Archive for October, 2009




House Democrats preparing less ambitious public option

House Democratic leaders are preparing to unveil as soon as Thursday a health care bill that includes a more moderate version of the public option, several Democratic leadership aides say.

This version would allow doctors to negotiate reimbursement rates with the federal government, the aides said Wednesday.

The proposal would be a blow to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who has argued for a more “robust” public option, one that ties reimbursement rates for providers and hospitals to Medicare rates plus a 5 percent increase.

But Pelosi and other Democratic leaders, after a week of canvassing rank and file Democrats, appear to be bowing to the reality that her preferred approach does not have enough votes. Instead, the more moderate version, favored by rural and moderate members, appears to have the most support among House Democrats.

“The votes aren’t there for robust public option, so that means we’re looking at the other form of the public option,” a Democratic aide said.

House Democratic leaders will meet Wednesday afternoon to make final decisions, the aide said.

Those leaders tentatively are planning to unveil their health care bill at a big event on the West Front of the Capitol on Thursday morning, the sources said.story.pelosi


8 U.S. Soldiers killed in Afghanistan

The U.S. military suffered another day of heavy losses in Afghanistan on Tuesday as roadside bombs killed eight soldiers, two military officials told CNN.

An Afghan civilian working with NATO troops also was killed in the attacks in southern Afghanistan, the military said. The officials said that, according to initial reports, one blast took place just outside Kandahar and the other was in neighboring Zabul province.

Seven of the soldiers who died were traveling together in one vehicle, said Sgt. Jerome Baysmore with the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command.

The military gave no further details about the bombings, which it said also wounded several other service members. The official said one service member was killed in one attack, while the other seven were killed in the other attack.

The U.S. military described the bombings as “multiple complex IED attacks,” which means they were followed by small arms fire, the official said. That has been the typical Taliban operational method for attacking U.S. forces in recent months, the official said.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs issued a statement of condolence: “As always our prayers go out to those who have lost a loved one and for those who sacrificed so much to serve our country.”


NASA finally launches rocket

NASA launched its Ares I-X rocket Wednesday, after multiple delays over two days because of bad weather.

The 327-foot rocket — which NASA considers the world’s largest — took off at 11:30 a.m. ET, 30 minutes before a noon deadline for the launch. It rose about 24 miles. About two minutes after liftoff, the first-stage, reusable rocket booster fell into the Atlantic, where it was to be picked up by a ship.

It was the first flight test for the Constellation Program, NASA’s next-generation spacecraft and launch vehicle system. The rocket’s launch is part of NASA’s mission to someday return astronauts to the moon and later travel to Mars.

NASA spokesman George Diller, who was moderating the launch preparations for broadcasters, communicated the frustration as launches were repeatedly called off with just minutes to go.

After 11 a.m., it appeared there would be a narrow window for a liftoff, and a half-hour later the rocket roared skyward.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of all of you,” Ed Mango, Ares I-X launch director, told engineers and others inside the center after the launch. “That was just one of the most beautiful rocket launches I’ve ever seen.”

“It shows what we can do when we have a common goal.”

As the clock ticked toward noon, NASA officials nervously awaited all-clears for technical items and a weather clearance from weather officer Kathy Winters who, time and again, said conditions were “red,” meaning a no-go. A reconnaissance plane was giving her frequent weather reports.

She kept looking for a break in the high-level clouds. “It’s a very dynamic situation,” Winters said.

Before the launch, the space agency had begun negotiating with the Air Force to see if a Thursday launch attempt was possible. Failing that, NASA couldn’t have tried again until November 16.vo.ares.rocket.launch.nasatv.640x360




Former GM plant to make electric cars

Electric carmaker Fisker Automotive said Tuesday it is buying an old General Motors plant in Wilmington, Del., and plans on making up to 100,000 vehicles a year at the recently shuttered facility.

“This is a major step toward establishing America as a leader of advanced vehicle technology,” Henrik Fisker, Fisker’s chief executive, said in a statement. “Wilmington is perfect for high quality, low volume production and will soon be the proud builder of world-class, fuel-efficient Fisker plug-in hybrids.”

Until July, the plant had employed over 1,000 workers making Pontiac, Saturn and Opel sports cars for General Motors. GM closed the facility as part of its corporate restructuring.

Fisker says its new plant will employ 2,000 factory workers and support another 3,000 vendor jobs by 2014. Production is set to begin in 2012.

“It gives me great pride to give UAW Local 435 workers the opportunity to partner with Fisker Automotive to create a greener America by building a plug-in hybrid car that will compete globally,” Gary Casteel, a United Autoworkers union official at the plant, said in a statement.launcher


Obama challenged by poll numbers

As President Obama navigates his way through a series of issues as controversial as they are vital, he’s getting a yellow flag from the American people.

For the first time since Obama took office, fewer than half of Americans agree with the president on issues important to them, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released Tuesday. A majority, 51 percent, disagree — a jump of 10 percentage points since April.

Despite the majority disagreement on issues, the poll also found the president’s approval rating remains in the healthy mid-50s. And two-thirds of Americans say he has the personal qualities a president should have.

“It’s awfully early yet, but this president might be shaping up to be a little like Ronald Reagan, where people actually didn’t often agree with Ronald Reagan’s ideas, but they loved the guy,” said Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN contributor.

A popular president who is less popular on the issues — Obama could use his personal popularity to rally support for his less popular agenda.

“They still like the messenger. That’s important for Obama because he’ll be able to look presidential, and Americans may respond to that as he’s trying to make a pitch for his health care plan, financial reform, whatever he decides to do in Afghanistan and Iran,” said Keating Holland, CNN’s polling director. Video Watch more on what the poll numbers mean »

The poll shows it’s a lot harder to keep people liking you when you’re governing than when you’re politicking. It’s a familiar path for presidents, who often start out popular but see their numbers drop as they get down to the nitty-gritty.

In Obama’s case, legislation to overhaul health care has not been kind to his numbers.

And about the Nobel Peace Prize, even the president seems stunned he got it.

“To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by this prize,” Obama said after the award’s announcement.

Americans apparently agree. About a third believe the president deserved the prize, according to this week’s CNN/Opinion Research poll. Fifty-six percent say they disapprove of the Nobel Prize Committee’s decision to honor him, the survey found. Still, there’s a hometown hero effect here, with almost 70 percent saying they are proud an American president won it, the poll said.

And then further proof of that adage that Americans like their politicians most when they are not running for anything, the most popular person in the Obama administration is not the still-popular president.

It’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Sixty-five percent of Americans view Clinton favorably, outshining even first lady Michelle Obama by a percentage point, according to the survey.

“It’s not surprising that Clinton tops Barack Obama on the favorable ratings,” Holland said. “Secretaries of state don’t get blamed for economic problems or unpopular domestic policies, and they often don’t get the same share of the blame as the commander in chief for international slip-ups either. But typically, the first lady gets even better favorable ratings than the secretary of state, so the fact that Clinton’s numbers are slightly better than Michelle Obama’s is a bit surprising.”

Clinton is in a nonpolitical position, doing policy work in an area in which she really likes working. She was once seen as a sharply divisive politician, the “also-ran” of the 2008 Democratic primary