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Domestic Agenda Faltering, Obama Admits Summit-itis

Near the end of a week-long foreign trip, President Obama signaled that he might rather be back in the United States tending to his domestic agenda at what has shown to be a critical stage for the health care reform effort, in particular.

During a press conference at the conclusion of the G-8 Summit in L'Aquila, Obama was asked about the future of these international bodies. He said leaders should consider refreshing and renewing institutions like the G8 and even the United Nations. "A lot of energy is going into these various summits and organizations in part because there's a sense that when it comes to big, tough problems, the UN General Assembly is not always working as effectively and rapidly as it needs to," he said.

He continued by noting that in six months as president, he's already attended a handful of these international summits. "There have been a lot of these. I think there's a possibility of streamlining them and making them more effective," he said. "We need to I think make sure that there as productive as possible."

He was asked somewhat in jest whether these diplomatic negotiations are tougher than dealing with Congress. "It's not even close -- Congress is always tougher," he said. And indeed, the health care reform effort seems bogged down as Democrats seem unable to reach consensus on funding methods and whether to include a public option.

Asked when he would jump fully into these debates, Obama said he's already "jumped in with both feet," and called it his "highest legislative priority."

"I think it's important juts to recognize, we are closer to achieving serious health care reform ... than at any time in recent history," he said. "That doesn't make it easy -- it's hard." He reiterated the parameters of any final bill: lowering costs, emphasizing prevention, and deficit neutrality, while gently chiding reporters for focusing too much on "the game."

He also addressed the chorus of criticism from Republicans who are increasingly hammering him over growing deficits. After an initial reminder that he inherited "the worst recession since the Great Depression" with a $1.3 trillion -- he mistakenly said billion -- deficit, he conceded: "Fair enough. This is happening on my watch."

But: "What cannot be denied is that the only way to get a handle on our medium- and long-term budget deficits is if we corral and contain health care costs," he added.

He did not say the reform is "do or die" by the August recess, but said he "really wants" it done by then.