AP News in BriefBy AP
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
AP News in Brief
Democratic senator says health care bill ‘on life support’ after Obama fails to break logjam
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s health care appeal failed to break the congressional gridlock Thursday, dimming hopes for millions of uninsured Americans. Democrats stared down a political nightmare — getting clobbered for voting last year for ambitious, politically risky bills, yet having nothing to show for it in November.
The grim reality opened a divide between the rank and file and congressional leaders, who insisted health care would get done, even though last week’s special election in Massachusetts denied Democrats the 60-vote majority they need to deliver in the Senate. Many Democrats saw a problem with no clear solution.
“It’s very possible that health care is just a stalemate and you can’t solve it this year,” said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
If Obama and Democrats fail to pass any legislation this election year, Washington would still face the problem of millions of uninsured, rising medical costs and a dwindling Medicare trust fund forecast to run out of money in 2017.
Obama’s health care overhaul is “on life support,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., “but it still has a pulse.”
Bernanke wins second term in 2nd closest vote ever for a Fed chief after bitter opposition
WASHINGTON (AP) — Embattled Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke won confirmation for a second term Thursday, but only by the closest vote ever for the crucial post and after withering criticism from lawmakers for bailing out Wall Street while other Americans suffered in recession.
The Senate confirmed Bernanke for a new four-year term by a 70-30 vote, a seemingly solid majority but 14 votes worse than the closest previous vote for a Fed chairman.
The battle over Bernanke’s confirmation has been a test of central bank independence, a crucial element if the Fed is to carry out unpopular but economically essential policies. Its decisions on interest rates can have immense consequences, from the success or failure of the largest companies to the typical home-buyer’s ability to get an affordable loan to the price of cereal at the grocery or gas at the corner station.
Created by Congress in 1913 after a series of bank panics, the Federal Reserve is an independent agency, supposedly outside politics, but its chairman is typically assailed by lawmakers and others when the economy falls and jobless ranks lengthen.
“Bernanke fiddled while our markets burned,” huffed Richard Shelby, of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, during Thursday’s debate. “Ben Bernanke’s Federal Reserve played a key role in setting the stage for the financial crisis.”
Obama urges nervous Democrats to fight on for health care, jobs, but some remain wary
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama voiced determination Thursday to change the tone of Washington politics and urged Republicans to get “off the sidelines” and help fix health care and other problems.
Stopping on his way out of a town hall meeting in Tampa, Fla., Obama hammered again on his State of the Union message — insisting that voters and politicians needed to “start thinking of each other as Americans first.”
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were in Florida to announce $8 billion in federal grants for high-speed rail projects nationwide — part of his push to combine spending on infrastructure with job creation.
Obama also used his first State of the Union speech Wednesday to push nervous Democrats to forge ahead on health care, despite voters’ worries and opposition from newly strengthened Republicans.
On Thursday, he turned emphatically toward Republicans and implored cooperation.
Lawyer: Phone caper meant to embarrass senator over claims of ignored health care calls
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Four conservative activists accused of trying to tamper with a senator’s phones were just trying to record embarrassing undercover video of her staff ignoring phone calls from constituents angry that she supported health care reform, one of their attorneys said Thurday.
The four, including activist James O’Keefe, known for posing as a pimp and using a hidden camera to target the community-organizing group ACORN, were arrested Monday after targeting Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in a New Orleans federal building.
Attorney J. Garrison Jordan denied they were trying to disable or wiretap the phones in Landrieu’s office.
“You’re dealing with kids,” he said. “I don’t think they thought it through that far.”
Instead, Jordan said, they hoped to get embarrassing video footage of Landrieu’s staff handling constituent calls. Her office received complaints last month that callers opposed to her health care stance couldn’t get through.
Democratic-controlled Senate approves $1.9T increase in federal borrowing limit
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate voted Thursday to allow the government to go a whopping $1.9 trillion deeper in debt, offering a vivid election-year reminder that the government has to borrow 40 cents of every dollar it spends.
The measure would put the government on track for a national debt of $14.3 trillion — more than $45,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States. And the debt is increasingly held by foreign nations such as China.
The budget for the current year is about $3.5 trillion and the deficit will probably match last year’s $1.4 trillion. The government would have to borrow to cover that $1.4 trillion.
The measure passed 60-39 under ground rules insisted upon by Republicans that required 60 votes to pass it. Democrats and allied independents control 60 seats — for now — and were only able to win the vote because Republican Sen.-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts has yet to be seated.
While Thursday’s vote went smoothly, it came after weeks of difficult negotiations between the White House and both House and Senate Democrats.
AP Interview: GOP’s Brown says he told Senate leaders he won’t be lockstep Republican vote
BOSTON (AP) — Scott Brown says he has already told Senate Republican leaders they won’t always be able to count on his vote. The man who staged an upset in last week’s Massachusetts Senate special election, in part by pledging to be the 41st GOP vote against President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday that he staked his claim in early conversations with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip Jon Kyl.
“I already told them, you know, ‘I got here with the help of a close group of friends and very little help from anyone down there, so there’ll be issues when I’ll be with you and there are issues when I won’t be with you,’” Brown said Thursday during the half-hour interview. “So, I just need to look at each vote and then make a proper analysis and then decide.”
Asked how McConnell and Kyl responded, Brown said, “They understood. They said, ‘You can probably do whatever you want, Scott. And, so, just let us know where your head’s at, and we’ll talk it through, and just keep us posted.’”
The senator-elect did not elaborate on possible breaking points, though the Washington newcomer dismissed any suggestion he will relent once he starts working in the highly partisan capital.
“That’s not pressure; pressure is what I’m going through right now,” said Brown. He cited his efforts to complete a transition in 2 1/2 weeks, compared with the normal 2 1/2 months for regularly elected senators, while preparing to surrender his responsibilities as a state senator, become a Beltway commuter and resume his triathlon training.
J.D. Salinger, legendary author of ‘The Catcher in the Rye,’ dies at age 91
NEW YORK (AP) — J.D. Salinger, the legendary author, youth hero and fugitive from fame whose “The Catcher in the Rye” shocked and inspired a world he increasingly shunned, has died. He was 91.
Salinger died of natural causes at his home on Wednesday, the author’s son, actor Matt Salinger, said in a statement from Salinger’s longtime literary representative, Harold Ober Associates, Inc. He had lived for decades in self-imposed isolation in a small, remote house in Cornish, N.H.
“The Catcher in the Rye,” with its immortal teenage protagonist, the twisted, rebellious Holden Caulfield, came out in 1951, a time of anxious, Cold War conformity and the dawn of modern adolescence. The Book-of-the-Month Club, which made “Catcher” a featured selection, advised that for “anyone who has ever brought up a son” the novel will be “a source of wonder and delight — and concern.”
Enraged by all the “phonies” who make “me so depressed I go crazy,” Holden soon became American literature’s most famous anti-hero since Huckleberry Finn. The novel’s sales are astonishing — more than 60 million copies worldwide — and its impact incalculable. Decades after publication, the book remains a defining expression of that most American of dreams: to never grow up.
Salinger was writing for adults, but teenagers from all over identified with the novel’s themes of alienation, innocence and fantasy, not to mention the luck of having the last word. “Catcher” presents the world as an ever-so-unfair struggle between the goodness of young people and the corruption of elders, a message that only intensified with the oncoming generation gap.
Italian scientists hope to solve “Mona Lisa” mystery by exhuming Leonardo’s body
ROME (AP) — The legend of Leonardo da Vinci is shrouded in mystery: How did he die? Are the remains buried in a French chateau really those of the Renaissance master? Was the “Mona Lisa” a self-portrait in disguise?
A group of Italian scientists believes the key to solving those puzzles lies with the remains — and they say they are seeking permission from French authorities to dig up the body to conduct carbon and DNA testing.
If the skull is intact, the scientists can go to the heart of a question that has fascinated scholars and the public for centuries: the identity of the “Mona Lisa.” Recreating a virtual and then physical reconstruction of Leonardo’s face, they can compare it with the smiling face in the painting, experts involved in the project told The Associated Press.
“We don’t know what we’ll find if the tomb is opened, we could even just find grains and dust,” says Giorgio Gruppioni, an anthropologist who is participating in the project. “But if the remains are well kept, they are a biological archive that registers events in a person’s life, and sometimes in their death.”
The leader of the group, Silvano Vinceti, told the AP that he plans to press his case with the French officials in charge of the purported burial site at Amboise Castle early next week.
Toyota gives no estimate for when pedal repairs will be made; replacement parts being made
WASHINGTON (AP) — Toyota Motor Corp. said Thursday it’s closing in on solutions to a gas pedal system problem, but it still had no details on when drivers would see repairs as an embarrassing recall spread to more than 2.4 million vehicles on three continents.
Toyota dealers in the U.S. have been swamped with calls from concerned owners but had few answers as the recalls snowballed. Elkhart, Ind.-based CTS Corp., which made the parts, is cranking out redesigned gas pedal assemblies that fix the problem, which is caused by condensation around an arm attached to the pedal and springs that send the pedal back to the idle position.
Toyota engineers are developing ways to repair the pedal systems in existing cars and trucks, said spokesman Brian Lyons.
No decision has been made yet on whether to repair the pedals or replace them altogether, he said, and he would not estimate how long it will take for customers to see action. Lyons says the automaker has not decided if the new pedals will go first to factories so production of eight models can resume or to dealers for modification of new cars on their lots and cars being driven by their customers.
Toyota on Thursday extended its recalls to China and Europe, deepening the massive recalls that threatened to undermine the reputation of the world’s top automaker as a manufacturer of safe, durable vehicles.
The automaker has informed Chinese authorities it will start a recall in February for 75,500 RAV4 vehicles that were manufactured in China between March 2009 and January 2010, said Toyota spokeswoman Ririko Takeuchi. Toyota is still unsure how many vehicles could have the defect in Europe.
APNewsBreak: Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco hoping to kick in Pro Bowl
CINCINNATI (AP) — Chad Ochocinco hopes to show a Pro Bowl audience that he can kick it as well as catch it. The Bengals receiver made some kickoffs Thursday during practice for the Pro Bowl in Miami, hoping to convince the coaches that he’s capable of going toe-to-toe. He showed off his punting skills during warmups a day earlier.
Ochocinco told The Associated Press in a phone interview after practice that he’s also planning to kick field goals during practice this week. He wants to persuade AFC coaches that he could be more than a just receiver during the game on Sunday.
“Yesterday was punting, today was kickoffs, tomorrow will be field goals,” Ochocinco said of his lobbying effort. “I don’t know. We’ll see what happens.”
If the coaches want more proof, he’s got the tape.
The six-time Pro Bowl receiver is an international soccer fan and practices kicking. He had never done it during a game until last August, when Bengals kicker Shayne Graham was bothered by a sore groin in practice before a preseason game against New England in Foxborough.
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