Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lack of votes seen for Obama healthcare program

Lack of votes seen for Obama healthcare program
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's health secretary on Sunday pushed for a new government-run healthcare program, an idea facing skepticism even in his own party, and a senior Senate Democrat flatly said votes are lacking in Congress for the proposal.
In addition, Vice President Joe Biden opposed proposals being discussed by some lawmakers to tax health insurance benefits provided to people by employers as a way to pay for an overhaul of the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare industry.
Obama, aiming to get healthcare costs under control and ensure that the 46 million Americans who are uninsured can get health coverage, wants a new public program to compete with private insurers.
"The president feels that having a 'public option' side by side -- same playing field, same rules -- will give Americans choice and will help lower costs for everybody. And that's a good thing," Sebelius told CNN.
"The president does not want to dismantle privately owned plans. He doesn't want the 180 million people who have employer coverage to lose that coverage. He wants to strengthen the marketplace," Sebelius added.
Healthcare costs undermine the competitiveness of U.S. companies, drive many families into bankruptcy and eat up a growing portion of state and federal spending.
Versions of healthcare legislation unveiled by senior Democrats in the House and Senate include a new government insurance program. But Republicans are adamantly opposed to the idea, saying it could harm private insurers, and some of Obama's fellow Democrats are against it, too.
Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said there is not enough support in Congress for the "public option" even though proponents offer "very good arguments" for it.
"You've got to attract some Republicans as well as holding virtually all of the Democrats together. And that, I don't believe, is possible with the pure 'public option.' I don't think the votes are there," Conrad said on CNN.
There already are large public health insurance programs like the Medicare program for those over 65 and the disabled and the Medicaid for the poor. Obama envisions a program for those not already covered by existing public plans.
Conrad has proposed an alternative to a new public program -- a system of federally chartered insurance cooperatives that could be a nonprofit alternative to the insurance industry.
Susan Collins, one of the few moderate Senate Republicans, said on CNN this was an intriguing idea that could serve as a compromise between those for and against a new public plan.
Obama on Monday is set to address the American Medical Association, which represents the nation's doctors and has voiced skepticism about a broad new public plan but willingness to consider other proposals including the cooperatives.
Sebelius did not embrace the proposal but also did not dismiss it, saying, "There is no one-size-fits-all idea." Continued...
Source: Reuters

Biden casts doubt on Ahmadinejad's re-election

Biden casts doubt on Ahmadinejad's re-election
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday cast doubt on the re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying Tehran's actions against dissent suggest the results may not be clear-cut.
"It sure looks like the way they're suppressing speech, the way they're suppressing crowds, the way in which people are being treated, that there's some real doubt," Biden told NBC's "Meet the Press" when asked if Ahmadinejad had won the vote.
"I have doubts but we're going to withhold comment until we have a thorough review of the whole process and (see) how they react in the aftermath," he said.
Official election results gave Ahmadinejad nearly 63 percent of the vote and only 34 percent for his moderate opponent, Mirhossein Mousavi.
"That's what they're announcing. We have to accept that for the time being. But there's an awful lot of question about how this election was run," Biden said.
But he cautioned: "We don't have enough facts to make a firm judgment."
Mousavi dismissed Ahmadinejad's triumph as a "dangerous charade" while unrest erupted in Tehran and other cities in a display of political discontent.
Ahmadinejad's re-election could pose further challenges for U.S. President Barack Obama's hopes of dialogue with Iran and his outreach to the Muslim world.
Iran, under Ahmadinejad, has defied attempts by the United States and its allies to suspend its nuclear program, which the West claims to be an effort by Tehran to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge and says the program is aimed at nuclear energy.
After the vote, thousands of Mousavi's supporters took to the streets of the capital, chanting anti-government slogans and taunting riot police.
Police have detained more than 100 reformers, including the brother of former President Mohammad Khatami, a leading reformer said on Sunday. A police official confirmed some detentions.
In expressing his doubts, Biden pointed specifically to the vote count among Iran's cities, which he said account for 70 percent of the country's balloting but suggested that urban voters were not expected to turn out heavily for Ahmadinejad.
"The idea he'd get 68 or whatever percent of the vote in a circumstance like that seems unlikely," the vice president said.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)

Source: Reuters

Hearing for Supreme Court nominee poses challenges

Hearing for Supreme Court nominee poses challenges
By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Republicans are in a quandary over the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, aiming to raise pointed questions about her record without angering increasingly influential Hispanic voters.
Senator John Cornyn exemplifies the Republican dilemma over Sotomayor, who is the daughter of Puerto Rican parents who seems certain to be confirmed by the Democratic-led Senate as the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.
One of seven Republicans on the 19-member Senate Judiciary Committee, Cornyn will take part in what he promises will be tough but civil questioning of Sotomayor, Democratic President Barack Obama's choice, at her hearing starting on July 13.
Cornyn is also chairman of the Senate Republican campaign committee that is charged with expanding a shrinking party and winning seats in the overwhelmingly Democratic Senate.
Hispanics, the fastest-growing U.S. minority who make up 15 percent of the population, are a key to any expansion plans.
Hispanics voted by a two-to-one margin for Obama in last year's presidential election. Many Hispanic voters greeted news of Sotomayor's nomination with joy, and Republicans are aware that Hispanics will be watching carefully how she is handled.
"There are a lot of things going on, but I feel absolutely no pressure," Cornyn, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, said in an interview in his office. "There is a very consistent way to deal with this that is respectful of the nominee."
Sotomayor, a federal judge for the past 17 years, will be grilled over her comments asserting that a "wise Latina" woman judge might make better rulings than a white male -- which drew accusations of racism from some conservative critics.
Cornyn said such attacks were "exactly the wrong way to start a civil process," but did say he felt it reasonable to ask if Sotomayor felt the law was color blind.
With Democrats holding 59 votes in the 99-member Senate and some Republicans praising Sotomayor, she seems certain to be confirmed to a lifetime appointment to the nine-member court. She would replace retiring Justice David Souter, who has often sided with liberals on the Supreme Court.
Jennifer Duffy, who tracks Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said Cornyn had to be careful.
"He is facing an internal battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party between those for ideological purism and those pushing for a bigger tent," Duffy said.
In his campaign role, Cornyn is expected to rally conservatives -- and conservative cash -- to help win as many Senate races as possible in the 2010 congressional elections.
The Republican Party has been beaten decisively by Democrats in the last two elections, and party leaders would like to draw in more minorities, particularly Hispanics, as well as women. Continued...
Source: Reuters