OBAMA TELLS NAYSAYERS: ‘DON’T BET AGAINST US’…. Health care reform is still very much in play, but it’s probably an exaggeration to say it’s “on track.” Over the last couple of weeks, it seems for every two steps forward, there’s been (at least) one step back.

Time for a little presidential leadership? Perhaps. President Obama introduced America’s next Surgeon General this morning at a Rose Garden event this morning, but before he spoke about Dr. Regina Benjamin, he talked about the state of the debate on reform and his own expectations. (Jonathan Cohn paraphrased Obama’s comments this way: “I’m back in Washington. Everybody chill.”)

“[M]ake no mistake: The status quo on health care is no longer an option for the United States of America. If we step back from this challenge right now, we will leave our children a legacy of debt — a future of crushing costs that bankrupt our families, our businesses, and because we will have done nothing to bring down the cost of Medicare and Medicaid, will crush our government. Premiums will continue to skyrocket — placing what amounts to another tax on American families struggling to pay bills. The insurance companies and special interests that have killed reform in the past will only continue to benefit even more — and they’ll continue to deny coverage to Americans with pre-existing medical conditions. People will continue to lose health insurance just because they lose their job or they change jobs.

“This is a future that we cannot afford. This country can’t afford to have health care premiums rise three times faster than people’s wages, as they did over the last decade. We can’t afford 14,000 Americans losing their health care every single day. We can’t afford a future where our government will eventually spend more on Medicare and Medicaid than what we spend on everything else. […]

“This is no longer a problem we can wait to fix. This is about who we are as a country. Health care reform is about every family’s health, but it’s also about the health of the economy.

“So I just want to put everybody on notice, because there was a lot of chatter during the week that I was gone: We are going to get this done. Inaction is not an option. And for those naysayers and cynics who think that this is not going to happen, don’t bet against us. We are going to make this thing happen, because the American people desperately need it.

“And even those who are satisfied with their health care right now, they understand that if premiums keep on doubling and if employers keep on shedding health insurance because it’s unsustainable and if you look at the trajectory of where Medicare and Medicaid are going, then inaction will create the biggest crisis of all.”

It’s a strong, compelling pitch. Here’s hoping it helps give congressional Dems a nudge.

In fact, the president will get a chance to push a little harder this afternoon — Obama is hosting a meeting this afternoon with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel at the White House.

I think it’s fair to say we’re entering more of an Obama-hands-on phase of the process.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.