* Obama holds news conference after bout of criticism
* Strengthens push for healthcare reform plan
* Strongly condemns Iran crackdown
By John Whitesides
WASHINGTON, June 23 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama strongly condemned Iran’s crackdown on anti-government protesters and said on Tuesday he was still optimistic about prospects in Congress for an overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system.
As he opened his fourth news conference since taking office, Obama said the United States was not interfering in the protests against Iran’s contested election.
"But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place," he said.
The news conference followed heavy Republican criticism that Obama, a Democrat, has been too timid in backing anti-government protests in Iran.
Over the weekend, Obama sharpened his criticism of the Iranian government for cracking down on the protests, while trying to avoid the appearance of meddling.
It also comes as Obama battles growing concerns over the price tag — at least $1 trillion and possibly far more — on his healthcare reform plan.
"This is legislation that will be paid for. It will not add to our deficits over the next decade. We will find the money through savings and efficiencies within the health care system," he said.
The session with reporters comes amid a wave of new public opinion polls showing declining satisfaction with Obama’s policies and concerns about growing federal debt, although the president remains personally popular.
A newly released Washington Post/ABC News poll showed only about half of Americans believe the president’s $787 billion stimulus package will boost the economy and nine of every 10 Americans are at least somewhat concerned about the size of the deficit.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, David Alexander, Ross Colvin, Doug Palmer; Editing by Patricia Zengerle)