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Obama Is OK’ With Senate Health Bill Delay

Updated: 3:59 p.m.

President Barack Obama responded with a rhetorical shrug of the shoulders Thursday in response to word that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has postponed a vote on health care reform until after the August recess.

“That’s OK — I just want people to keep on working,— Obama said during a speech in Cleveland. He emphasized his ultimate deadline — that he wants the legislation completed this year — saying, “I want it done by the fall.—

Asked during a discussion with the audience if he would be willing to keep Congress in Washington, D.C., to get bills finished, Obama said he could support giving lawmakers more time to work through issues that he acknowledges are difficult.

“My attitude is, I want to get it right, but I also want to get it done promptly,— Obama said. “As long as I see folks working deliberately and consistently, then I am comfortable moving a process forward that [gains] as much consensus as possible.—

Obama also reopened the possibility that he might accept some type of new tax on health benefits, but he suggested it would only be on “Cadillac plans— far richer than even those provided to Members of Congress.

Obama said the Senate Finance Committee is discussing taxing benefits for those with the most expensive types of plans.

“Maybe when you get to a $25,000 plan, maybe at that point you should cap the exclusion — the deduction that is available — so that we’re discouraging really fancy plans,— Obama said in describing the Finance Committee discussions.

“I have not signed on to that approach, but I think it’s a legitimate debate to have,— he said.

Obama has been forceful in recent days in pressing lawmakers to scrap the idea of taxing health benefits. He used the issue to skewer Sen. John McCain of Arizona, his Republican opponent in the presidential campaign. But the president’s comments signal he may be able to accept some form of a health benefits tax.

In a statement, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Obama’s proposals would harm care while driving up costs to the consumer and the government.

“Despite what President Obama claims, the bill he is promoting today will make health care even more expensive,— Boehner said. “The House Democrats’ $1.6 trillion bill drives costs higher than ever, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and adds nearly $240 billion more to our deficit. It raises costs for employers through a small-business tax that will destroy jobs in Ohio and across the nation.—

The president continued his recent rhetoric against opponents of his health proposals, accusing them — presumably Republicans — of hypocrisy for saying his plans would run up the deficit.

“Folks have a lot of nerve getting us in this hole and then start talking about fiscal responsibility,— Obama said. “I’m always surprised that folks don’t have a little more shame about having created a mess and then trying to point fingers.—

Earlier Thursday, Reid said he would allowed the August recess deadline to slip after entreaties by Republicans who wanted more time to reach a deal with Finance Committee Democrats.

But Obama made clear he is wary of “delay for the sake of delay,— comments that appeared to be directed as much at Democrats as Republicans who he fears “don’t want to do anything controversial.—

White House aides said this week that they continue to seek passage of legislation before August by the House, no matter what happens in the Senate.