SENATOR MAX BAUCUS UNVEILS HIS HEALTH CARE REFORM BILL-Senator Baucus’ ‘Gang of 6’ bi-partisan health care bill was released today. Judging from reaction on the Hill, maybe it’s a bill that only Max Baucus’ mother could love. But first the particulars-Jon Karl, filing for WORLD NEWS, outlines what’s in the bill. Karl: “Based on the principles outlined by the White House, the bill would
-require most Americans to buy health insurance or pay fines of up to $950 for individuals, $3800 for families.
-expand Medicaid…making more people eligible
-give money to those w/household incomes up to $66K to buy insurance and
-ban insurance companies from denying coverage for those w/pre-existing conditions.”
Bi-partisan? Karl notes that “not one Republican endorsed the bill today. But more troubling for the White House was the avalanche of Democratic opposition.” Liberals didn’t like it, Karl tells us, “because the bill does not create a new government-run health insurance program.” Other Democrats fear it could adversely impact the middle-class. West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller called it “a big, big tax on the middle class”. Teddy Davis and Rick Klein note conservative ire: “Grover Norquist’s conservative anti-tax group – Americans for Tax Reform — is also criticizing the Baucus plan with a statement saying that it violates President Obama’s pledge not to raise taxes on families making less than $250,000 per year.”
Rather than helping, it seems Baucus’ bill has only exacerbated an already difficult situation for the President in crafting a health-care reform plan that a majority could live with. As Charles Gibson said to George Stephanopoulos on WORLD NEWS this evening, “there’s 535 members of the Senate and the House. It seems as if there’s 535 versions of what has to be in this bill” Stephanopoulos concurred and added that “most of them were left out of the negotiations, which is why this bill is having such a hard time.” And while Stephanopoulos notes that Baucus’ bill “meets the President’s main principles” he also adds that at this juncture “this bill does not have the votes to get out of the Senate Finance Committee or the floor of the Senate.”
H1N1 FLU/MILD YET DEADLY-Charles Gibson asked Dr. Richard Besser about the puzzling aspects of the H1N1 virus, that is how can a relatively mild flu be causing so many deaths? Dr. Besser: “I talked to leading flu experts around the country and this is what they are seeing. This virus, unlike seasonal flu, can cause bleeding into the lung….and without very specialized care, without machines to help with breathing, these patients can’t breathe and many of them have died.” Besser also reiterated that of the patients who’ve died “most of them have underlying medical problems”. But not all, and Besser adds “that’s a reason why we have to have a very healthy respect for this infection.”
ACORN INVESTIGATION: The White House today called videos showing ACORN employees giving tax fraud advice to a couple posing as a pimp and prostitute “unacceptable,” and said that "the administration takes accountability extremely seriously." The White House response is just the latest in a string of criticisms against the grass-roots organization – which helps residents in low-income communities register to vote and find jobs – following the release of the videos, which were taken undercover by conservative filmmakers. In addition to the controversial videos, 11 ACORN employees in Florida were arrested and charged with voter registration fraud. Last week the Census Bureau broke its ties with the organization, and on Monday the Senate voted to deny ACORN funding from HUD. But ACORN claims latest scandal involving the undercover tapes is nothing more than a conservative sting operation. Here’s Jake Tapper: “Republicans have long opposed Acorn’s politics and methods and last year they attacked the president for his past ties to the group in Chicago, and a get out the vote contract his presidential campaign has with an ACORN-affiliated group.” ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis told ABC News today that she believed the attacks against her organization had a racial undertone: “they’re basically saying these people shouldn’t be trusted, how could they be trusted? You know, they’re all poor black and brown people.” ACORN has ordered an internal investigation, and has stopped accepting new clients. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
YALE MURDER INVESTIGATION: The medical examiner announced today that Yale medical student Annie Le died of “traumatic asphyxia due to neck compression.” Investigators continue to search the apartment of Raymond Clark, a 24-year-old lab technician at the research facility where Le also worked. Clark, whom police described as a “person of interest,” was detained late Tuesday night. He submitted to physical DNA testing and questioning before he was released early this morning. Investigators said they expect DNA test results within days. Rich Esposito reports police took Clark’s key card into possession and that it “shows him going in and out [of the lab] at least 10 times. Some of those after hours, and that police discovered bloody surgical gloves and that the panel to the chase was removed or opened and Le was put behind in. Esposito also reports that Clark “emailed or texted [Le] about her dirty cages – complaining – and said words to the effect of ‘we need to meet.’ This is being viewed as possible sign of setup/premeditation.” (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
TERROR PLOT PROBED: Federal authorities are still trying to get to the bottom of a case involving a Colorado man who might have links to al Qaeda. Najibullah Zazi says he has “nothing to do with al Qaeda.” But our Brian Ross says that’s not what he’s told: “Authorities say evidence gathered in a series of raids in New York on Monday revealed a much different story about Zazi. Agents reportedly found 14 brand new black backpacks they suspect were to be used to carry suicide bombs, along with instructions on Zazi's computers about how to build a bomb with household chemicals. The suicide bombers in London and Madrid used backpacks to transport their explosives. One senior agent said: we're dealing with the varsity here and this was going to be the real deal.” That said, the FBI today moved into the Denver suburb of Aurora, where the 24-year old Zazi has an apartment. According to one report, an agent wearing protective clothing and a dog went into the apartment, as other agents stood by. At some point, several of Zazi’s friends, a man and three women, were escorted out of the building and into an SUV – but they were later released. As the search was completed, agents were spotted carrying at least six boxes out of the building. The FBI would only confirm they had a search warrant to go through Zazi’s apartment and evacuated several nearby residents as a precaution. And there’s late word tonight from Clayton Sandell of yet another search: “FBI Special Agent Kathy Wright said it was the second location they searched today– the first was Najibulla Zazi's apartment just a few minutes away. A check by Joe Rhee of the Ontario Place address shows it belonging to Rabia Zabi, who AP says is an aunt of Najibulla. Wright said only these two locations were searched today. She would not comment on who or what agents are looking for or what they've found.” Zazi hasn’t been charged with anything yet but the heat is definitely on. (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
HOUSING OPTIMISM UP/WHERE THINGS STAND- The National Association of Home Builders said its housing market index rose in September, reflecting growing optimism in the industry about rising home sales. Bill Weir, filing for WORLD NEWS, has gotten a sense of that growing optimism. Take the Phoenix housing market as an example. Weir tells us that “a January drive through this Phoenix suburb was a tour of despair with 130 homes for sale.” Now? Weir: “Today the story is completely different. While nationwide home sales jumped almost 17%, the turnaround in this same suburb is even more stunning. 150 homes sold since May, thanks to low prices and surging confidence.” Great news but Weir adds that “for many, the rebound is coming too late.” One of the problems for homeowners has been the difficulty of getting their loans modified. Real estate attorney Jorge Gavaria notes that “banks are often unable to modify, because they bundled most mortgages on Wall Street…and the investors who bought them don’t want to take a loss.” But for those who are able to get out from under, like the Long Island couple featured in Weir’s piece that finally found a buyer for their first home after 15 months, “their nest egg is smaller, but they say they’re more grateful and wiser than ever.”
KILLER FLOOR MATS?-Toyota and Lexus owners, heads up, the floor mats in your car could kill you. Investigators looking into a Southern California car crash that killed four people think floor mats are to blame. Lisa Stark, filing for WORLD NEWS, explains: “Investigators think that the gas pedal got jammed under the mat, causing the car to race up to 120 miles an hour.” A harrowing 911 call from the occupants of the car ends with “We’re approaching intersection…Hold on…Pray”. Stark says that “Toyota and Lexus dealers will now check all floor mats in new, used and loaner vehicles-to make sure they are the right mats, installed properly.” Toyota is no stranger to floor mat issues-Stark notes that “in 2007 Toyota recalled 55K cars to replace floor mats that could slip and catch the gas pedal”. And for those of you who don’t drive a Toyota or Lexus? Pay attention. As Clarence Ditlow, from the Center for Auto Safety said in Stark’s piece “It can happen in any car at any time.”
GARRIDO PROPERTY SEARCH-From Brian Rooney: “Investigators say they have found some bits of bone on the Phillip Garrido property, but have no idea if they are animal or human. So far they have found nothing that breaks open their missing child cases. They previously found a piece of possibly human bone which is still being identified. The word is there are frequently Indian remains in this area.
Investigators spent the day clearing ground cover, knocking down sheds and little outbuildings. They will likely tear out the sheetrock and do some interior demolition of the house … holding out the possibility of even taking down the house. They will bring in dogs, possibly Thursday and at some point bring in ground penetrating radar. This may go on several more days.”
TOXIC ASSETS- The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has named the first winning bidder under a test of the government's program to back private purchases of toxic mortgage assets and get them off banks' balance sheets. Fort Worth, Texas-based Residential Credit Solutions Inc. is paying $64.2 million for a 50 percent stake in a new company that will have about $1.3 billion in home mortgages from the failed Franklin Bank. More from Matt Jaffe and Charlie Herman: “The deal is expected to close later this month. The FDIC will then analyze the results of the test sale to assess how well the program works. This is all part of that Public-Private Investment Program – or PPIP – announced by the government in March as the latest new plan to rid banks of these toxic assets. Last month, the Congressional Oversight Panel warned that even today ‘it is likely that an overwhelming portion of the troubled assets from last October remain on bank balance sheets’. These toxic assets, the watchdog warned, still ‘remain a substantial danger to the financial system.’
The actual PPIP would differ from this pilot sale by dealing with operating banks – not failed ones – and handling securitized loans – rather than actual loans. If the PPIP can succeed in getting these bad assets off of banks’ balance sheets, the thinking goes, then the banks will in turn ratchet up lending, a key factor in economic recovery.”
MITCHELL EXTENDS MID-EAST STAY-From Simon McGregor-Wood: “George Mitchell is extending his visit till Friday for more meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas. A source in the Israeli PM's office said today's meeting was ‘good’ – again. But there's little sign significant progress is being made and no clear indication whether there will be a three way meeting next week with President Obama – or not. President Abbas in public statements at least, is still holding out for a full freeze – which is far from what Israel is offering The three sides are working on a package, not just the settlement ‘freeze’. The package includes the gestures Israel might receive from the Arab states and the parameters of the future peace talks, as and when they start.” You can read more in McGregor-Wood’s note to the Middle East DL or email me for a copy.
—INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION-The Federal Reserve said today that output at the nation's factories, mines and utilities rose 0.8 percent in August. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected a 0.6 percent increase. Last month's gain marked the second straight increase. As with retail sales figures released yesterday, the “Cash for Clunkers” program helped spur industrial production, as car manufacturing was up significantly. But even with production of autos and parts stripped out, manufacturing activity increased 0.4 percent last month.
–INFLATION IN CHECK- Inflation, meanwhile, remains nowhere in sight. The Consumer Price Index rose just 0.4 percent in August, after a flat reading in July, the government said. Prices fell 1.5 percent in the past year, as gas prices dropped sharply from record levels last summer. The "core" CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, ticked up a scant 0.1 percent, matching expectations. Over the 12 months ending in August, the core rate rose 1.4 percent -the smallest such increase in more than five years. (AP)
–STOCK MARKET LIKES THE GOOD ECONOMIC NEWS-Granted it’s only the middle of September, but the positive moves on Wall Street so far this month make the Wall Street adage “September is the cruelest month for investors” seem more like an old wives’ tale. The Dow rose 108.30, or 1.1 percent, to 9,791.71, its highest close since Oct. 6, when it ended at 9,956. The index is now up 11.6 percent for the year. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 16.13, or 1.5 percent, to 1,068.76, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 30.51, or 1.5 percent, to 2,133.15. The advance comes even as analysts warn that stocks are due for a correction. The S&P 500 index, the benchmark for many mutual funds, has surged 58 percent since it tumbled to a 12-year low in early March.
–DC-AREA SNIPER EXECUTION DATE-A Virginia judge on Wednesday set a Nov. 10 execution date for John Allen Muhammad, mastermind of the 2002 sniper attacks in the Washington, D.C., area that left 10 dead. Muhammad's attorney, Jonathan Sheldon, has said he will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. (AP)