ABC News' Jon Garcia reports:
President Obama pushed again in dire terms the need for the U.S. health care system to be overhauled and he gave Congress a deadline -- summer vacation. "This issue, health care reform, is not a luxury. It's not something that I want to do because of campaign promises or politics. This is a necessity. This is something that has to be done. ... This window between now and the August recess, I think, is going to be the make-or-break period. This is the time where we've got to get this done," Obama said at a meeting of Senate Democrats at the White House. The president lauded longtime health care reform advocate Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who was not at the meeting but had a phone call with Obama earlier in the day. "He is gung-ho, ready to go, (and) had a whole range of ideas in terms of how he'd like to see this move," Obama said. "He is very enthusiastic about our progress." Obama's comments come as his Council of Economic Advisers released a report this morning saying health care costs will rise from 18 percent of the gross domestic product to 34 percent by 2040 if reform isn't completed. The report found that improving efficiency and reducing costs would boost economic output by 8 percent by 2030. "We cannot avoid bringing about change in our health care system. Soaring health care costs are unsustainable for families, they are unsustainable for businesses, and they are unsustainable for governments," Obama said. "One-fifth of our economy is projected to be tied up in our health care system in 10 years -- one- fifth. Millions more Americans are expected to go without health insurance if we don't initiate reform right now." After the meeting, Senate Democrats told reporters that Obama's dire rhetoric and deadline are necessary to spur the reform process. "We need to pass very strong, comprehensive healthcare reform this year, we cannot let our time table slip, it must be transformative, a game-changer," said Sen Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee. "Otherwise American families are gonna pay half of their family income on health care premiums." Senator Chris Dodd, D-Conn., added: "We want people to know that if they like the plan they've got, they can keep it. We want Americans to have choice ... but we also know we need to drive down costs in the long term. ... That's a tall order, we understand that. But this is one of those issues that comes along in a lifetime of all of us here. We'll never be involved in anything as important, in my view, as this issue." When asked how to pay for it, the senators didn't have any specifics but offered that "all options are on the table. ... and we'll figure it out," Baucus said.