Changes to the administration's forclosure prevention program will be announced tomorrow, the House passes the reconciliation bill, and the sex abuse scandal continues to plague the Catholic Church. I'm Marisa Bramwell and here's the latest from the ABC News Desk:
MORTGAGE MESS- A FIX?: Earlier today the Treasury Department announced new changes to its troubled foreclosure program. David Muir reports: “Banks will no longer e able to start the foreclosure process until they make sure a homeowner is ineligible for help. And once a homeowner says they want help, the banks must get them a decision within 30 days.” And this evening word came that even more changes to the program would be announced Friday. Matt Jaffe provides us with details on that: “As part of the coming changes, lenders will now be required to cut or eliminate mortgage payments for many unemployed homeowners. Lenders would have to reduce the payments to under 31 percent of a homeowner's income for up to six months – in some cases, that income may only be unemployment insurance. Lenders could also allow homeowners not to make any payments at all… The new changes will also help "underwater" homeowners — borrowers who owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth. Lenders will be encouraged to slash the loan balances for these homeowners and refinance them into loans backed by the government's Federal Housing Administration in an effort to make the loans more affordable. Lenders will now also receive twice as much money in federal incentives to modify second mortgages, including piggyback mortgages. The new plans will go into effect over the next six months. The money for the plans will be drawn from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, so no new funds will be required.” The Administration plans to announce the additional changes Friday morning.
POTUS SELLS HEALTH CARE, MORE THREATS: The House has just passed the final changes to the reconciliation bill for health care reform. The President is expected to sign it sometime next week.
President Obama hit the road today to sell the administration’s health care bill to the American people. First stop? Iowa City, where Obama first promised he would accomplish health care reform during his presidential campaign. “The Iowans gathered were a supportive crowd, more than willing to laugh with the President about Republican predictions that health care reform would lead to Armageddon…and perhaps with a nod towards the November elections, he attempted to reassure the crowd this was not a government takeover of their health care,” Jake Tapper reported tonight on WORLD NEWS.
And today more reports of threats against Democratic and Republican leaders who voted for health care reform. House Republican leader John Boehner and Speaker Nancy Pelosi met today to discuss the threats; both leaders condemned them. "Threats and violence should not be part of a political debate," Boehner said.
PRIEST ABUSE: A growing scandal over child abuse by clergy in the Roman Catholic Church boiled over today – with the focus on a case in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that dates back to the 50’s. The man accused - the Rev. Lawrence Murphy – andDan Harris reports: “Father Murphy allegedly abused upwards of 200 boys while working at the St. John’s School for the Deaf in the 1950’s.” Dan tells us: “Father Murphy was removed from the school in 1974, but it wasn’t until 1996 that the Archbishop of Milwaukee, facing a potential lawsuit, alerted the Vatican, sending a letter to the man who ran the office that oversaw abuse cases, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict. At first, aides to the future Pope allowed officials in Milwaukee to hold a secret church trial. But after Father Murphy sent this personal appeal, telling the future Pope he was in poor health and had repented of any of his transgressions, the trial was shut down.” Father Murphy died a few months later, still a priest in good standing. Today, the Vatican tried to justify its decision not to defrock Father Murphy, as Dan explains: “The Vatican defended the actions of the future Pope in light of the fact that Father Murphy was elderly and in very poor health, and no allegations of abuse had been reported in over 20 years.” But outside the Vatican, demonstrators weren’t buying it. The protestors included victims of sexual abuse by priests and they were demanding that Pope Benedict open up files worldwide of what they called “predator priests.” Some held up photos of themselves as children and signs that read “Stop the Secrecy Now.” Our Jim Sciutto is at the Vatican: “The abuse scandal is rippling from Australia, where more than 100 complaints of abuse forced an apology by the Pope…to Mexico, where the Pope dismissed the head of a priestly order accused of repeated abuse…and now to several countries across Europe. In Ireland, the scandal now involves thousands of allegations. Yesterday, the Pope accepted the resignation of a bishop who failed to report rampant abuse to police…And in Germany this week, revelations that church officials failed to punish a priest even after a conviction of sexually abusing boys, allowing him to offend again. He once worked under then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, the man who would become Pope Benedict.” Jim says: “The trouble for Benedict is that he spent 14 years as head of Vatican office directly responsible for handling crimes including abuse….As head of the church, Benedict has addressed abuse more directly…meeting personally with victims and making public apologies. But critics say the church continues to treat abuse as a matter of conscience rather than a crime.” One Vatican watcher says the Pope should create a criminal justice system within the Vatican. (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
DON’T ASK DON’T TELL: As reported by Martha Raddatz and Luis Martinez last night, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced changes to the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy today. The policy change makes it much harder for gays and lesbians to be thrown out of the military, but it doesn’t repeal the law, which is up for Congress to do.“In the meantime the Pentagon will continue its yearlong study into how a repeal might affect the force while continuing to fight two wars,” Martha Raddatz reports. “Secretary Gates made clear today that the Pentagon study now being conducted is not to determine whether Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell should be repealed, but how a repeal would be put into place,” Raddatz says.
BIN LADEN WARNING: Another audiotape from Osama bin Laden surfaced today. The 74-second message, airing on Al-Jazeera TV, threatened to kill any Americans captured by al Qaeda should the U.S. execute bin Laden’s number two man, Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Mohammed claims to be the mastermind of the September 11 attacks and remains at the Guantanamo prison camp, awaiting trial. The U.S. has charged him with murder and war crimes. Al-Qaeda is not known to be holding any Americans at the moment – but a group close to al Qaeda is believed to be holding an American soldier, PFC Bowe Bergdahl, captured in eastern Afghanistan last June.
TANNING RESTRICTIONS, TAX: A panel of experts recommended a host of new restrictions to protect young people from cancer dangers, including that the Food and Drug Administration ban teens under the age of 18 from tanning salons. Lobbyists from the tanning industry oppose the restrictions, claiming evidence linking artificial tanning to cancer was outdated. That’s not entirely correct – Dr. Richard Besser reports: “We know that there’s an epidemic in skin cancer in this country, and that exposure to ultraviolet light is a major cause. The science is clear…tanning beds use ultraviolet light. That causes cells in your skin to produce a pigment which causes your skin to go darker. But it also affects the DNA in your cell. It can cause breaks in that DNA which are mutations, which can lead to the formation of skin cancer. We know there’s no safe level of exposure, and that exposure earlier in life puts you at greater risk.” In addition to the proposed tanning restrictions, there is also a 10 percent tax written into the health care reform bill that will go into effect July 1.