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Obama presses his agenda at news conference

/ Source: staff and news service reports

President Barack Obama pressed Tuesday at a press conference for an overhaul of the nation's health care system, advocated for the creation of a clean energy economy, and commented on the post-election violence in Iran.

On the home front, Obama is asking Congress to pass a sprawling and costly plan to overhaul the nation's health care system, as powerful interest groups warily react with both support and criticism.

On energy, Obama and Congress are under pressure to pass climate and energy legislation by the end of this year, when the U.S. will sit down with other nations to hammer out a new international agreement to curb emissions linked to global warming.

The president used his opening statement to push both measures.

Leaving the door open
On health care, Obama said: "Right now I will say that our position is a public plan makes sense"— but he left open the door, as negotiations continue, to abandoning the position that people should have the option of choosing coverage from a government program.

"We have not drawn lines in the sand other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don't have health insurance or are underinsured," he said.

"Unless we act, premiums will climb higher, benefits will erode further, and the rolls of uninsured will swell to include millions more Americans," said Obama.

He added that without government intervention, the country will spend $1 out of every $5 on health care within the next 10 years.

On his administration's efforts to create a clean energy economy, Obama said: "This week, the House of Representatives is moving ahead on historic legislation that will transform the way we produce and use energy in America ... This energy bill will create a set of incentives that will spur the development of new sources of energy, including wind, solar, and geothermal power."

Commenting on the recession, Obama said it was too soon to propose a second stimulus plan to jolt the economy, even as he acknowledged the unemployment rate is headed over 10 percent.

The president said he's not satisfied with the progress his administration has made on the economy — and that he doesn't blame people for being frustrated. He defended his recovery package but said the aid must get out faster.

"Look, the American people have a right to feel like this is a tough time right now," he said.

'Appalled and outraged'
On Iran, Obama declared the United States and the entire world "appalled and outraged" by the violent efforts to crush dissent in the Islamic nation — a clear toughening of his rhetoric as Republican critics at home pound him as being too passive.

"I strongly condemn these unjust actions," Obama said in a news conference at the White House.

Obama said his message has been consistent, and he shot back at Republican critics who are calling him timid: "Only I'm the president of the United States."

When asked if his strong language on Tuesday was influenced by pressure from such Republicans as Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Obama scoffed: "What do you think?"

On Sunday, Sen. Graham, R-S.C., said: "The president of the United States is supposed to lead the free world, not follow it. He's been timid and passive more than I would like." McCain, R-Ariz., who challenged Obama for the presidency, said: "I'd like to see the president be stronger than he has been."

On a less-earthshaking matter, at one point the questioning turned to Obama's inability to kick the smoking habit.

"I would say I'm 95 percent cured, but there are times when I mess up," the president said the day after signing an anti-smoking bill into law. He said he doesn't light up in front of his children or his wife.

Obama's appearance at the news conference came as his approval rating — while still high, and a little above average for new presidents — was slipping according to recent polls.