is not easy.

“This change was the cause of my campaign, and it is the cause of my presidency,” Mr. Obama said.

He offered a summary of his administration’s first few months, including the passage of a $787 billion economic recovery plan that funded new transportation projects and offered tax cuts for most Americans.

“There is no doubt that the steps we have taken have helped stave off a much deeper disaster and even greater job loss,” Mr. Obama said. Critics say the stimulus money has not been spent quickly enough and has failed to stem job losses.

As he did at Wednesday night’s press conference, the president also outlined some basics of what he wants to see in a health care bill and reminded voters that he “inherited” major fiscal problems and two costly wars when he took office in January.

There were 1,600 people attending, with 70 percent of the tickets made available to the public through a Web site sign-up. The White House gave the remainder of the tickets to the school, local politicians and community leaders for distribution.

As the crowd cheered wildly, Mr. Obama reverted to campaign mode, telling a fan, “I love you back,” after she professed her feelings.

Before the town hall, Mr. Obama toured the Cleveland Clinic and saw a robotic surgery demonstration.

He met patients but was there to survey the innovations at the clinic, a group practice of 1,800 doctors who operate under one-year renewable contracts but have no financial incentives such as tenure or bonus pay.

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