President Obama signs the health care reform bill, the White House shifts focus to financial reform, Caesaran section rates skyrocket and Oprah settles her defamation case. I'm Marisa Bramwell and here's the latest from the ABC News desk:
POTUS SIGNS HEALTH CARE BILL: President Obama signed the health care reform bill this morning, dedicating it to his mother and other Americans who weren’t able to get or maintain health insurance while they battled illness. “I'm signing this bill for all the leaders who took up this cause through the generations, from Teddy Roosevelt to Franklin Roosevelt, from Harry Truman to Lyndon Johnson, from Bill and Hillary Clinton to one of the deans who's been fighting this so long, John Dingell to Senator Ted Kennedy,” Obama said. “He also recognized Vicki Kennedy, widow of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, a champion of universal health care…then, after more than a year of bitter debate, the president finally signed the bill…using 22 pens, giving away 19 to allies, 2 to the archives and 1 to himself,” Jake Tapper reported.
FIGHT AGAINST HEALTH CARE REFORM CONTINUES: While the White House celebrated the signing of the landmark health care reform bill, Republicans continued their efforts to thwart it. Jonathan Karl reports: “The political debate isn’t over…and neither is the vitriol…in Arizona, the office of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gibbons was vandalized – she’s been under fire for voting YES. And then there’s Republican Randy Neugebauer, who yelled ‘baby killer’ on the House floor. Yesterday he apologized. Today he seemed proud of it in a fundraising video.” Challenges to the bill were filed in 14 states today, but legal experts say there is little chance they will succeed since state laws are overruled by federal laws. The Department of Justice said it would “vigorously defend the constitutionality of the health care reform statute, along with any other claims, in any litigation that is brought against the United States. We are confident that this statute is constitutional and we will prevail when we defend it in court."
DOCTORS REACT TO HEALTH CARE REFORM: So what do doctors think about the health care reform bill? Dan Harris spoke to a couple doctors – one said the bill would enable more people to get treated regularly, while another expressed concern resources from specialized care will be decreased and funneled into primary care. However, Harris reports that “they do agree that with millions of newly insured people flooding into the system in roughly four years…there’s a big questions: who will provide all of them with primary care? The reason there’s a shortage of primary care physicians already is many young doctors opt for more lucrative, higher-prestige specialties like surgery or dermatology. And look what happened in Massachusetts, where they passed health care reform, new patients wait 44 days to see a primary care physician, the longest in the nation.” Harris notes that the new legislation does offer bonuses and help with student loan payments for medical students who choose to move into primary care, which one doctor said was “a beginning…but this is really just a fraction of what is needed.”
C-SECTION RATES: The Centers for Disease Control announced today that Caesarian sections increased 53 percent between 1996 and 2007, the highest rates ever recorded. Sharyn Alfonsi reports the increase in Caesareans is “a concern because C-sections are more likely to cause problems that put the mother in the hospital, and the baby in intensive care.” Experts cite a variety of reasons for the increase: “Multiple births – due to fertility treatments – require C-section, and that’s part of the equation,” Alfonsi reports. “But so are bigger babies and heavier mothers. An increase in older mothers is a factor too. They’re more likely to have the surgery. Surprisingly though, it’s women under 25 who actually saw the greatest increase in C-sections.” There is also this: “In an article published last month [in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology], nearly a third of doctors admitted they were performing more C-sections because they feared lawsuits.”
FINANCE REFORM: Now that the health care bill is taken care of, the White House is shifting its remaining focus to boosting the nation’s economy. Matt Jaffe and Karen Travers report: “It won't take long for the administration's "pivot" to take place. The Senate Banking Committee voted Monday evening to send chairman Chris Dodd's reform proposal on to the full Senate. And just down the road from Capitol Hill, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner presented the administration's "closing arguments" for financial reform in a speech at a conservative think-tank.” Tomorrow morning the President will meet with Dodd and Representative Barney Frank to discuss financial reform.
MIDEAST: President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu this evening at the White House. One topic of discussion almost certain to the flap over Israel's announcement two weeks ago, during a visit by Vice President Biden, that it will build 1,600 new apartments in East Jerusalem, the largely Arab section of the disputed city. Before seeing President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu told House Speaker Pelosi and other lawmakers he feared peace talks may be delayed for another year unless Palestinians drop their demand for a full freeze on Jewish settlements. (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
GOOGLE VS CHINA: A maneuver by Google to circumvent China’s internet censorship rules is just a “business decision” according to the U.S. State Department. Traders on the New York Stock Exchange saw Google shares fall one and a half per cent today and one analyst predicts the move will cause the company’s stock to fall up to ten per cent in the coming weeks. So what’s going on? Our China watcher, Clarissa Ward, tells us: “Google is trying to get around the so-called great firewall of China…moving its search engine from the Mainland to Hong Kong. Today, the Chinese fired back…saying – we can block you there, too.” So, give us a “for instance” Clarissa: “At the moment if I go to Google's Chinese site, I am rerouted to their Hong Kong server. If I type in a random search, like "New York", I get a page of normal results. But if I start to type in politically sensitive terms like Tiananmen Massacre, I get absolutely nowhere. The Great Fire Wall in action.” So what’s at stake, Clarissa? “Google’s Chinese search engine made an estimated $300-muillion last year. China is the largest internet market in the world, with close to 400 million internet users and it’s growing by 250,000 every day.” And it’s not certain the worst is over. One financial expert expects repercussions from the Google V China dustup to continue for several years. (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
MEXICO DRUG TALKS: Secretary of State Clinton and a delegation of top level officials in the Obama Administration are in Mexico to pledge long-term support for that country’s drug wars. This evening Clinton, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano and other members of the U.S. delegation went to the presidential palace for a meeting with Mexico’s President Calderon and Foreign Secretary Espinosa. During the day, Secretary Clinton said the Obama Administration would soon make public a new drug policy that would include strategies for reducing drug demand. The U.S. has acknowledged that the U.S. demand for illegal narcotics, as well as a flow of U.S. arms into the country is at the heart of the country’s drug problems. In 2007, the U.S. pledged $1.4 billion to help Mexico fight the drug cartels. Today’s discussions were to focus on the next steps in the initiative know as ‘Plan Merida.’ Secretary Napolitano says Mexico can expect more U.S. drug enforcement, border security team and better intelligence sharing during the next phase. Defense Secretary Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen were also in the U.S. delegation to send a message to Mexico that the administration is serious about cooperating with Mexico in the battle against drug violence south of the U.S. border. (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
PAY CZAR ON BAILOUTS: Pay czar Kenneth Feinberg said today top officials at companies that received government bailouts will be paid 15 percent less in 2010 than in 2009. Matt Jaffe: “Feinberg’s rulings will apply to the top 25 officials at AIG, General Motors, GMAC, Chrysler, and Chrysler Financial. The pay czar is poised to cut pay for these employees by an average of 11 percent from last year, people familiar with the matter told ABC News. Feinberg is also expected to continue his insistence that more compensation be given in the form of stock rather than cash –this year over 70 percent of compensation will come in stock.”
MORTAGE PROGRAM “DISAPPOINTING”: Matt Jaffe reports: “The Obama administration’s program to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure has posted ‘disappointing results’ in part because its definition of success is ‘essentially meaningless,’ a watchdog said Tuesday in a new report obtained by ABC News. In his audit on the administration’s $75 billion Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), bailout watchdog Neil Barofsky blasted the Treasury Department for the program’s shortcomings. Specifically, Barofsky criticized the administration for focusing on the number of homeowners who receive temporary help. When the program was unveiled last year, the administration said by the end of 2012 it would help three to four million homeowners “avoid foreclosure” by “reducing monthly payments to sustainable levels.” Treasury has stated that homeowners who have received offers for temporary mortgage modifications count towards this goal, a decision ripped by Barofsky…To date, over 1.3 million homeowners have received trial modification offers, but only 170,000 homeowners have received permanent modifications.”
OPRAH SETTLEMENT: Oprah Winfrey has reached a settlement in a defamation suit filed by the former headmistress of her girls school in South Africa. Attorneys for Winfrey and Lerato Nomvuyo Mzamane released a statement reading: "The two parties met woman to woman without their lawyers and are happy that they could resolve this dispute peacefully to their mutual satisfaction. Ms. Winfrey testified in her deposition that she did not intend the implications placed on her words by the plaintiff. Ms. Mzamane testified in her deposition that she has no evidence that Ms. Winfrey knowingly made a false statement about her or entertained serious doubt about the truth of what she said. We are pleased both parties have reached a conclusion."