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President Obama didn't make much health care news tonight--but he did try to put the weeks developments in a greater context than the news cycle often allows.

Though silent on the firmness of the August deadline, Obama reiterated a now-familiar theme: "If you don't set deadlines in this town, things won't happen. The default position is inertia."

As an example of that, he highlighted an agreement he reached with Blue Dogs and others on the House Energy and Commerce Committee over a proposal to increase the power of an independent agency to make changes and cuts to Medicare. If it wasn't for the urgency of stated deadlines, Obama said, that might not have happened.

"If we hadn't had a deadline, that change would have likely never surfaced."

But, as the August congressional recess nears, Obama said, basically, that he has no plans to rush reform at the expense of good policy.

"I do think it's important to get this right," he said. "If at the end of the day I do not yet see that we have it right, then I'm not going to sign a bill."

As I noted below, Obama sought to reframe the debate as one where proponents of the status quo are actually making a proposal of its own--one that will result in an unsustainable growth in health care costs and blow up the federal budget. For days now, Obama has insisted that many of the conservative pols and commentators calling for the pace of reform to slow are really trying to kill Democratic legislation--and are therefore agents of that status quo.

President Obama noted this in his press conference, but, after the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington threatened to file suit, he's released a list of executives who've attended White House health care meetings.

There aren't any big surprises. In a letter, White House counsel Gregory Craig writes "Given the compelling public interest in the health care debate...[t]he President has decided to exercise his discretion and release" the names of the visitors. They include, among several others, PhRMA president Bill Tauzin and AHIP president Karen Ignagni, both of whom were known to have participated in negotiations with the administration.

The initial call not to release the information came from the Secret Service, but Obama quickly reversed their decision

President Obama seemed to have one goal tonight: change the framing of the debate on the hill. He spoke of fractions--one-third of the cost, two thirds of the cost--instead of absolute numbers, which rise into the hundreds of billions. He spoke, as he has in days past, of "health insurance reform" instead of "health care reform." And, most crucially, he spoke of the status quo as an 'alternative plan' that will double health care costs over 10 years.

That interpretation was perhaps cribbed from the Washington Post's Stephen Pearlstein, whom Obama cited in his interview with Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt. But it's a critical point--both politically and substantively--when critics of reform insist that the Democratic plans are too expensive.

Below are President Obama's remarks as prepared for delivery for his July 22 primetime press conference.

Good evening. Before I take your questions, I want to talk for a few minutes about the progress we're making on health insurance reform and where it fits into our broader economic strategy.

Six months ago, I took office amid the worst recession in half a century. We were losing an average of 700,000 jobs per month and our financial system was on the verge of collapse.

As a result of the action we took in those first weeks, we have been able to pull our economy back from the brink. We took steps to stabilize our financial institutions and our housing market. And we passed a Recovery Act that has already saved jobs and created new ones; delivered billions in tax relief to families and small businesses; and extended unemployment insurance and health insurance to those who have been laid off.

Of course, we still have a long way to go. And the Recovery Act will continue to save and create more jobs over the next two years - just like it was designed to do. I realize this is little comfort to those Americans who are currently out of work, and I'll be honest with you - new hiring is always one of the last things to bounce back after a recession.

And the fact is, even before this crisis hit, we had an economy that was creating a good deal of wealth for folks at the very top, but not a lot of good-paying jobs for the rest of America. It's an economy that simply wasn't ready to compete in the 21st century - one where we've been slow to invest in the clean energy technologies that have created new jobs and industries in other countries; where we've watched our graduation rates lag behind too much of the world; and where we spend much more on health care than any other nation but aren't any healthier for it.

That is why I've said that even as we rescue this economy from a full-blown crisis, we must rebuild it stronger than before. And health insurance reform is central to that effort.

This is not just about the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance. Reform is about every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage if they become too sick, or lose their job, or change their job. It's about every small business that has been forced to lay off employees or cut back on their coverage because it became too expensive. And it's about the fact that the biggest driving force behind our federal deficit is the skyrocketing cost of Medicare and Medicaid.

So let me be clear: if we do not control these costs, we will not be able to control our deficit. 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.

I realize that with all the charges and criticisms being thrown around in Washington, many Americans may be wondering, "What's in this for me? How does my family stand to benefit from health insurance reform?"

Tonight I want to answer those questions. Because even though Congress is still working through a few key issues, we already have agreement on the following areas:

If you already have health insurance, the reform we're proposing will provide you with more security and more stability. It will keep government out of health care decisions, giving you the option to keep your insurance if you're happy with it. It will prevent insurance companies from dropping your coverage if you get too sick. It will give you the security of knowing that if you lose your job, move, or change your job, you will still be able to have coverage. It will limit the amount your insurance company can force you to pay for your medical costs out of your own pocket. And it will cover preventive care like check-ups and mammograms that save lives and money.

If you don't have health insurance, or are a small business looking to cover your employees, you'll be able to choose a quality, affordable health plan through a health insurance exchange - a marketplace that promotes choice and competition Finally, no insurance company will be allowed to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition.

I have also pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our deficit over the next decade - and I mean it. In the past eight years, we saw the enactment of two tax cuts, primarily for the wealthiest Americans, and a Medicare prescription program, none of which were paid for. This is partly why I inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit.

That will not happen with health insurance reform. It will be paid for. Already, we have estimated that two-thirds of the cost of reform can be paid for by reallocating money that is simply being wasted in federal health care programs. This includes over one hundred billion dollars in unwarranted subsidies that go to insurance companies as part of Medicare - subsidies that do nothing to improve care for our seniors. And I'm pleased that Congress has already embraced these proposals. While they are currently working through proposals to finance the remaining costs, I continue to insist that health reform not be paid for on the backs of middle-class families.

In addition to making sure that this plan doesn't add to the deficit in the short-term, the bill I sign must also slow the growth of health care costs in the long run. Our proposals would change incentives so that doctors and nurses are free to give patients the best care, not just the most expensive care. That's why the nation's largest organizations representing doctors and nurses have embraced our plan.

We also want to create an independent group of doctors and medical experts who are empowered to eliminate waste and inefficiency in Medicare on an annual basis - a proposal that could save even more money and ensure the long-term financial health of Medicare. Overall, our proposals will improve the quality of care for our seniors and save them thousands of dollars on prescription drugs, which is why the AARP has endorsed our reform efforts.

Not all of the cost savings measures I just mentioned were contained in Congress's draft legislation, but we are now seeing broad agreement thanks to the work that was done over the last few days. So even though we still have a few issues to work out, what's remarkable at this point is not how far we have left to go - it's how far we have already come.

I understand how easy it is for this town to become consumed in the game of politics - to turn every issue into running tally of who's up and who's down. I've heard that one Republican strategist told his party that even though they may want to compromise, it's better politics to "go for the kill." Another Republican Senator said that defeating health reform is about "breaking" me.

So let me be clear: This isn't about me. I have great health insurance, and so does every Member of Congress. This debate is about the letters I read when I sit in the Oval Office every day, and the stories I hear at town hall meetings. This is about the woman in Colorado who paid $700 a month to her insurance company only to find out that they wouldn't pay a dime for her cancer treatment - who had to use up her retirement funds to save her own life. This is about the middle-class college graduate from Maryland whose health insurance expired when he changed jobs, and woke up from emergency surgery with $10,000 in debt. This is about every family, every business, and every taxpayer who continues to shoulder the burden of a problem that Washington has failed to solve for decades.

This debate is not a game for these Americans, and they cannot afford to wait for reform any longer. They are counting on us to get this done. They are looking to us for leadership. And we must not let them down. 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. And with that, I'll take your questions.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has released this statement regarding Sen. Lindsey's Graham's (R-SC) announcement that he'll vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor, with Schumer predicting that more Republican support will be on the way:

"No one questioned Judge Sotomayor more pointedly at the hearings than Senator Graham. For a bellwether vote like him to endorse her suggests that more Republicans should end up supporting her as well."

President Obama suggested today that, when health care reform is behind him, he may set his sights on Social Security:

"I think we're in a position to be able to, either at the end of this year or early next year, start laying out a broader picture about how we are going to handle entitlements in a serious way," Obama said. "It may start with Social Security because that's, frankly, the easier one."

In a long and technical interview with the Washington Post, Obama addressed several of the challenges health reform faces, including the question of financing. Though he's all but ruled out the possibility of covering the cost of legislation by capping the tax exclusion on current employer provided health care benefits, Obama said he's open to the possibility of taxing part of the additional, future cost of those benefits as the price of health insurance inflates.

But for the most part, editorial page editor Fred Hiatt stuck to the famous Hiatt hobby horse of entitlement reform.

CBO and other economists say that, as you say, you can't solve the fiscal problem if you don't solve the health problem. But they also say that solving the health cost problem is not sufficient, that a big part of the issue is demographics and aging. And so -- and as you know, the 10-year budget shows the government raising 18 or 19 percent of revenue in 2019, and spending 24 or 25 percent.... So can I ask you how you think about the timing and politics of closing that structural gap?


Aging is crucial, but mainly because providing health care to the elderly is expensive, and right now a huge percentage of elderly people in the country are on Medicare--a single payer, government-guaranteed risk-pool. And it's a very risky pool. Critics say that's the key to entitlement reform, which can't happen in absence of broader, systemic health care reform. And Obama's suggestion that Social Security should be on the block for the sake of political expediency could set off a storm among progressives.


Alison Krauss and Union Station perform at a White House event celebrating country music July 21.

Newscom/Sipa Press




The president and first lady (sporting a new haircut) listen.

Newscom/Sipa Press




"Now, I know folks think I'm a city boy," Obama said with just a hint of a country drawl, according to the pool report. "But I do enjoy listening to country music because, like all Americans I appreciate the broad and indelible impact that country has had on our nation."

Newscom/UPI




Malia and Barack Obama.

Newscom/Sipa Press




Brad Paisley listens during a country music workshop at the White House with more than 100 music students.

Newscom/WENN.com




Krauss speaks at the workshop, which focused on songwriting and the different kinds of country music, including honky tonk and bluegrass.

Newscom/WENN.com




Sal La Rosa, an elementary school student from Tennessee, sings a song he wrote.

Newscom/WENN.com




Krauss with Dan Tyminski.

Newscom/WENN.com

Here are some excerpts from President Obama's opening remarks for tonight's prime time press conference on health care, just released from the White House. We'll be liveblogging the presser starting at 8 p.m. ET, so stick around.



That is why I've said that even as we rescue this economy from a full-blown crisis, we must rebuild it stronger than before. And health insurance reform is central to that effort.



This is not just about the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance. Reform is about every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage if they become too sick, or lose their job, or change their job. It's about every small business that has been forced to lay off employees or cut back on their coverage because it became too expensive. And it's about the fact that the biggest driving force behind our federal deficit is the skyrocketing cost of Medicare and Medicaid.



So let me be clear: if we do not control these costs, we will not be able to control our deficit. 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.



I realize that with all the charges and criticisms being thrown around in Washington, many Americans may be wondering, "What's in this for me? How does my family stand to benefit from health insurance reform?"



Tonight I want to answer those questions. Because even though Congress is still working through a few key issues, we already have agreement on the following areas:



If you already have health insurance, the reform we're proposing will provide you with more security and more stability. It will keep government out of health care decisions, giving you the option to keep your insurance if you're happy with it. It will prevent insurance companies from dropping your coverage if you get too sick. It will give you the security of knowing that if you lose your job, move, or change your job, you will still be able to have coverage. It will limit the amount your insurance company can force you to pay for your medical costs out of your own pocket. And it will cover preventive care like check-ups and mammograms that save lives and money.



If you don't have health insurance, or are a small business looking to cover your employees, you'll be able to choose a quality, affordable health plan through a health insurance exchange - a marketplace that promotes choice and competition Finally, no insurance company will be allowed to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition.



I have also pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our deficit over the next decade - and I mean it.



...



I understand how easy it is for this town to become consumed in the game of politics - to turn every issue into running tally of who's up and who's down. I've heard that one Republican strategist told his party that even though they may want to compromise, it's better politics to "go for the kill." Another Republican Senator said that defeating health reform is about "breaking" me.



So let me be clear: This isn't about me. I have great health insurance, and so does every Member of Congress. This debate is about the letters I read when I sit in the Oval Office every day, and the stories I hear at town hall meetings...This debate is not a game for these Americans, and they cannot afford to wait for reform any longer. They are counting on us to get this done. They are looking to us for leadership. And we must not let them down. 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.


Wednesday's total solar eclipse, as seen from China. Parts of Asia fell under darkness this morning as the eclipse lasted over six minutes - the longest solar eclipse of the century so far. Crowds of people traveled to and came out in India, China, and Japan to see the events.

Newscom / Cheng Xuliang / ChinaFotoPress




A woman and her poodle observe the solar eclipse from Hangzhou, China.

Newscom / Wu Huang / ChinaFotoPress




Residents of Hangzhou, China view the eclipse.

Newscom / Shi Jianxue / ChinaFotoPress




The eclipse as seen from Yinchuan.

Newscom / SIPA




Businessmen in Shenyang observe the eclipse.

Newscom / ChinaFotoPress




A resident from Hangzhou views the eclipse through a welding helmet.

Newscom / Li Zhong / ChinaFotoPress




Pedestrians watch the eclipse through viewing goggles provided by Google.

Newscom / CNImaging




Monks follow the solar eclipse at the Putuo Temple in Zhoushan, in eastern China.

Newscom




A time-lapse photograph of the eclipse.

Newscom / Feng Zi / ColorChinaPhoto

Looks like were not the only ones who are concerned that the Congressional commission to look into the causes of the financial crisis may struggle to get to the truth.

A group of distinguished economists, academics, and thinkers -- including Joseph Stiglitz, Jamie Galbraith, and Robert Reich -- has written an open letter to the newly-named commissioners, urging them to come together "in non-partisan cooperation to investigate the origins of the financial crisis in ways that lead to a full understanding of the institutions, people and practices that are responsible for our economic collapse."

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