This news conference was supposed to be on healthcare. It turned out to be more. Read the complete transcript. Excerpt below.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Congress, as you alluded to, is trying to figure out how to pay for all of this reform. Have you told House and Senate leaders which of their ideas are acceptable to you? If so, are you willing to share that stand of yours with the American people? And if you haven't given that kind of direction to congressional leaders, are you willing to -- are you willing to explain why you're not stepping in to get a deal done, since you're the one setting a deadline?
OBAMA: Well, before we talk about how to pay for it, let's talk about what exactly needs to be done. And the reason I want to emphasize this is because there's been a lot of misinformation out there.
Right now, premiums for families that have health insurance have doubled over the last 10 years. They've gone up three times faster than wages. So what we know is that, if the current trends continue, more and more families are going to lose health care, more and more families are going to be in a position where they keep their health care but it takes a bigger biting out of their budget.
Employers are going to put more and more costs on employees or they're just going to stop providing health care altogether.
We also know that health care inflation on the curve that it's on, we're guaranteed to see Medicare and Medicaid basically break the federal budget. And we know that we're spending -- on average we, here in the United States, are spending about $6,000 more than other advanced countries where they're just as healthy.
And I've said this before, if you found out that your neighbor had gotten the same car for $6,000 less, you'd want to figure out how to get that deal. And that's what reform is all about. How can we make sure that we are getting the best bang for our health care dollar.
Now, what we did very early on was say two-thirds of the costs of health care reform, which includes providing coverage for people who don't have it, making it more affordable for folks who do, and making sure that we're, over the long term, creating the kinds of systems where prevention and wellness and information technologies make the system more efficient.
That the entire cost of that has to be paid for and it has got to be deficit-neutral. And we identified two-thirds of those costs to be paid for by tax dollars that are already being spent right now.
So taxpayers are already putting this money into the kitty. The problem is, they're not getting a good deal for the money they're spending. That takes care of about two-thirds of the cost.
The remaining one-third is about what the argument has been about of late. What I've said is that there may be a number of different ways to raise money. I put forward what I thought was the best proposal, which was to limit the deductions, the itemized deductions, for the wealthiest Americans.
People like myself could take the same percentage deduction that middle class families do. And that would raise sufficient funds for that final one-third.
Now so far we haven't seen any of the bills adopt that. There are other ideas that are out there. I continue to think my idea is the best one. But I'm not foreclosing some of these other ideas as the committees are working them through.
The one commitment that I've been clear about is I don't want that final one-third of the cost of health care to be completely shouldered on the backs of middle class families who are already struggling in a difficult economy.
And so, if I see a proposal that is primarily funded through taxing middle class families, I'm going to be opposed to that because I think there are better ideas to do it.
Now there are -- you know, I have not yet seen what the Senate Finance Committee is producing. They've got a number of ideas. But we haven't seen a final draft. The House suggested a surcharge on wealthy Americans. And my understanding, although I haven't seen the final versions, is that there has been talk about making that basically only apply to families whose joint income is $1 million.
To me, that meets my principle that it's not being shouldered by families who are already having a tough time.
But what I want do is to see what emerges from these committees, continuing to work to find more savings, because I actually think that it's possible for us to fund even more of this process through identifying waste in the system.
Try to narrow as much as possible the new revenue that's needed on the front end. And then see how we can piece this thing together in a way that's acceptable to both Democrats and I hope some Republicans.