Obama toughens his talk on Iran

Overhauling health care is one of President Obama's top domestic priorities.
President Obama sharpened his language on Iran and stressed the urgency of overhauling the health care system at his news conference Tuesday.

“The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions,” the president said. Obama’s Iran policy has received intense scrutiny in recent days amid growing concerns over Tehran’s violent crackdown on street protests. The Iranian demonstrators believe the country’s June 12 presidential election was a sham. Obama earlier called on Iran to stop violent and unjust steps that stifle free speech, but some Republicans have criticized him for not siding more strongly with the demonstrators. Obama blasted allegations of some in the Iranian government that the United States is “instigating protests” as “patently false and absurd.” The accusations “are an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran’s borders,” Obama said. “This tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries won’t work anymore in Iran. This is not about the United States and the West; this is about the people of Iran and the future that they — and only they — will choose.”

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Obama said the Iranian regime still has a clear, open path to international acceptance despite the violence of the recent crackdown. “There is a peaceful path … to legitimacy,” Obama said, and “we hope they take it.” The president said Iran’s “faith, sovereignty and traditions” can be accepted while the country’s government nevertheless adheres to a set of “international norms and principles” regarding violence and the right of peaceful dissent. Asked why he wouldn’t spell out any consequences, the president replied, “Because I think that we don’t know yet how this thing is going to play out. I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I’m not.” In addition to Iran, the president also addressed health care, his top domestic priority. “When it comes to health care, the status quo is unsustainable,” the president said. “Reform is not a luxury, it is a necessity.” Obama said Tuesday that having a public health insurance plan is “an important tool to discipline insurance companies” and will help control spiraling health care costs. The president said that the top priority of health care reform has to be to control rising costs that threaten to undermine the country’s long-term economic prospects. Overhauling health care remains a top presidential priority, but the initial proposals to reach Congress last week received a rocky reception. The Congressional Budget Office determined that either of two similar bills by Senate Democrats would cost more than $1 trillion, which was significantly higher than expected. Republican opponents immediately slammed the measures, and the Senate Finance Committee delayed scheduled hearings on one of the bills. Hearings by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on the other measure began amid intense partisan bickering, with hundreds of amendments proposed by Republican opponents. At issue is how best to reduce the cost and increase the reach of the health care system, which officials say is draining personal, corporate and government budgets while leaving 46 million Americans without health insurance. Obama has warned that a failure to act soon will bring far worse economic difficulties than the costs of plans under discussion. He has further raised the political stakes by saying he expects to sign a comprehensive reform bill this year. Both parties in Congress agree on the need to slow the increase in health care costs while ensuring that all Americans can get health insurance, but they differ sharply on how to proceed. The biggest sticking point so far: Democrats generally favor a government-funded “public option” to compete with private insurers. Republicans are adamant that such a step will lead to a government takeover of health care, which they oppose. Republicans have argued that a public option will drive private insurers out of business. Obama said Tuesday that there is a “legitimate concern” about the ability of private insurers to compete with a public plan “if the public plan is simply eating [from] the taxpayer trough.”

If that’s the case, it’d be tough for private insurers to compete, Obama said. If, on the other hand, the “public plan must collect premiums and provide [good] services” like private insurers, then private insurers should have no problem competing with a public option, he said. Obama said he was hopeful that an efficiently run public plan could help push private insurers to make similar cost-cutting moves.