Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Boeing plans 150-million-dollar charge under health-care law

WASHINGTON — US aerospace giant Boeing said Wednesday it expected to take an income-tax charge of about 150 million dollars in the 2010 first quarter as a result of sweeping health-care reform.

Boeing said that under the legislation, a final version of which was signed into law Tuesday by President Barack Obama, it can no longer claim an income-tax deduction related to prescription drug benefits provided to retirees and reimbursed under a federal subsidy.

"Although this tax increase does not take effect until 2013, accounting standards require that a deferred income-tax asset be written down in the period legislation changing the tax law is enacted," the Chicago-based company said in a statement.

Boeing said the charge was expected to reduce net earnings by approximately 150 million dollars, or 20 cents per share, in the first quarter of 2010.

"Cash impacts of this charge will be realized over many years beginning in 2013," the firm said, adding that it will update guidance issued on January 27 when it releases first-quarter financial results.

Boeing joins AT&T, Caterpillar, 3M and other major companies which recently have announced charges to cover changes under the landmark reform of health care that extended health insurance to an additional 32 million Americans.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Obama signs package of final healthcare changes

President Barack Obama signed into law on Tuesday a package of final changes to his landmark overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system, hailing it as an "important milestone" for reform.

"It represents a major step forward," Obama told a college audience in Virginia, just outside Washington, after lawmakers last week put the finishing touches on healthcare legislation, including reforms in college student loan programs.

The signing capped a yearlong political struggle between Obama's Democrats and opposition Republicans that has set the stage for a bitter campaign for control of Congress in November.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Obama tells Karzai to clean up corruption

United States president Barack Obama has urged Afghan president Hamid Karzai to clean up corruption and rallied troops to defeat the Taliban during a surprise visit to Afghanistan. Mr Obama flew into Afghanistan under the cover of darkness aboard Air Force One and left before dawn after his first visit to the country since taking office more than a year ago.

He pressed Mr Karzai to step up the fight against corruption and the drugs trade and invited the Afghan leader to visit Washington on May 12. Mr Karzai has pledged action against corruption, which infects every aspect of life in Afghanistan, as well as good governance and rule of law.

Mr Obama, whose relationship with Mr Karzai has been strained, urged his Afghan counterpart to "continue to make progress" on all fronts. Afghan analysts say the visit sent a clear message to Mr Karzai that the US expects him to act on promises to eradicate graft before visiting Washington.

"Obama has set some homework for Karzai, reminding him that the anti-corruption issue must be taken more seriously and that not enough has been done so far," analyst Waheed Mujda said.

Haroun Mir, director of Afghanistan's Centre for Research and Policy Studies, says Mr Obama's visit sent a "strong message" to Mr Karzai. "It was a strong message to president Karzai and his administration that the US cannot remain indifferent to the internal politics in Afghanistan," he said.

"I am sure before [Mr Karzai] goes to Washington in May he will have to take some proper measures to show that he has the intention and the political will to create some changes." The visit, which included briefings with US General Stanley McChrystal and US ambassador Karl Eikenberry, gave the president the chance to assess the progress of his new war strategy.

After dining with Mr Karzai at the presidential palace in Kabul, Mr Obama donned a leather bomber jacket to tell cheering troops at Bagram he was confident they would stop the Taliban from regaining power and halt Al Qaeda.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sarah Palin and John McCain reunited on campaign trail

Sarah Palin was due to campaign with Senator John McCain on Fraiday, helping the man who launched her national political career to save his own.

The former Republican vice-presidential candidate and one-time Alaska governor has become a conservative star whose supporters hope will run against President Barack Obama for the White House in 2012.

But Mrs Palin is putting this aside to campaign for Mr McCain, her former running mate who is viewed with deep suspicion by many conservatives and faces a tough primary challenge in Arizona from Right-wing talk show host and former congressman JD Hayworth.

She was due to boost Mr McCain's conservative credentials at rallies in Tucson on Friday, and in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa on Saturday.

They were also due to hold a fundraising event on Friday at the same Phoenix hotel where they conceded the presidential election in November 2008 and Mrs Palin clashed with McCain aides, who refused to let her make a speech.

Mr Hayworth has tried to define himself as "the consistent conservative" in contrast to the "maverick" McCain who has worked with Democrats on issues such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and restricting campaign donations.

The former congressman has used his radio show to lambast Mr McCain for working with the late Senator Edward Kennedy - a hate figure for many Right-wingers - on creating a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants - a hot-button issue in Arizona, which borders Mexico.

Putting a brave face on Mrs Palin's decision to hold three events for her former running-mate, he said: "We look forward to having Governor Palin's support following the primary. But we welcome her and we understand why she's in the state stumping for McCain."

Mrs Palin has vigorously criticised Mr McCain's top presidential campaign advisers, describing tensions with them and accusing them of trying to keep her "bottled up". But the former Alaska governor has avoided criticising Mr McCain himself.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pentagon makes it harder to expel gays in military

Defense Secretary Robert Gates discusses changes to the Pentagon's ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' policy prohibiting homosexuals from serving openly in the U.S. military during a media briefing in the Pentagon Briefing Room in Washington, March 25, 2010.

The Pentagon made immediate changes on Thursday to make it harder for the U.S. military to kick out gay personnel, an interim step while Congress debates repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the directives were the result of a 45-day review of what the Pentagon can do in the short term within the confines of existing law to allow implementation in a "fair and more appropriate manner."

In the directives, Gates raised the rank of those allowed to begin investigation procedures against suspected violators of "don't ask, don't tell," which bars homosexuals from serving openly in the military.

He also raised the level for what constitutes "credible" information to start an inquiry and took steps to curb expulsions of servicemen and women "outed" by third parties.

Specifically, the directives state that information provided by third parties be given under oath and authorities discourage the use of overheard statements and hearsay in "don't ask, don't tell" cases.

"These modifications will take effect immediately and will apply to all open and future cases," Gates said.

"I believe these changes represent an important improvement in the way the current law is put into practice, above all by providing a greater measure of common sense and common decency to a process foar handling what are difficult and complex issues for all involved."

Critics say the Pentagon has been dragging its feet in response to President Barack Obama's call to repeal "don't ask, don't tell."

Gates defended the Pentagon's pace and cautioned against efforts advocated by some lawmakers to implement a moratorium or an outright repeal of the policy before the Pentagon completes a fuller review by December 1.

While the top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, has supported a repeal, several prominent officers and lawmakers have questioned lifting the ban at a time when the U.S. military is stretched by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions in terms of the implementation of this," Gates told a news conference. "Doing it hastily is very risky and I think does not address some of the concerns that have been expressed."

Mullen concurred, saying that "doing it with ease could easily generate a very bad outcome."

People who oppose allowing gays to serve openly in the military argue it would harm morale, undermine unit cohesion and hurt good order and discipline in the ranks.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Joe Biden's F-Bomb a Hit Online

Vice President Joe Biden couldn't resist telling President Obama yesterday that signing comprehensive health care reform into law was a "big fndealer deal." It turns out, a number of people on the Internet agree with him.

After the vice president's apparently foul choice of words started to earn some attention, Hotsheet noted that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs embraced the moment, Tweeting, "and yes Mr. Vice President, you're right..."

The micro-blogging site Twitter may be the perfect medium for capturing fleeting, interesting moments like Biden's remarks. Another Twitter user decided to preserve the moment with a new feed called BigFnDealer. The first message left on the feed reads, "FDR had the New Deal. Truman had the Fair Deal. J-Biden's gives us the Big Fndealer Deal."

One online t-shirt retailer is exploiting the moment with t-shirts featuring Biden's profound statement, as well as t-shirts poking fun at Biden for being prone to such gaffes. There's also t-shirts smugly expressing the same sentiment as Biden: "I voted for Obama and all I got was this historic victory on health care," it reads.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Obama set to sign health-care bill

U.S. President Barack Obama will sign a landmark health-care reform bill Tuesday in a White House ceremony.

House and Senate Democrats who supported the bill will join Obama as he delivers remarks about the health-care overhaul in the White House's East Room.

Obama will then head to the Interior Department after the signing ceremony to make further comments about the new health regime. An audience of 600 people, including doctors, health-care advocates, Americans with health conditions and members of Congress, is expected to attend.

The next act begins Thursday, when Obama visits Iowa City, Iowa, where he announced his health-care plan as a presidential candidate in May 2007. Obama plans to talk about how the new law will help lower health-care costs for small businesses and families, selling the overhaul to Americans who are deeply divided over the plan.

Republicans, united in opposition, pledged to repeal Obama's redesign of the health-care system, which they criticized as a costly government takeover affecting one-sixth of the U.S. economy.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the historic bill late Sunday. It will make coverage possible for more than 30 million uninsured Americans and end discrimination by insurance companies against people with existing medical conditions.

Legislators voted 219-212 in favour of the landmark legislation, which has been debated on Capitol Hill for a year. The bill, previously passed by the Senate, didn't receive a single vote from Republicans.

Republican-leaning states are already lining up to sue the government over the constitutionality of the legislation. Officials in at least 10 states have agreed to file a lawsuit challenging it on grounds it violates state sovereignty by mandating that all Americans have some form of health insurance.

Experts say the effort will likely fail because the Constitution states that federal law supersedes state laws, but it will keep the issue alive until the congressional elections in November.

Monday, March 22, 2010

House passes historic healthcare overhaul

The vote, which comes amid unanimous GOP opposition, alters the landscape for consumers and insurance firms.Ending the Democrats' decades-long quest to create a healthcare safety net to match Social Security, the House of Representatives on Sunday night approved sweeping legislation to guarantee Americans access to medical care for the first time, delivering President Obama the biggest victory of his young presidency.

The bill, which passed 219 to 212 without a single Republican vote, would make a nearly $1-trillion commitment in taxpayer money over the next decade to help an estimated 32 million uninsured Americans get health coverage.

And it would establish a broad new framework of government regulation to prevent insurance companies from denying coverage and, advocates hope, to begin making healthcare more affordable to most Americans.

"Tonight, at a time when the pundits said it was no longer possible, we rose above the weight of our politics," the president said in a televised address from the East Room of the White House after the House completed its last vote. "We proved we are still a people capable of doing big things and tackling our biggest challenges."

On the House floor, Democrats erupted into cheers of "Yes, we can!" at 10:45 p.m. Eastern time as the decisive 216th "yes" vote was recorded, capping a tortuous campaign that several senior lawmakers linked to the historic battle for civil rights two generations earlier.

"This is the Civil Rights Act of the 21st century," said Democratic Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the top-ranking black member of the House.

Obama will sign the bill within the next few days, while the Senate plans this week to begin debating a package of changes to the healthcare legislation that the House also passed Sunday, 220 to 211.

Angry protesters swarmed over the Capitol lawn throughout the day, cheering sympathetic Republicans who urged them on from the House balcony. They called for lawmakers to "kill the bill" and warned of dire political consequences for Democrats who voted for the legislation. "We will remember in November," the crowd chanted.

Thirty-four Democrats, most from Republican-leaning districts, voted against the main legislation approving the blueprint for healthcare.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R- Texas), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, promised that GOP candidates would turn the 2010 midterm elections into a referendum on healthcare. "We will run on a promise of repeal," he said.

Many Republicans say the overhaul will drive the nation deeper into debt at a time when it is still struggling to recover from recession.

But after a final flurry of negotiating defused an intraparty dispute over abortion and locked down the last votes, Democratic lawmakers, some of whom have spent decades in Congress pushing for universal health coverage, were celebrating the payoff of a monumental gamble.

Obama and his congressional allies succeeded in pushing through the most sweeping piece of social legislation since the 1965 Medicare bill, despite a crippling recession and an increasingly angry electorate.

Now, Democrats must steer a package of fixes to the healthcare bill through the Senate by using the arcane budget reconciliation process.

The maneuver allows Senate Democrats to skirt a GOP filibuster and pass the package with only 51 votes rather than 60. But if Republicans succeed in making any changes to the package on the Senate floor -- as Democratic officials acknowledge is possible -- the House would have to take another healthcare vote.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Obama:"Help Me Finish The Fight" On Health Care Reform

WASHINGTON D.C. (TheStreet) -- President Obama is again delaying his trip to the Pacific as the contentious health care bill makes its way towards a vote this Sunday.

President Obama was scheduled to visit Guam and other Pacific nations, however, given the magnitude of the health care battle, decided it would be better to circle around the Capitol Dome for a few more days.

Thursday has been a numbers-game day in the home stretch of President Obama's effort to enact health reform legislation.

U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said a final vote on the legislation could come by Sunday as Democrats attempt to line up the final votes.

Hoyer was among Democrats leading the charge with the just-released numbers from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) showing that health care reform would not just save $138 billion in its first ten years, but more than $1.2 trillion over the subsequent decade -- though the longer-term forecasts are viewed by many critics in Washington as having a healthy margin of error.

Republicans were quick to jump on health care reform price tag of $940 billion over the first 10 years, and the same CBO's data that the U.S. government has already racked up a $655 billion deficit through the first five months of 2010 -- which includes economic stimulus spending.

Leading Republicans linked the spending figure to the current weak state of the U.S. economy, and aimed to stoke fears that the government would be setting up future generations for a massive debt load.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Obama backs senators' immigration overhaul outline

President Barack Obama, facing criticism from advocates of immigration reform, pledged Thursday "to do everything in my power" to get immigration legislation moving in Congress this year.

Obama said work on an immigration bill should move forward based on an outline released Thursday by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

"A critical next step will be to translate their framework into a legislative proposal, and for Congress to act at the earliest possible opportunity," Obama said.

The outline calls for illegal immigrants to admit they broke the law, pay a fine and back taxes, and perform community service if they want to get on a pathway to legal status. They would also be required to pass background checks and be proficient in English.

"I congratulate Sens. Schumer and Graham for their leadership, and pledge to do everything in my power to forge a bipartisan consensus this year on this important issue so we can continue to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform," Obama said.

Obama's statement and the senators' outline were timed for release before a march and rally Sunday that is expected to draw tens of thousands of people to Washington to press the administration and Congress for immigration reform.

Immigrants and their supporters have grown frustrated as the Obama administration has continued to detain and deport immigrants while immigration reform remains dormant. Obama had promised to make it a top priority in his first year in office.

Hoping to temper the percolating discontent, Obama held two separate meetings last week with grass-roots immigration leaders as well as Schumer and Graham. The president assured the leaders at the meeting that he remains committed to reform.

Obama met Thursday at the White House with Reps. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, the sponsors of a House immigration bill. Gutierrez said later he agreed to vote for Obama's signature domestic bill, health care reform, only if an immigration bill advanced quickly and with a presidential imprimatur. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus also endorsed the health care bill.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

NY Gov.'s press aide quits in scandal; 4th to fall

Gov. David Paterson's press secretary on Wednesday became the fourth top staffer to quit amid dual scandals, resigning just hours after her boss publicly proclaimed for the first time that he did nothing wrong when he talked to a woman who had accused one of his top aides of abuse.

Paterson also said Wednesday on a radio show that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, whom he appointed to the seat, threw him "under the bus" by suggesting he might have to resign over his role in the abuse allegations.

In a separate scandal that threatens his administration, Paterson's lawyer on Wednesday released a harsh critique of an ethics violation against him for accepting World Series tickets, and the state's former lobbying chief called the ticket investigation "an ethical lynching" of the state's first black governor.

Press secretary Marissa Shorenstein said she resigned after two years because she could no longer do her job because of the abuse scandal. The New York Times had reported that Shorenstein, at Paterson's instruction, called the accuser on the phone.

Shortly after the contact by Shorenstein and others, the woman dropped her complaint. A special counsel is investigating whether the administration, including Paterson and a trooper on his security detail, improperly contacted the woman.

"Due to the circumstances that have led to my unwitting involvement in recent news stories, I can no longer do my job effectively," Shorenstein said in a brief statement released through a private e-mail account. "Throughout my career I have performed my duties professionally and with integrity, basing my actions on what I believed to be true at the time."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dodd pitches lawmakers on finance reform

Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd pitched lawmakers Monday to support a bill aimed at overhauling America's complex web of financial regulation.

Combining Obama administration and Republican priorities, the leading Senate author of a sweeping rewrite of U.S. financial regulations is looking for consensus with a proposal that neither side of the political spectrum is ready to embrace.

"We must restore responsibility and accountability in our financial system to give Americans confidence that there is a system in place that works for and protects them," Dodd said at a news conference on Monday. "We must create a sound foundation to grow the economy and create jobs."

The bill trumpeted by the chairman of the Senate banking committee would expand the powers of the Federal Reserve and create a consumer protection entity with less authority than President Barack Obama initially demanded.

The bill would also restrict the size and interconnections of large financial institutions once deemed "too big to fail," tame previously unregulated shadow markets with new restrictions, and create a dismantling mechanism for failing financial giants without a bailout from taxpayers.

The bill has the ultimate goal of avoiding a repeat of the financial collapse that brought Wall Street and the global economy to its knees 18 months ago.

Dodd stood alone at the news conference announcing the plan's details, emblematic of the uphill battle he faces to get lawmakers on his side.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Obama makes one last push on health care

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama launched an impassioned week-long closing campaign on Monday to drive his historic health reforms through Congress at a pivotal moment that may help define his presidency.

Obama left the White House for Ohio and an appearance designed to crank up pressure on lawmakers likely to face a knife-edge vote this week on reform aspirations that have eluded Democratic presidents for decades.

In a speech in Strongsville, Mr. Obama was expected to highlight the plight of a woman who survived cancer, but had to cancel her health insurance when her premiums rose and is now back in hospital after a relapse, fighting for her life.

Intense politicking on health care meanwhile speeded up on Capitol Hill with a key committee expected to consider final legislation and Democratic leaders intensifying their search for votes.

Mr. Obama's allies must piece together a 216-vote majority in the House of Representatives amid fierce Republican counter-pressure on wavering Democrats who fear a career-ending vote in a volatile election year.

The White House however predicted the House votes would be rounded up, and that Mr. Obama would be on the cusp of a legacy-building victory by the end of the week.

"I think the House will have passed the Senate bill a week from today," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on CBS television's "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

But a senior House Democrat, James Clyburn, told NBC's "Meet the Press" that Democratic leaders in the House did not yet have the votes to move the bill as part of a complicated legislative maneuver also involving the Senate.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Biden visit exposed Israeli settler truths

US vice-president Joe Biden speaking at Tel Aviv University today, where he moderated his earlier criticism of Israel.

There was a moment of rare clarity this week for America's efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace. The US vice-president Joe Biden was on a visit, ostensibly a charm offensive to an Israel that has been heretofore neglected by the Obama administration's most senior echelons, and an opportunity to discuss broad regional issues, notably Iran. By coincidence, Biden's trip coincided with special Middle East envoy George Mitchell's launching of indirect, or proximity, talks, between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Perhaps less coincidental, Biden's presence was greeted by announcements of dramatic new plans for Israeli settlement expansion in East Jerusalem. A crisis in the relaunched Israeli-Palestinian peace talks had apparently arrived a little earlier than expected – day zero to be precise. Not that those resumed negotiations were being greeted by much more than scepticism anyway. For most observers and even participants, the customary and polite suspension of disbelief that normally accompanies a new round of peace talks was barely on display.

Both sides seemed ready to settle down to a predictable and protracted game of placing blame for failure at the other's door. Then, on the day of Biden's arrival, Israel announced plans to market 112 new housing units in the West Bank and bettered that 24 hours later (shortly after the Biden-Netanyahu confab) when a district committee gave planning authorisation to 1,600 new units in East Jerusalem.

What provided this episode with refreshing clarity was the way in which it exposed the deeper dynamics that are driving contemporary Israeli realities.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Obama details plans to boost exports, create jobs

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama sought Thursday to put some detail behind his lofty drive to double U.S. exports over the next five years, calling the effort imperative to putting people back to work. But doubts remain about how many net jobs his trade agenda will create - and how he will get it done.

In a speech to the Export-Import Bank conference, Obama outlined steps to flesh out his trade initiative. Among them: creating a mini-Cabinet of officials to focus on exports, seeking more financing to support trade efforts, beefing up enforcement of existing trade deals and pushing for the completion of stalled ones.

"We shouldn't assume that our leadership is guaranteed," Obama said. "When other markets are growing, and other nations are competing, we've got to get even better. We need to secure our companies a level playing field. We need to guarantee American workers a fair shake. In other words, we need to up our game."

Obama's trade pitch ties directly to the top concerns of Americans - the bleeding of jobs from the U.S. He promised in his State of the Union address that doubling trade over the next five years will support 2 million American jobs, a pledge he repeated Thursday. But that's a complicated matter.

Experts say potential jobs from more exports can be negated by job losses resulting from increased reliance on products from abroad. What's more, it is Obama's own Democratic Party, backed by its union supporters, that has led opposition to stalled trade-expansion pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

When Obama says that doubling exports will "support" 2 million jobs, he means it will create 2 million additional jobs, the White House said. That is based on an assessment of how many jobs are supported by foreign demand for the goods and services that the United States exports.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Obama pushing on health care end game

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is making his closing arguments for a health care overhaul, pushing a new anti-fraud plan as he cranks up the pressure on skittish Democratic lawmakers to act fast.

Obama is to speak Wednesday at St. Charles High School, his second health care address in three days. His speech comes as congressional Democrats stand on the brink of delivering the president a dramatic success with passage of his sweeping overhaul legislation - or a colossal failure if they can't get it done.

Business groups that oppose the legislation are also stepping it up, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announcing a coordinated campaign to spend as much as $10 million on ads, starting Wednesday, saying, "Stop this health care bill we can't afford."

Leaders in the House and Senate are waiting for a final cost analysis from the Congressional Budget Office in the next day or so that will allow them to start counting votes - and twisting arms - in earnest. In the House, in particular, getting the needed majority will be touch and go.

The two-step approach now being pursued calls for the House to approve a Senate-passed bill from last year, despite House Democrats' opposition to several of its provisions. Both chambers then would follow by approving a companion measure to make changes in that first bill.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has said he expects the House to act by March 18, the day Obama leaves for an overseas trip. That timetable would be tough to meet, and congressional leaders told White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that they don't need deadlines handed down from the White House, according to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee.

"He was certainly informed that we don't feel that we want any deadline assigned to us," Waxman said.

Republicans are playing on House Democrats' suspicions of their Senate colleagues, arguing that Senate Democrats may not hold up their end of the bargain and the votes will be damaging politically for Democrats in November.

"They will be voting, when they pass the Senate bill, to endorse the Cornhusker kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, the Gator-aid, the closed-door deal," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, citing controversial elements of the Senate bill.

An Associated Press-GfK Poll released Tuesday found a widespread hunger for improvements to the health care system, but also found that Americans don't like the way the debate is playing out in Washington.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

US to prevent nuclear Iran

US VP meets tells Netanyahu he is certain Israel would take bold steps for peace.

US Vice President Joe Biden expressed America's "absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel' security" at a press conference in Jerusalem following a meeting with Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu Monday morning.

As such, Biden said, Washington was "determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and we are working with many countries around the world to convince Iran to meet its international obligations to cease and desist."

The cornerstone of the US-Israel relationship, Biden said, was America's unwavering commitment to Israel's security. "Bibi you heard me say before, progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the US and Israel. There is no space between the US and Israel when it comes to Israel'ssecurity."

Monday, March 08, 2010

President Obama attacks Republicans for ignoring health care for the 8 years they were in power

President Barack Obama accused insurance companies of placing profits over people and said Republicans ignored long-festering problems when they held power as he sought to build support Monday for swift passage of legislation stalled in Congress.

"Let's seize reform, the need is great," Obama said at an appearance that had the feel of a campaign rally.

"How much higher do premiums have to rise before we do something about it?" said Obama, making the first in an expected string of out-of-town trips to pitch his plan to remake the health care system.

The president said dismissively that Republican critics in Congress contend they want to do something about rising health care costs but failed when they held power. "You had 10 years. What happened? What were you doing?" he said to applause from an audience at Arcadia University.

Obama made his appeal as Democratic leaders in Congress worked on a rescue plan for sweeping changes in health care that seemed earlier in the year to be on the brink of passage. The current two-step approach calls for the House to approve a Senate-passed bill despite opposition to several of its provisions, and for both houses to follow immediately with a companion measure that makes a series of changes.

The White House has said it wants the legislation wrapped up by March 18, but that seems unlikely. The companion bill has not yet been made public, and a protracted debate is expected in the Senate, where Republicans vow to resist even though they will not be able to block passage by filibustering.

Obama's stated goals across more than a year of struggle have been to extend coverage to millions who lack it, ban insurance industry practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions and cut costs.

Republicans dismissed Obama's argument instantly. "The American people have heard all this rhetoric from the president before, and they continue to say loudly and clearly they do not want a massive government takeover of health care," said House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio, who added the president's plan was "heavy on snake oil."

Obama has long identified the insurance industry as an obstacle to changes along the lines he seeks, but the administration's actions and rhetoric seem to have escalated in recent days.

The president's proposal would give the government the right to limit excessive premiums increases — a provision included after one firm announced a 39 percent increase in the price of individual policies sold in California. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, convened a White House meeting with insurance executives last week, and followed up with a letter released in advance of Obama's speech.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Why 'Armenian genocide' resolution may hurt US interests

Turkey's deep emotional reaction to the 'Armenian genocide' resolution passed by a US congressional committee yesterday could have far-ranging implications for US policy in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

A committee passed a similar resolution in 2007, leading Turkey to recall its ambassador to Washington – something it did again after the resolution passed yesterday – and warn of a serious rupture in relations with the US. A last-minute intervention by the Bush administration kept the bill from going any further.

This year was supposed to be different. The historic accords that Turkey and Armenia signed this past October to restore diplomatic relations and put in motion a process to examine the past were supposed to take the legs out from under any effort to tar Turkey with the “genocide” label.

But the stalling of that reconciliation process, and Turkey’s deep emotional reaction to the genocide issue have, once again, created a potentially damaging situation for Turkish-US relations. It could have far-ranging implications for US policy in the Middle East, where Turkey is one of Washington's most important allies and an increasingly influential powerbroker.

“Turkey will certainly feel impelled to take retaliatory action against the US, which will take the form of noncooperation in terms of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and possibly leading to restrictions on the use of strategic assets like the Incirlik air base – areas where there is important cooperation,” says Sinan √úlgen, chairman of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), an Istanbul think tank.

“This is an area where identity and emotion are in a sense superseding pure interests," he adds. "On a topic like this, the national interest is trumped by a core question loaded with emotions that cuts deep to the issue of identity.”

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Obama does personal lobbying of House Democrats, insurance execs

The politics of presidential persuasion are well underway -- President Obama has added a string of meetings to his schedule today featuring key House Democrats in the health care debate.

And there are reports that Obama has invited more Democrats to a White House reception tonight, and the guest list just happens to include 10 members who voted against the House health care bill last year.

It's all part of the administration's efforts to get the House to adopt the Senate health care bill over the next few weeks, the first step toward final passage.

(UPDATE: In other lobbying news, Obama walked into a White House meeting between his health and human services secretary Kathleen Sebelius and insurance executives. He carried a letter from an Ohio woman "whose insurance will go up 40% next year," tweeted spokesman Robert Gibbs.)

At 1:30 p..m., Obama's guests are members of a House health care task force and chairs of various Democratic caucuses.

They include: Danny Davis, Ill,, of the Congressional Black Caucus; Raul Grijalva, Ariz., of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; Mike Honda, Cal., of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus; Dennis Kucinich, Ohio, of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; Barbara Lee, Cal., of the Congressional Black Caucus; Nydia Velazquez, N.Y., of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; and Lynn Woolsey, Cal., of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Later, at 2:30 p.m., the leaders of the New Democrat Coalition come to the Oval Office.

Those members include Jason Altmire, Pa.; Melissa Bean, Illinois; Lois Capps, Cal.; Joseph Crowley, N.Y.; Ron Kind, Wis.; Allyson Schwartz, Pa.; and Adam Smith, Washington.

Altmire is one of the members who voted against the House bill last year.

Others who have been invited to the White House include Allen Boyd of Florida; Lincoln Davis of Tennessee; Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin of South Dakota; Frank Kratovil of Maryland; Betsey Markey of Colorado; Jim Matheson of Utah; Scott Murphy of New York; Health Shuler of North Carolina; and John Tanner, Tennessee.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Obama to push health-care compromise

President Barack Obama gestures at the Blair House in Washington during a meeting with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders last week to discuss health-care reform. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

U.S. President Barack Obama is unveiling at the White House on Wednesday a revised version of his health-care legislation that may include a number of Republican proposals.

Obama is expected to lay out his final package for long-discussed health-care reform in the U.S. and urge Congress to act swiftly to pass the legislation.

As with bills currently stalled before the House of Representatives and the Senate, the proposal is expected to require most Americans to carry health insurance coverage and bar insurance companies from denying coverage to people with medical problems or charging them more.

It would not include a publicly run insurance plan, however, but would allow the government to cap health insurance premiums "if a rate increase is unreasonable and unjustified."

A version of the proposed legislation posted on the White House website on Monday says it will insure more than 31 million Americans who cannot afford health insurance and reduce the U.S. deficit over the next 10 years by $100 billion.

Obama's afternoon speech will come a day after he sent letter to congressional leaders saying he was open to incorporating four Republican ideas into his proposal.

Charles Rangel to quit key tax post

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The embattled chairman of the tax-writing House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, Charles Rangel, said on Wednesday he will step aside temporarily as chairman after being admonished by a House ethic panel.

"I have this morning sent a letter to Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi asking her to grant me a leave of absence until such time as the ethics committee completes its work," Rangel told a news conference at which he took no questions.

The House ethics committee publicly admonished the New York Democrat last week for taking corporate-paid trips to the Caribbean in violation of the chamber's gift rules.

The panel, composed of three Democrats and three Republicans, is still looking into other matters involving Rangel, including his use of a rent-controlled apartment and his fund-raising for the Charles Rangel Center for Public Service in New York.

U.S. media, citing unnamed sources, said Rangel was encouraged to step aside before the House could vote on a Republican measure to strip him of his chairmanship, which could have happened as early as on Wednesday.

Democratic Representatives Sander Levin of Michigan or Pete Stark of California may temporarily take over as chairman, according to media reports.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Desserts to blame for Obama's elevated cholesterol

WASHINGTON - Poll results, congressional head counts and US government deficits are not the only numbers President Barack Obama has to worry about. Now, he's trying to walk off a marginally high cholesterol count.

Although Obama took the presidential motorcade to a speech yesterday morning, he decided to walk back to the White House through a park. A day earlier, his doctor recommended that he lower his cholesterol.

The president told reporters he needed to "make sure that I'm walking off some of that cholesterol. That's a year of campaigning right there".

Obama had a physical exam on Sunday morning and learned that his total cholesterol and so-called bad, or LDL, cholesterol had both spiked into the borderline high range since his last reported exam in 2007.

The culprit, according to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, is too many cheeseburgers and desserts, a surprising revelation given Obama's reputation as a health nut.

"You guys thought he carried arugula in his pocket to snack on," Gibbs joked with reporters yesterday.

Gibbs chalked up the president's sweet tooth to easy access now that Obama has a kitchen staff and a pastry chef at his disposal.

"If it's more available, you're more likely to eat it," Gibbs said, adding that the president remains a big fan of the pastry chef and hasn't ordered a menu change at the White House.

Sunday's physical, Obama's first as commander-in-chief, also revealed that the president hasn't kicked his smoking habit.

Obama has talked about his struggles to quit smoking in the past, and Gibbs said the president does occasionally fall off the wagon. Still, Gibbs said Obama is aware of the example he sets for America's youth.

"He understands that what he struggles with is not a good thing for his children to see or anybody's children to see," Gibbs said.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Pelosi Confident on Health Vote

WASHINGTON—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday expressed confidence she will have enough votes to pass a health overhaul, but acknowledged it could come at a political cost to lawmakers who back the measure.

Monday kicks off a critical week for Democrats to push ahead with their overhaul. President Barack Obama is expected to announce his preferred way forward for the bill. The White House has already laid the groundwork for Congress to complete the legislation using a process known as budget reconciliation that requires a simple majority in the Senate.

That process would start in the House. Ms. Pelosi said Sunday the House could unveil specific legislative language for the measure in a matter of days. Those would give more detail to the president's proposed changes to the Senate bill designed to appeal to House lawmakers.

Democrats seem poised to move forward without any support from Republicans, who say they see no way to work from the existing bill. That leaves Democrats with two critical challenges: figuring out how to maneuver through the reconciliation over Republican objections, and how to rebuild sliding public support for the bill.

Asked on ABC's "This Week" whether Democrats would have the votes to pass the bill in the House, Ms. Pelosi (D., Calif.) offered a one-word "Yes." She said Democrats in both chambers were working out details.

The health-care bill stalled in Congress after Republican Scott Brown won the Massachusetts race to replace the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy. It cost the Democrats their 60-vote supermajority and their ability to block Republican filibusters.

Republicans warned Sunday that Democrats were trying to force an unpopular measure that would hurt them in the midterm elections.

"If Speaker Pelosi rams through this bill through the House using the reconciliation process, they will lose their majority in Congress in November," House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R., Va.) said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Democrats said that while certain polls show opposition to the legislation, the public supports individual components of it. "I think when you talk to the American people about whether it's fair for them to get knocked off their coverage when they get sick, I think they agree that no, we need some common-sense rules to help regulate that market," White House Office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Ms. Pelosi acknowledged the political risks on ABC. Democrats "know that this will take courage," she said. "Why are we here? We're not here just to self-perpetuate our service in Congress. We're here to do the job for the American people."

Democrats control the House by a 255-178 margin with two vacancies. On CNN, Ms. Pelosi predicted Democrats will retain their majority in November.

The math for passing the health bill is tight. With the vacancies, Democrats need 217 votes to pass a bill in the House. The House passed an earlier version of the health overhaul by a 220-215 margin in November.

Some "yes" voters have indicated they will vote "no" this time. The main obstacles are the Senate bill's more-lenient rules about insurance coverage of abortion and a general unease among centrist Democrats with the scope of the legislation.