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White House Says Health Care a Budget Priority

White House budget director Peter Orszag told U.S. lawmakers Tuesday that investing in health care is key to creating economic growth.

Testifying before the Senate Budget Committee, Peter Orszag said that urgent attention is needed to reform the country's health care system.

"We have neglected for too long reforming our health care system and putting it on a sounder track where there are substantial opportunities to improve its efficiency, which will also have major benefits, not only for our long-term budget picture, but for state governments and for workers," said Peter Orszag.

The White House budget director says improving health care quality and efficiency will lower costs for treatment, and will help the government's efforts to extend health care to the 46 million Americans who are uninsured.

To address these concerns, President Barack Obama's budget proposes committing $646 billion in health care reform over the next 10 years.

The administration said the money is to come from reorganization of the government's existing health programs and tax increases on wealthy Americans.

Some lawmakers object to the cost of the president's proposal. Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Budget Committee.

"As a practical matter the fundamental philosophy of this budget is an expansion of the size of government which isn't affordable by its own definition because it maintains debt at a level which will essentially run our country into a position where our children cannot afford the cost of the government," said Senator Gregg.

But the Democratic chairman of the committee, Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, argues that a lot of the current pressure on the economy was created under the previous administration of President George W. Bush.

"I think we should remember what President Obama is inheriting: record deficits, a doubling of the national debt in the previous eight years, the worst recession since the great depression," pointed out Senator Conrad.

Orszag says the new budget presents a change in course from the policies of the Bush administration by focusing on investment in health care, as well as education and energy.

Further debate is expected on President Obama's health care proposal when lawmakers begin writing the legislation that will put it into effect.