11 Republican states to challenge Obama’s health care reforms

Washington: As President Barack Obama prepared to sign into law Tuesday the historic health care reform legislation, 11 opposition Republican states were reported to be planning to mount a legal challenge.

Obama also will hit the road to sell the $940 billion plan projected to extend insurance coverage to roughly 32 million more Americans. He starts with a speech Thursday in Iowa City, where he had launched his grassroots drive for health care reform in May 2007, said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

The US House of Representatives late Sunday night approved the Senate version of the bill, which constitutes the biggest expansion of federal health care guarantees in more than four decades, passed with no Republican support.

A separate compromise package of changes also passed the House Sunday and still needs to be approved by the Senate. But the Senate cannot begin debate on the package before Obama signs the main bill into law.

Meanwhile, Florida’s Republican attorney general Bill McCollum announced Monday he and nine other states would file a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new health care reform bill once Obama signs it into law. He said he’ll be joined by his counterparts in Republican Alabama, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington. But McCollum said the lawsuit would be about the law and not politics.

Separately, Virginia’s Republican attorney general announced his state would also file a lawsuit challenging the health care bill. McCollum said the lawsuit would challenge the bill’s provision requiring people to purchase health insurance, along with provisions that will force state government to spend more on health care services.

An unfazed Gibbs said the Obama administration expected to win any lawsuits filed against the health care bill. He also challenged Republicans to campaign for the November election against benefits of the health care bill such as tax credits for small businesses and an end to insurance company practices such as denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Passage of the bill was a huge boost for Obama, who had made health care reform a domestic priority. But senior Republicans in Congress warned that voters will judge Democrats harshly in November’s midterm elections.

Under the new law, most Americans will be required to have health insurance or pay a fine. Larger employers will be required to provide coverage or risk financial penalties. Lifetime coverage limits will be banned and insurers will be barred from denying coverage based on gender or pre-existing conditions.

The compromise package would add to the bill’s total cost partly by expanding insurance subsidies for middle- and lower-income families. The measure would scale back the bill’s taxes on expensive insurance plans.

The House’s approval of the reform package has received mixed reviews with consumer groups praising it and insurers giving it a thumbs down.

The American Medical Association (AMA), the largest physician group, also applauded new measures to increase payments for primary care physicians caring for Medicaid patients and give bonus payments to physicians who work in underserved areas.

However, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the group representing nearly 1,300 member companies, said the legislation doesn’t go far enough in addressing escalating health care costs and improving the quality of care.


Barack Obama has not received Nobel prize money yet

Three months after receiving the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, US President Barack Obama is yet to receive the USD 1.4 million cash award, the White House said today.

“Not that I am aware of, no,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters at his daily press briefing when asked if Obama has received the check of USD 1.4 million from the Norwegian Nobel Committee; which awarded him the coveted peace prize on December 10 last year.

Gibbs told curious reporters that Obama has not asked for the money yet.

“I assume it (money) is with the committee,” he said.

Soon after receiving the award, the White House had said that Obama intends to donate this money to charities.

“That’s what we’re working on. That’s quite perceptive,” he said.

“There will be a process to evaluate that, from his perspective. I assume it will be many different charities.

Tirupati idols, ‘laddu’ for Obama

The governing body of the Tirumala temple at Tirupati is planning to present a golden idol of Lord Venkateswara and prasad to US President Barack Obama.

 “The organisers of Kalyanotsavam (a special puja) at New Jersey are planning to invite Obama. We also want to present him a golden idol of Lord Venkateshwara,” TTD chairman D K Adikesavulu Naidu told reporters.

“He (Obama) believes in Hinduism, Lord Hanuman and the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. We also want to give him laddu prasadam, our publications, everything we can give him,” he said.

Naidu said he would seek an appointment with Obama if he does not attend the function at New Jersey.

The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, the governing body, would organise Kalyanotsavam at various places in the country to propagate Hindu philosophy, he said.

On April 21, the Kalyanotsavam would be held in New Delhi; he said but did not announce the date for the New Jersey programme.

Naidu said security arrangements are being spruced up but there is no specific information of any threat.

 He also said a dress code for the employees will be announced soon

Pak FO says no to Indo-Pak meet in Washington

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is unlikely to meet his Indian counterpart Dr. Manmohan Singh in Washington, where they are scheduled to attend the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on April 12 and 13.

Pakistan Foreign Office (FO) spokesman Abdul Basit said he is unaware of any such meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of the upcoming summit.

“I don’t know yet,” The Daily Times quoted Basit, as saying.

The focus of the conference hosted by President Barack Obama is on securing vulnerable nuclear materials and preventing acts of “nuclear terrorism”.

The White House has invited 44 countries to the summit, though the list of delegates has not been finalised yet.

“The purpose of the summit is to discuss steps we can collectively take to secure vulnerable nuclear materials and prevent acts of nuclear terrorism,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs had said earlier.

House passes $15 billion jobs bill

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about health care in the East Room of the White House in Washington Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The United States House of Representatives today followed the Senate in passing a jobs bill of $15 billion and thereby setting the ball rolling for President Obama’s top priority for 2010 – tackling unemployment.

With a 217-201 vote largely along partisan lines the Hiring Incentive to Restore Employment Act (the “HIRE Act”) offers a payroll tax holiday for businesses that hire unemployed workers and an income tax credit of $1,000 for businesses that retain these employees. The bill passed in the Senate a few weeks ago, by a vote of 70-28 and it remains to be signed into law by Mr. Obama

While the bill is significantly smaller than the $787 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act – more commonly known as the stimulus package – that was passed approximately a year ago, it offers a range of supports designed to boost new hiring.

Apart from the tax holiday and credits, the bill also provides for the extension of the Highway Trust Fund, “allowing for tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment”, according to a statement by the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

Further the bill contains provisions based on the Build America Bonds programme, she said, and aims to simplify the process for states to borrow for infrastructure projects, including school construction and energy projects.

Speaking on the floor of the House after the vote Ms. Pelosi said, “We must be unrelenting in our efforts to create more jobs”. However the House Republicans charged their Democrat colleagues with fiscal profligacy.

Mike Pence, Chairman of the House Republican Conference, said, “A one-time government handout is not going to create jobs – only immediate and permanent tax relief for working families, small businesses and family farms will help get businesses hiring again”.

Stressing the need for across the board tax relief, not “Carter era wage subsidies” to unemployed workers, he also raised objections to the bill for transferring $19.5 billion from the government’s general fund to the highway trust fund.

Mr. Spence pointed out that the general fund was running a $1.6 trillion deficit making it inappropriate to “prop up an insolvent highway trust fund with an insolvent general fund”.

Chile quake toll rises to 708


A collapsed bridge over the Claro river is seen near the town of Camarico, Chile on Saturday. An 8.8-magnitude quake and a resulting tsunami killed more than 300 people in Chile.

The toll in the devastating earthquake in Chile has risen to 708, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said.

The country was facing “a catastrophe of such unthinkable magnitude” and will need enormous efforts to recover, he said at a press conference Sunday, adding the fatalities may increase as the rescue efforts are continuing, Xinhua reported.

An earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale rocked Chile last Saturday, causing widespread destruction.

More than 300 dead in massive Chilean earthquake

A collapsed bridge over the Claro river is seen near the town of Camarico, Chile on Saturday. An 8.8-magnitude quake and a resulting tsunami killed more than 300 people in Chile

Chilean authorities were assessing the damage from a massive earthquake that killed more than 300 people, as Asian nations braced Sunday for the resulting tsunami that was still racing across the Pacific Ocean.
Hundreds of people were missing and feared trapped under the rubble of buildings that buckled under the force of the 8.8 magnitude quake, the strongest to hit the South American nation since 1960.
The earthquake occurred at 3:34 am (0634 GMT) Saturday, some 90 kilometres north—east of Concepcion, a city of 630,000 in Chile’s central coastal region.
Significant damage was reported in the capital Santiago, 320 kilometres north of the epicentre, affecting buildings, roads and closing the international airport.
Waves of 1.5 metres or less were reported in Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia. Comprehensive coastal warnings were issued in Japan, where the Chilean tsunami was expected Sunday afternoon with a height of up to 3 metres, and coastal residents on the Philippines Pacific shores fled for high ground in fear of the waves.
Some coastal areas of Chile were quickly struck by a post—quake wave, devastating some communities.
A wall of water swept across the Chilean island of Robinson Crusoe, 670 kilometres off the coast. Three people were reported missing on the island.
President Michelle Bachelet declared a state of disaster in the worst—hit regions south of Santiago. “I have no doubt that we will make it through this,” she said in a nationally televised address.
Sebastian Pinera, who takes over from her as head of state on March 11, appealed for solidarity.
The death toll rose throughout Saturday, reaching more than 300 by sundown. Authorities warned that more fatalities were likely.
In Conception, 150 people were feared trapped in a fallen, 14— storey apartment block.
“From the street we can hear the screaming of those who were caught under the new, 14—floor building,” one man said looking at the pile of rubble.
There were reports of unrest in one Santiago neighbourhood over shortages of water and power outages.
Santiago’s international airport was ordered closed to incoming and outgoing flights for at least three days, with a collapse reported in the terminal building. The city’s underground rail network was also closed.
Overturned cars littered motorway flyovers, which buckled and crumbled during the quake.
Power lines were down, water supplies were cut and burst gas pipes raised fears of explosions. Internet communications were disrupted and mobile phone networks badly damaged.
In Concepcion, damage was widespread. The offices of the region government were reported to have been destroyed, and the walls of the city’s prison collapsed, with hundreds of convicts reported to have escaped.
Chilean television showed footage of collapsed hospitals, burning buildings and wrecked bridges.Modern, high—rise buildings in Santiago were relatively unscathed by the quake and the scores of aftershocks.
With Chile’s prosperity and seismic history, the country has for decades required new construction to conform to earthquake-zone engineering standards.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered “rapid assistance” if sought by Chile. In Washington, President Barack Obama offered to deploy US resources “should the Chilean people need our help.” The quake was 50 times more powerful than the one that claimed more than 200,000 lives on January 12 Haiti, said the head of the University of Santiago’s Seismological Institute, Sergio Barrientos.
The worst earthquake to hit Chile occurred in 1960, when a 9.5—magnitude quake and tsunami claimed 6,000 lives.