President Obama pressed for a new timeframe for passage of an overhaul of the U.S. health care system Thursday after Senate Democrats decided not to vote before the August recess.
Obama took the decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in stride, saying at a town hall meeting in Cleveland that he didn't mind the wait, as long as lawmakers are trying to work out difficult issues associated with the plan. Pushing back from his original August deadline, the president said he still wants to sign a bill into law this year, preferably in the fall.
As the president headed to Ohio to push the plan, Reid announced his decision to wait on a vote, saying he wanted to give Republicans more time to work with Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) on a bipartisan deal in the Senate Finance Committee.
"Working with Republicans, one of the things that they asked is that they have more time," Reid said, adding that he would rather have a bill that was based on quality and thoughtfulness than try to hurry to get something through by the break.
He said the Finance Committee would be able to act before the month-long break, leaving him to combine the bill with one already passed by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Merging the two is expected to be difficult because the health committee's bill was passed by Democrats on a party-line vote.
In the House, some Democrats favored staying past their July 31 recess date to work on the bill, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was noncommittal.
"We will take the bill to the floor when it is ready and when it is ready we will have the votes to pass it," she said.
Thursday, Obama continued to pressure Congress to pass a bill, taking the fight to Ohio, where 17 percent of working-age adults are uninsured.
"Stay on your members of Congress. Keep up the heat," he told about 1,600 residents, community leaders and invited guests at a town hall meeting in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights. "We've got to get this done."
Saying initiatives to improve the U.S. health care system have been on the table since President Truman was in office in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Obama set a new timeline for passage of the bill.
"I want it done by the end of the year. I want it done by the fall," he said to applause. "If there's not a deadline in Washington, nothing happens."
He told the audience that spiraling costs are hurting American families and the U.S. economy.
"As we meet today, we're seeing double-digit rate increases on insurance premiums all over America," the president said. "That's a future America can't afford."
According to the Ohio Family Health Survey, the percentage of uninsured Ohioans aged 18-64 rose to 17 percent statewide last year — and nearly 22 percent in rural areas and Appalachia. The state's uninsured residents also reported more use of hospital emergency rooms, a practice tied to high medical costs.
Obama again laid out plans for his initiatives, emphasizing that no one will be forced to give up a coverage plan they like.
The chief tenants of the plan are that it would expand coverage to the 46 million who are uninsured; prevent exclusions because of a pre-existing condition or serious illness; allow coverage to continue for those between jobs; and limit out-of-pocket expenses.
"An American who needs insurance will have access to affordable plans through a health insurance exchange — a marketplace where insurance companies will compete to cover you, not to deny you coverage," he said.