Saturday, June 13, 2009

Obama eyes $313 billion more cuts for healthcare reform

Obama eyes $313 billion more cuts for healthcare reform
Health care debate
Play Video
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Saturday proposed an additional $313 billion in cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other programs to pay for healthcare reforms expected to cost about $1 trillion over the next decade.
"I know some question whether we can afford to act this year. But the unmistakable truth is that it would be irresponsible to not act," Obama said in an advance text of his weekly radio address.
Obama wants a healthcare reform bill on his desk by October, but faces opposition from Republicans who oppose creation of a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers.
Many of his fellow Democrats are wary of making deep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, the U.S. healthcare programs for seniors and poor people, to pay for reforms.
With the cost of U.S. healthcare continuing to rise rapidly, Obama argued the country could not afford to wait another year for sweeping changes.
But he acknowledged the ambitious plan would increase government costs in the short run.
To address those concerns, Obama has pledged to come up with enough spending cuts and new revenue to pay for reforms.
"So today, I am announcing an additional $313 billion in savings that will rein in unnecessary spending, and increase efficiency and the quality of care -- savings that will ensure that we have nearly $950 billion set aside to offset the cost of health care reform over the next ten years," Obama said.
About $110 billion of the new cuts would come from reducing scheduled increases in Medicare payments. That would encourage healthcare providers to increase productivity, White House budget director Peter Orszag told reporters.
Obama also proposed cutting payments to hospitals to treat uninsured patients by $106 billion on the assumption those ranks would decline as healthcare reforms phase in.
An additional $75 billion would come from "better pricing of Medicare drugs," Orszag said, adding the White House was in talks with stakeholders over the best way to do that.
The remaining $22 billion in proposed cuts would come from smaller reforms, such as adjusting payment rates for physician imaging services and cutting waste, fraud and abuse.
The new cuts are in addition to a $635 billion "down payment" on healthcare reform that Obama outlined in his budget to Congress earlier this year.
About half of that came from cuts in Medicare and Medicaid and the rest from revenue proposals such as cutting tax deductions for families that make over $250,000 a year.
Altogether, the Obama administration is now asking Congress to trim spending on Medicare and Medicaid by more than $600 billion over the next decade, which is more than some Democrats are willing to swallow. Continued...
Source: Reuters

Obama eyes $313 bln more cuts for healthcare reform

Obama eyes $313 bln more cuts for healthcare reform
Health care debate
Play Video
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Saturday proposed an additional $313 billion in cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other programs to pay for healthcare reforms expected to cost about $1 trillion over the next decade.
"I know some question whether we can afford to act this year. But the unmistakable truth is that it would be irresponsible to not act," Obama said in an advance text of his weekly radio address.
Obama wants a healthcare reform bill on his desk by October, but faces opposition from Republicans who oppose creation of a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers.
Many of his fellow Democrats are wary of making deep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, the U.S. healthcare programs for seniors and poor people, to pay for reforms.
With the cost of U.S. healthcare continuing to rise rapidly, Obama argued the country could not afford to wait another year for sweeping changes.
But he acknowledged the ambitious plan would increase government costs in the short run.
To address those concerns, Obama has pledged to come up with enough spending cuts and new revenue to pay for reforms.
"So today, I am announcing an additional $313 billion in savings that will rein in unnecessary spending, and increase efficiency and the quality of care -- savings that will ensure that we have nearly $950 billion set aside to offset the cost of health care reform over the next ten years," Obama said.
About $110 billion of the new cuts would come from reducing scheduled increases in Medicare payments. That would encourage healthcare providers to increase productivity, White House budget director Peter Orszag told reporters.
Obama also proposed cutting payments to hospitals to treat uninsured patients by $106 billion on the assumption those ranks would decline as healthcare reforms phase in.
An additional $75 billion would come from "better pricing of Medicare drugs," Orszag said, adding the White House was in talks with stakeholders over the best way to do that.
The remaining $22 billion in proposed cuts would come from smaller reforms, such as adjusting payment rates for physician imaging services and cutting waste, fraud and abuse.
The new cuts are in addition to a $635 billion "down payment" on healthcare reform that Obama outlined in his budget to Congress earlier this year.
About half of that came from cuts in Medicare and Medicaid and the rest from revenue proposals such as cutting tax deductions for families that make over $250,000 a year.
Altogether, the Obama administration is now asking Congress to trim spending on Medicare and Medicaid by more than $600 billion over the next decade, which is more than some Democrats are willing to swallow. Continued...
Source: Reuters

Chavez, Ortega chide Obama over "stuck" Latam policy

Chavez, Ortega chide Obama over stuck Latam policy
By Pascal Fletcher
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts (Reuters) - The presidents of Venezuela and Nicaragua, both fierce critics of U.S. policy, on Friday accused President Barack Obama of failing to deliver on his promise to make a new start in ties with Latin America.
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, both staunch allies of Cuba's communist leadership, made the criticism while attending a summit in St. Kitts and Nevis of the Venezuelan-backed energy alliance PetroCaribe.
Chavez, who told Obama at a Summit of the Americas in Trinidad in April "I want to be your friend," said the new U.S. president was not making good on his public commitment to change the way Washington deals with Latin America.
"Obama should carry out what he said, but it's not happening," Chavez told reporters after the summit concluded.
The Venezuelan president, whose oil-exporting country remains a leading energy supplier to the United States, was a virulent critic of what he called the "imperialist" policies of Obama's predecessor George W. Bush.
"It's the same old empire. Let's hope that Obama has the courage, the capacity and the support to dismantle that empire," Chavez said. He also rejected U.S. allegations that his government was limiting freedom of expression by pursuing media critics, calling this view "a great cynicism."
"If there's no respect, there's nothing," he said.
Earlier, Nicaragua's leftist leader, Ortega, accused Obama's administration of being "stuck in the past" in its policies toward his country and Cuba.
Nicaragua and Cuba belong to the 18-nation PetroCaribe alliance created by Chavez in 2005 that groups OPEC member Venezuela with oil-importing Caribbean and Central America states, allowing them to buy Venezuelan oil on easier terms.
While most PetroCaribe leaders present used the one-day meeting in St. Kitts to praise Venezuela's oil support for the economic and social development of their countries, Ortega made a point of attacking U.S. strategy in Latin America.
'GOOD INTENTIONS'
He said Obama, despite displaying good intentions, appeared to be repeating hostile policies established by predecessors like Bush and Ronald Reagan toward regional governments Washington disapproved of, including Nicaragua and Cuba.
"We've all recognized in President Obama a man of good intentions, but he's caught in a system, which by its own nature is expansionist, interventionist," Ortega said.
He criticized the United States for canceling more than $60 million in assistance to Nicaragua this week.
The Millennium Challenge Corp, a U.S. taxpayer-funded operation set up by former President Bush to fight poverty in developing nations, said it took the decision because of problems in local elections last year in Nicaragua. Continued...
Source: Reuters

Ortega says Obama's Latam policy stuck in past

Ortega says Obama's Latam policy stuck in past
By Pascal Fletcher
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts (Reuters) - Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega accused U.S. President Barack Obama's administration on Friday of being "stuck in the past" in its policies toward his country and Cuba.
Leftist Ortega, elected in 2006 after leading a government in the 1980s opposed by the United States, criticized Obama at a Caribbean summit of the Venezuelan-backed energy alliance PetroCaribe.
Nicaragua and its ally Cuba belong to the 18-nation organization that groups OPEC member Venezuela with oil-importing Caribbean and Central America states, allowing them to buy Venezuelan oil on easier terms.
Whereas most PetroCaribe leaders present used the one-day meeting in St. Kitts to praise Venezuela's oil support for the development of their countries, Ortega made a point of attacking U.S. strategy in Latin America.
He said Obama, despite displaying good intentions, appeared to be repeating hostile policies established by predecessors like George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan toward regional governments that Washington disagreed with, such as his own and the communist leadership in Cuba.
"We've all recognized in President Obama a man of good intentions, but he's caught in a system, which by its own nature is expansionist, interventionist," the former Marxist guerrilla said.
Ortega criticized the United States for canceling more than $60 million in assistance to Nicaragua this week.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. taxpayer-funded operation set up by former President Bush to fight poverty in developing nations, said it took the decision because of problems in local elections last year in Nicaragua.
"President Obama is repeating Reagan's policy by cutting aid to Nicaragua," Ortega said.
He also criticized the Obama administration for maintaining a 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, although the new U.S. president has eased some aspects of the sanctions.
"They are stuck in the past," the Nicaraguan leader said.
PRAISE FOR PETROCARIBE
Obama has offered a "new beginning" in relations with Cuba, but has called on its leaders to reciprocate by freeing detained dissidents and opening up political freedoms.
He has made clear he intends to keep the embargo in place until Havana shows clear signs of making reforms.
Obama made a good impression among Latin American leaders at a Summit of the Americas in Trinidad in April, shaking hands with Ortega and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, both virulent critics of U.S. policy in the region. Continued...
Source: Reuters

Obama gives Tsvangirai words of support, no money

Obama gives Tsvangirai words of support, no money
By Ross Colvin
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama gave tentative backing to Zimbabwe's fragile national unity government on Friday, but the country's prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, left a White House meeting largely empty-handed.
Obama promised $73 million in new aid that a White House official said later would go toward fighting HIV-AIDS and promoting good governance in the poverty-stricken southern African nation. Significantly, the money will not go to the government but will be channeled through aid agencies.
The meeting underscored the quandary Obama faces -- how to support Tsvangirai's efforts to rebuild Zimbabwe's shattered economy without bolstering his rival, President Robert Mugabe. Western states accuse Mugabe of years of misrule and largely shun him.
Tsvangirai, a former labor official and longtime opposition leader, was in Washington as part of a tour of Europe and the United States to rally support for the power-sharing government he formed with Mugabe in February after bitterly disputed elections that saw his supporters beaten and jailed.
"We now have a power-sharing agreement that shows promise," Obama said, with Tsvangirai sitting next to him in the Oval Office.
He praised Tsvangirai's efforts to tackle hyperinflation that has devastated the economy and to improve the daily lives of Zimbabweans who face chronic food shortages and an unemployment rate of about 90 percent.
U.S. STILL HAS CONCERNS
Tsvangirai, whose government says it needs $10 billion to rebuild the economy, has been trying to get funding for his cash-strapped administration and to persuade the international community to lift sanctions.
But Obama made clear that while the United States was prepared to work with Tsvangirai, it would not give money directly to the unity government because of concerns about governance.
A State Department official said U.S. humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe totaled $150 million in the 2009 fiscal year. A White House official said the $73 million announced by Obama was new money.
U.S. officials previously voiced frustration about the slow pace of reforms and Tsvangirai acknowledged on Friday that while there had been progress, "there are also problems."
Obama extended sanctions against Zimbabwe in March, targeting individuals close to Mugabe and some local companies, but he has so far declined to follow in the footsteps of the Bush administration and call for Mugabe to step down.
"President Mugabe has not acted oftentimes in the best interests of the Zimbabwean people and has been resistant to the kinds of democratic changes that need to take place," Obama said.
Critics accuse Mugabe of repressive one-party rule and international donors say they remain to be convinced that the new unity government is not simply a cover for Mugabe, 85, to extend his nearly three decades in power.
Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change has long accused Mugabe's ZANU-PF party of using violence to maintain a grip on power, charges it denies. Arrests of MDC activists have strained the new government. Continued...
Source: Reuters

Obama launches ocean protection plan

Obama launches ocean protection plan
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama launched a plan on Friday to protect the oceans, U.S. coasts and Great Lakes from the threats of climate change, pollution and overfishing.
"The oceans are critical to supporting life," Obama said in statement designating June as National Oceans Month. "The base of the oceanic ecosystem provides most of the oxygen we breathe, so oceans are critical to our survival."
Obama set up a task force led by chief White House environmental adviser Nancy Sutley to recommend a national policy to protect and restore "the health of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources" within 90 days.
The initiative comes as Obama is pressing Congress to pass sweeping new legislation to reduce the use of fossil fuels that emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for global climate change.
Oceans cover 70 percent of the Earth's surface and are a major source of jobs, food and energy resources. They are also critical to the transportation of people and goods and the mobility of U.S. armed forces.
Oceans "not only affect climate processes, but they are also under stress from the impacts of climate change," the White House said in a statement.
Other challenges are pollution, degraded coastal water quality, habitat loss, fishing impacts, invasive species, disease, rising sea levels and acidification, it said.
The environmental group Oceana praised Obama's action, hoping it would bring a "unifying vision" to the 140 U.S. laws and 20 federal agencies involved in oceans management.
"With the oceans facing the triple threats of overfishing, pollution and climate change, they need attention at the highest levels of government," Oceana chief executive Andy Sharpless said.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Anthony Boadle)

Source: Reuters

Landmark tobacco regulation bill goes to Obama

Landmark tobacco regulation bill goes to Obama
By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A landmark bill giving the U.S. government for the first time broad regulatory power over cigarettes and other tobacco products won final approval in Congress on Friday, and President Barack Obama said he would quickly sign it into law.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation in a 307-97 vote one day after it secured Senate approval. It marked the culmination of a quest by tobacco industry foes in Congress dating more than a decade to put cigarettes under the control of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The measure will allow the FDA to place stringent new limits on the manufacturing and marketing of tobacco products. The bill stopped short of banning cigarettes or their addictive ingredient, nicotine.
Tobacco use kills more than 400,000 Americans annually, according to federal health officials.
"This legislation ... will protect our kids and improve our public health," Obama, who has admitted to his own battles to quit smoking, said after the House vote. "So I look forward to signing it."
Under the plan, the FDA for the first time will monitor and inspect tobacco companies. Cigarette makers must pay hundreds of millions of dollars in fees, register with the agency, and provide a list of all the products they make.
The measure also calls for larger warnings on cigarette packages, restricts vending machine sales, bans most flavored products and further curbs print advertisements targeting children. The FDA also will have final say over new products and marketing claims such as "light" and "low tar."
Health advocates backed the plan, saying it would reduce smoking, prevent disease and lower soaring healthcare costs.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, whose helped lead the effort, said FDA oversight will rein in an industry known for aggressive marketing efforts.
'LAST GASP'
"We are today at the last gasp of the tobacco industry's efforts to protect their profits at the expense of the health and lives of the American people and to get children to take up this habit," Waxman said.
With the exception of Altria Group Inc's Philip Morris unit, the largest U.S. cigarette maker, tobacco companies opposed the plan, saying it would hamper their ability to bring new, safer products to market.
Regulation of the tobacco industry until now has been cobbled together by states, court rulings and other U.S. agencies such as the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
Last month, a U.S. appeals court found that cigarette companies lied for decades about the dangers of smoking and ordered them to launch advertisements highlighting the risks.
Much of the authority would now be in the FDA's hands. Continued...
Source: Reuters
 

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