Marisa’s Musings: Health Care, Congress Threats, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Mortgage Help

By Marisa Bramwell

Mar 24, 2010 9:54pm

Members of Congress who voted for health care reform are now being threatened, the Government Accountability Office blasts the Administration's mortgage help plan and a big announcement on Don't Ask Don't Tell is in the works…I'm Marisa Bramwell and here's the latest from the ABC News Desk.

HCR – THREATS AGAINST CONGRESS:  At least ten members of Congress have received death threats or had acts of violence committed against them since voting YES on health care reform Sunday.  Jonathan Karl reports: “The incidents are relatively small and isolated … but they have captured the attention of congressional leaders and the capitol police: Shattered glass at the offices of Arizona's Gabrielle Giffords…Death threats directed at Congressman Bart Stupak … in the mail, and over the phone…And attacks on local Democratic party offices … in Wichita Kansas and in Monroe County, New York, that one included a quote former Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater "extremism in defense of liberty is no vice" House Democratic leaders are suggesting some of the blame for all this may lie with over-heated republican rhetoric.”  Republican leaders condemned the violence and threats today; Republican leader John Boehner called them “unacceptable” and “not the American way.”  The FBI said all threats were being investigated by the agency, Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies.  Multiple law enforcement sources tell Pierre Thomas “there has been a slight uptick in threats against congress and the president since this weekend’s vote. Uptick, not dramatic.  Sources are saying this is somewhat normal in the wake of significant legislation or high profile events. Some of these threats are not significant in that the perpetrators were stupid—leaving names,  emails, fax numbers—and open source postings— twitter accounts etc.  But all these threats have to be run down.”

HEALTH CARE REFORM & RECONCILIATION VOTE-A-RAMA:  Away from the presence of the press, President Obama signed an executive order restricting the use of federal funds for abortions today.
Meanwhile the Senate’s participating in a reconciliation “vote-a-rama” as Democrats and Republicans try to pass a number of amendments to the health care bill.

MORE MORTGAGE PLAN PROBLEMS:  More bad news today about the Obama Administration’s $75 billion plan that was supposed to help distressed homeowners. David Muir reports: “6.6 million Americans in this country are now late on their mortgages, a new record.  The Administration said a year ago its program would help three to four million of them.  Yet to date, just 168-thousand have had their mortgages permanently modified.”  At a hearing on the Home Affordable Modification Program, the Government Accountability Office criticized the lack of consistent information and the plan’s guidelines to consumers.  Matt Jaffe reports: “Six of the top 20 banks in the administration’s foreclosure prevention program had websites that included no information or inaccurate information about the program, according to a government watchdog review…The watchdog’s critique of the banks did not end there. The GAO said some mortgage servicers are not tracking complaints from homeowners or making sure that the complaints are resolved. The watchdog also said the banks were using ‘inconsistent practices’ to determine program eligibility…The GAO blamed the Treasury Department for the problem of inconsistent practices because the agency yet to provide ‘specific guidance’ to banks. The watchdog also blamed Treasury for not finalizing penalties for servicers who fail to comply with existing guidelines. The banks, too, pointed the finger of blame at Treasury.  Mortgage servicers accused the agency of changing the program too often. Every major change, the banks said, requires an adjustment to business practices, updates to their systems, and new training for their staff.”  The hearing resumes Thursday.
Also today, Bank of America announced it would forgive some homeowners’ mortgage debt.

DETROIT DO-OVER:   Tuesday night the Mayor of Detroit proposed a surprising plan – to demolish thousands of buildings in the city over the next four years in order to reinvent the city.  Chris Bury reports: “For a city on the brink, it is a gutsy move, deciding it must shrink to survive…in hits hey-day nearly two million people lived here; now fewer than half that…a third of Detroit is too scarcely populated to function; more than 10,000 buildings could be demolished.”  Mayor Dave Bing also announced plans for two career academies and police headquarters.

MIDDLE EAST FLAP:  There’s still no sign of a breakthrough in the dispute over new housing construction in East Jerusalem.  The United States wants Israel to take steps to restore confidence among Palestinians in order to get Middle East peace talks back on track.  Middle East envoy George Mitchell is believed to have met with Prime Minister Netanyahu at his hotel today, following Netanyahu’s meetings with President Obama at the White House last night.  Neither side is saying much about those meetings, though Sunlen Miller tells us Press Secretary Robert Gibbs mentioned it at today’s briefing:  “Gibbs said that the president’s meeting with Netanyahu in the Oval Office was “honest and straightforward” about their relationship, regional security, and peace efforts.”  Gibbs went on to say: “The president asked the prime minister to take steps to build confidence for proximity talks, so that progress can be made towards that comprehensive Middle East peace. There are areas of agreement.  There are areas of disagreement.  And that conversation is ongoing.” (Thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)

SCHOOL NUTRITION:  The Senate Agriculture Committee approved legislation today that would enable the Agriculture Department to restructure nutrition standards for schools.  The new legislation is expected to spend an additional $4.5 billion over 10 years on nutrition programs, and coincides with the First Lady’s campaign against childhood obesity.  Parents and children alike have increasingly become more vocal in their call for better nutrition in schools.  For WORLD NEWS Barbara Pinto visited a school board meeting in Chicago where students made their voices heard: “When it comes to this kind of fight, it’s usually adults leading the charge…but today, these young protestors got a taste of victory…on next year’s menu – fewer corn chips…more corn and other vegetables.”

SAUDI CRACKDOWN:  The government of Saudi Arabia says it’s arrested more than a hundred suspected members of al-Qaeda for planning attacks on oil facilities inside the kingdom. Lara Setrakian has been monitoring developments in Saudi Arabia:  “Apparently a large-scale roundup by the Saudi authorities – the latest in what have been periodic raids on terror networks in the Kingdom. The conventional wisdom has been that most terrorists have been pushed out of Saudi Arabia, into Yemen. But there is clearly an ongoing internal threat, as evidenced by the would-be suicide bomber who almost killed Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef last year. Given the long-held belief that terrorists would target Saudi oil installations, those sites have been hardened, unclear whether this early-stage plot, as it’s described, had a real chance of success.” (Thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)

PAKISTAN TALKS: The United States and Pakistan have begun what’s being called a “strategic dialogue between the two countries. At the end of the first of two days of a high-level meetings, Secretary of State Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi announced that the relationship between the two countries has evolved into a partnership covering a wide swath of security and development programs.   At a news conference with Clinton, Qureshi was beaming: "Today, I am a happy man, a satisfied man," he told reporters, stressing: "We have upgraded the dialogue." For her part, Secretary Clinton told reporters: "We have listened and we will continue to listen and we want to continue to demonstrate by both word and deed our respect for Pakistan's concerns and ideas and share our own," she said. Clinton explained that the dialogue meant the expansion of the current security focus to include energy, development, education and agriculture. (Thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)

START TREATY: The White House announced today it was close to an agreement with Russia on the START treaty.  Jake Tapper/Alex Marquardt report: “Officials with the office of Czech President Vaclav Klaus announced Wednesday that Prague would host the signing of the arms treaty. Gibbs said that Prague would be a natural venue, given President Obama’s April 5, 2009, speech there in which he outlined his goals for a denuclearized world. Separately, a source in the Kremlin tells ABC News that the documents relating to the new START treaty have been “coordinated.” The terms have been agreed to, the official said, there are no more differences in position — what remains to be finalized is the treaty’s language.”

DON’T ASK DON’T TELL:  Martha Raddatz reports: “I can confirm that tomorrow Secretary Gates will announce steps to make Don’t Ask Don’t Tell more 'humane' while the study for repealing the DADT  is underway. This is largely about third parties ratting someone out. Gates said back in February this is exactly what he wanted to do. Only a very small number of service members have been discharged because of these circumstances, but Gates does not want it to continue.”  Raddatz also reports:  “Gates is essentially going to make it much harder to kick  gay and lesbian service members out of the military.  It will now take a general or flag officer to initiate a procedure against a service member and the standard of proof will also be beefed up. So, for example, if you are a third party accusing someone of being gay, you will have to testify under oath…and hearsay statements are not enough….As for those cases already in the pipeline….'you can’t unring the bell'.those will go forward…do not expect it to be retroactive.”  At 9:30m Thursday Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen hold a media briefing on the issue.

OSTEOPOROSIS STUDY:   The New England Journal of Medicine released a study today giving women on osteoporosis drugs reassurance that long-term use would not lead to femur fractures.  Dr. Richard Besser, who broke the story about this a few weeks ago, provides some analysis: “I don’t think people should be so assured.  I read the fine print. They studied more than 14,000 women…however when you look at it closely, there were only 662 women who were on the drug for more than five years.  That’s the group that we’re hearing concerns about…the bottom line is, doctors should be scared off using this in the appropriate women…but they should re-evaluate women who have been on the drug for long-term and consider a drug holiday, a period of time where they are off the drug so their bones can remodel and rebuild.”

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