Friday, March 19, 2010

Latest on Health Care Bill - Headlines Roundup 19 Mar 2010

Health Care Special Deals: What's Left In?: (CBS) While Nebraska's Medicaid Deal was Stripped from the Health Care Bill, a Few other States are Still getting Special Treament.

(CBS/AP) The widely-reviled "Cornhusker Kickback" is out. A little special treatment for Tennessee is in. A special deal for a North Dakota bank almost made it in.

Democrats unveiling revisions Thursday to their health care overhaul bill decided to kill the extra $100 million in Medicaid funds for Nebraska that has become a symbol of backdoor deal making.

But the 153 pages of changes to the massive health care package do include extra money for hospitals in Tennessee that serve large numbers of low-income patients. Democrats say the money simply brings Tennessee up to par with the rest of the country.

And though the bill would revamp the nation's student loan system to make the government the only lender, lawmakers briefly considered allowing just one bank -- the state-owned Bank of North Dakota -- to continue making student loans.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. ended up scrubbing that provision. Fearing it would become a target by Republicans in what he said is "an overly heated partisan environment," he asked the House late Thursday to remove it from the legislation.

Still alive is special spending for Louisiana, Connecticut, Montana and other states that was included in the health care bill that the Senate approved in December. The House may give it final approval this weekend.

Senior White House officials have sent mixed signals about the special deals. They initially demanded that they be eliminated, but by Sunday senior White House adviser David Axelrod said they only objected to provisions affecting just one state.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs last week singled out projects from Montana and Connecticut as items President Barack Obama wanted removed. There was resistance, however, from two influential committee chairmen, Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, and their projects have survived.

To help win the vote of Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., the massive measure the Senate passed on Christmas Eve had included $100 million that only Nebraska would get in added federal Medicaid assistance.

Immediately mocked as the Cornhusker Kickback, critics called it the epitome of special Washington dealing, and even Nelson advocated ending his state's special treatment. Under the changes announced Thursday, the Nebraska provision would be deleted and all states would get additional Medicaid help from Washington.

Also eliminated from the Senate measure was a provision allowing about 800,000 elderly Floridians to keep enhanced Medicare benefits that are being cut for residents of other states.

The changes also include an additional $99 million in 2012 and 2013 for Tennessee hospitals that treat many poor people.

Retiring Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., has fought for the funds for years to bring the state's aid up to par with the rest of the country, spokeswoman Emily Phelps said. She said their inclusion had nothing to do with his announcement Thursday that he will vote for the final health legislation after opposing an earlier version in November.

serving minority students, using money the government is supposed to save by no longer paying banks to make student loans. Included are annual payments of $100 million for schools with large numbers of Hispanic students, the same amount for colleges with many black students, and millions more for schools with large numbers of native Americans and other minorities.

Based on Thursday's changes, the health legislation also:

Retains $300 million in extra Medicaid aid for Louisiana, which had helped win support for the Senate health bill from Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. The state is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

Keeps $100 million included in the Senate bill that is expected to go for a public hospital in Connecticut sought by Dodd, who is retiring.

Preserves language won by Baucus permitting many of the 2,900 residents of Libby, Mont., to qualify for Medicare benefits. Some of them have asbestos-related diseases from a now-shuttered mine.

Provides an additional $8.5 billion over the next decade for 11 states and the District of Columbia to help them pay for the more generous Medicaid assistance they have been providing low-income residents. These states are Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

Maintains a Senate-approved provision giving extra money for hospitals and doctors in North and South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.

Obama: Health Care Debate is About Country's Character: (CBS) President Obama made a last-minute push for his health care reform plan Friday in advance of Sunday's planned vote in the House, telling a supportive audience at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia that "a century-long struggle" for reform is about to "culminate in a historic vote."

The president, who appeared energetic and enthusiastic, linked passage of the health care bill to the passage of social security and civil rights legislation, arguing that the debate on the legislation is "about the character of our country."

He cited past presidents who have supported reform, among them Republican Teddy Roosevelt, who he quoted as having backed "aggressive fighting" for expanded coverage.The legislation would eventually mean coverage for about 32 million people who are now uninsured, though many provisions expanding coverage do not kick in until 2014.

"I know this has been a difficult journey," he said. "I know this will be a tough vote." The president said that while he doesn't know how pushing for reform will "play politically," he does know that it's the right thing to do.

Mr. Obama added that despite rhetoric suggesting the legislation represents radical change, the bill is ultimately about "common sense reform." He said that if the bill does not pass, the insurance industry "will continue to run amok."

"They will continue to deny people coverage," he said. "They will continue to deny people care. They will continue to jack up premiums 40 or 50 or 60 percent as they have in the last few weeks without any accountability whatsoever. They know this. That's why their lobbyists are stalking the halls of Congress as we speak. And pouring millions of dollars into negative ads. That's why they are doing everything they can to kill this bill."

He continued: "So the only question left is this: Are we going to let the special interests win again? Or are we going to make this vote a victory for the American people?"

Obama Has Given 54 Speeches on Health Care: (CBS) On no other issue has President Obama put in as much effort and displayed as much passion as on health care.

Since launching his campaign for health care reform with a White House forum on March 5th of last year, Mr. Obama has delivered 54 speeches and statements on the issue.

He has done health care events in 12 states, some of them more than once. He's done 9 Town Hall Meetings on health care and made it the focus of 13 of his Saturday radio and Internet addresses.

And elements of the first speech could be heard more than a year later in the latest.

March 5, 2009

"There are those who say we should defer health care reform once again -- that at a time of economic crisis, we simply can't afford to fix our health care system, as well."

March 19, 2010

"You've got a whole bunch of opponents of this bill saying, well, we can't afford this; we're fiscal conservatives. / Not only can we afford to do this, we can't afford not to do this."
Our CBS News tally shows Mr. Obama has made 471 speeches, remarks and comments on every issue under the sun since taking office 423 days ago. His 54 statements on health care reform mean that better than 1 in 10 was on health care. Since the first of this year, it's been nearly 2 in 10.

And on more than any other issue, health care triggers the most forceful passages of his rhetorical repertoire.

In four speeches the last two weeks in Pennsylvania, Missouri, Ohio and today in Virginia, his passion reaches a peak and an ear-popping crescendo as he appeals to his largely supportive audiences to back his appeal for enactment of his plan to fix what he says is wrong with health care coverage in America.

...But in pursuit of his health care plan, Mr. Obama is also pursuing a more personal and subtle approach as he reaches out to members of Congress for support.

Spokesman Robert Gibbs put out the word that so far this week Mr. Obama had spoken 64 times - in person or by telephone - with House members - nearly all of them undecided Democrats.. On Friday alone, the White House trumpeted that Mr. Obama had gotten commitments to vote "yes" on health care from six more House Democrats, three of them switching from previous "no" votes.

Lawyer for Missionaries in Haiti Arrested: (CBS) Advisor for Americans Accused of Kidnapping Haitian Children Arrested for Trafficking Women and Children.

(AP) Dominican police have arrested a fugitive who acted as the lawyer for U.S. missionaries accused of kidnapping 33 Haitian children.

Jorge Puello initially served as the group's legal adviser and spokesman but authorities later said he was wanted for trafficking women and children in the U.S. and El Salvador.

The National Drug Control Agency says the 32-year-old Puello was arrested in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant late Thursday in the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo.

Soledad Puello is his mother. She told The Associated Press that she and others had negotiated with Salvadoran prosecutors for Puello to turn himself in.

Puello was born in New York but has both U.S. and Dominican citizenship.

Rape Rampant in Haiti's Earthquake Camps: (CBS) Women, Children as Young as 2 Left Alone by Disaster Face Threat of Sex Assault Living Among Escape Convicts.

(CBS/AP) When the young woman needed to use the toilet, she went out into the darkened tent camp and was attacked by three men.

"They grabbed me, put their hands over my mouth and then the three of them took turns," the slender 21-year-old said, wriggling with discomfort as she nursed her baby girl, born three days before Haiti's devastating quake.

"I am so ashamed. We're scared people will find out and shun us," said the woman, who suffers from abdominal pain and itching, likely from an infection contracted during the attack.

Women and children as young as 2, already traumatized by the loss of homes and loved ones in the Jan. 12 catastrophe, are now falling victim to rapists in the sprawling tent cities that have become home to hundreds of thousands of people.

With no lighting and no security, they are menacing places after sunset. Sexual assaults are daily occurrences in the biggest camps, aid workers say - and most attacks go unreported because of the shame, social stigma and fear of reprisals from attackers.

The lack of security even places foreigners in Haiti at greater risk. The U.S. State Department expanded its travel warning for Haiti on Monday to say that dangers of killings and kidnappings persist, and "some kidnap victims have been killed, shot, sexually assaulted or physically abused."

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mari Tolliver said a kidnapped person was among four U.S. citizens killed in Haiti since the earthquake.

"One of the deceased American citizens was the victim of a kidnapping," said Tolliver, giving no further details.

Rape was a big problem in Haiti even before the earthquake and frequently was used as a political weapon in times of upheaval. Both times the first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was ousted, his enemies assassinated his male supporters and raped their wives and daughters.

But the quake that killed an estimated 200,000 people has made women and girls ever more vulnerable. They have lost their homes and are forced to sleep in flimsy tents or tarp-covered lean-tos. They've lost male protection with the deaths of husbands, brothers and sons. And they are living in close quarters with strangers.

The 21-year-old said her family has received no food aid because the Haitian men handing out coupons for food distribution demand sexual favors.

Sex-for-food is not uncommon in the camps, said a report issued Tuesday by the Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development in Haiti. "In particular, young girls have to negotiate sexually in order to get shelter from the rains and access to food aid."

Taliban Arrests Derailed Secret UN Talks: (CBS) Former Senior U.N. Afghan Envoy says Pakistan's Arrest of Key Militants Abruptly Halted Reconciliation Progress.

(AP) The arrests of top Taliban figures in Pakistan abruptly halted secret U.N. contacts with the insurgency at a time when the efforts were gathering momentum, the U.N.'s former envoy to Afghanistan said Friday.

Kai Eide, a Norwegian diplomat who just stepped down from the U.N. post here in the Afghan capital, said the discussions that he and others from the U.N. had with senior Taliban members began in the spring of 2009 and included face-to-face conversations in Dubai and elsewhere.

He criticized Pakistan for arresting the Taliban's No. 2 and other members of the insurgency, saying the Pakistanis surely knew the roles these figures had in efforts to find a political resolution to the 8-year-old war. Pakistan denies the arrests were linked to reconciliation talks.

"There was an increase in intensity of contacts, but this process came to a halt following the arrests that took place in Pakistan," Eide told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his home outside Oslo.

Last month's detention of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar - second in the Taliban only to Mullah Mohammed Omar - infuriated Afghan President Hamid Karzai, one of Karzai's advisers told the AP. Besides the ongoing talks, the adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic, said Baradar had "given a green light" to participating in a three-day peace "jirga" or conference that Karzai is hosting next month.

However, Gen. Athar Abbas, a spokesman for the Pakistani military, said Friday that Baradar's arrest, which he said was a joint operation with the U.S., was not connected to any peace talks. "Reconciliation or talks have nothing to do with the arrest of Baradar," he said. "It has nothing to do with the talks. Serious arrests are being made continuously."

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