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Thursday, 31 October 2013 02:35

After unity, Obama faces Democratic pushback

   WASHINGTON (AP) — Just two weeks after President Barack Obama saw his Democratic Party put up an unyielding front against Republicans, his coalition is showing signs of stress.

   From health care to spying to pending budget deals, many congressional Democrats are challenging the administration and pushing for measures that the White House has not embraced.

   Some Democrats are seeking to extend the enrollment period for new health care exchanges. Others want to place restraints on National Security Administration surveillance capabilities. Still others are standing tough against any budget deal that uses long-term reductions in major benefit programs to offset immediate cuts in defense.

   Though focused on disparate issues, the Democrats' anxieties are connected by timing and stand out all the more when contrasted with the remarkable unity the party displayed during the recent showdown over the partial government shutdown and the confrontation over raising the nation's borrowing limit.

   "That moment was always going to be fleeting," said Matt Bennett, who worked in the Clinton White House and who regularly consults with Obama aides. "The White House, every White House, understands that these folks, driven either by principle or the demands of the politics of their state, have to put daylight between themselves and the president on occasion."

   Obama and the Democrats emerged from the debt and shutdown clash with what they wanted: a reopened government, a higher debt ceiling and a Republican Party reeling in the depths of public opinion polls.

   But within days, attention turned to the problem-riddled launch of the 3-year-old health care law's enrollment stage and revelations that the U.S. had been secretly monitoring the communications of as many as 35 allied leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And with new budget talks underway, Democratic Party liberals reiterated demands that Obama not agree to changes that reduce Social Security or Medicare benefits even in the improbable event Republicans agree to increase budget revenues.

   The fraying on the Democratic Party edges is hardly unraveling Obama's support and it pales when compared to the upheaval within the Republican Party as it distances itself from the tactics of tea party conservatives. But the pushback from Democrats comes as Obama is trying to draw renewed attention to his agenda, including passage of an immigration overhaul, his jobs initiatives and the benefits of his health care law.

   The computer troubles that befell the start of health insurance sign-ups have caused the greatest anxiety. Republicans pounced on the difficulties as evidence of deeper flaws in the law. But Democrats, even as they defended the policy, also demanded answers in the face of questions from their constituents.

   "The fact is that the administration really failed these Americans," Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., told Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner at a hearing this week. "So going forward there can be just no more excuses."

   In the Senate, 10 Democrats signed on to a letter seeking an unspecified extension of the enrollment period, which ends March 31. "As you continue to fix problems with the website and the enrollment process, it is critical that the administration be open to modifications that provide greater flexibility for the American people seeking to access health insurance," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., wrote.

   Another Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has called for a one-year delay in the requirement that virtually all Americans have health insurance or pay a fine.

   Democrats who have talked to White House officials in recent days describe them as rattled by the health care blunders. But they say they are confident that the troubled website used for enrollment will be corrected and fully operational by the end of November.

   The spying revelations also have created some tensions between the administration and Democrats. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and until now a staunch supporter of the NSA's surveillance, called for a "total review of all intelligence programs" following the Merkel reports.

   She said that when it came to the NSA collecting intelligence on the leaders of allies such as France, Spain, Mexico and Germany, "Let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed."

   With Congress renewing budget talks Wednesday, liberals have been outspoken in their insistence that Democrats vigorously resist efforts to reduce long-term deficits with savings in Social Security or Medicare. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who usually votes with Democrats, has been the most outspoken, saying he fears a budget deal will contain a proposal in Obama's budget to reduce cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security and other benefit programs.

   Obama, however, has proposed that remedy only if Republicans agree to raise tax revenue, a bargain that most in the GOP firmly oppose. Moreover, leaders from both parties as well as White House officials have signaled that budget talks are looking for a small budget deal, not the type of "grand bargain" that would embrace such a revenue-for-benefit-cuts deal.

Published in National News

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich has more than a half-million dollars in his campaign account with a little over a year to go before he is up for re-election.

The Republican auditor released his quarterly campaign finance figures Friday, though they did not have to be filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission until next Tuesday.

The report shows that Schweich raised nearly $281,000 from July through September. After expenses, Schweich reported almost $506,000 in his campaign account as of Sept. 30.

Schweich said that puts him in a strong financial position.

The only Democrat to announce a challenge to Schweich is state Rep. Jay Swearingen, of Kansas City. He has not filed a campaign finance report yet.

Published in Local News

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) - A Jefferson County Democrat says she plans to seek her party's nomination in Missouri's 8th Congressional District election next year.

The Southeast Missourian reports that DeSoto resident Barbara Stocker will formally announce her candidacy on Wednesday morning at the Cape Girardeau federal courthouse. Stocker is a retired biochemist who worked at the former Ralston Purina Company as well as the Monsanto Company in the St. Louis area. She calls herself a "kind-hearted old lady who wants to make government work again."

Salem Republican Rep. Jason Smith won a special election in June and plans to seek re-election in 2014.  He is finishing the unexpired term of Jo Ann Emerson, who resigned.

Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is also considering the congressional race after unsuccessfully seeking to replace Emerson.

Published in Local News
Tuesday, 01 October 2013 11:48

Lt. Governor Kinder eyeing Congressional run

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is moving toward a possible Congressional race.

The Southeast Missourian reported Tuesday that Kinder has formed a congressional exploratory committee for the 8th Congressional District. He says the committee's purpose is to forecast support for his potential candidacy. Kinder is serving his third term as lieutenant governor

Republican Jason Smith, of Salem, currently represents the 8th Congressional District. Smith beat out Kinder and several others earlier this year for the Republican nomination to replace U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson after she resigned. Smith was picked by an 84-person committee of local Republican leaders.

Missouri's 8th Congressional District appears on the 2014 ballot.

 

Published in Local News

   WASHINGTON (AP) — A conservative challenge to the president's health care law has the federal government teetering on the brink of a partial shutdown.

   The Senate has the next move on must-do legislation required to keep the government open past midnight on Monday, and the Democratic-led chamber is expected to reject the latest effort from House Republicans to use a normally routine measure to attack President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

   Congress was closed for the day on Sunday after a post-midnight vote in the GOP-run House to delay by a year key parts of the new health care law and repeal a tax on medical devices as the price for avoiding a shutdown. The Senate is slated to convene Monday afternoon just 10 hours before the shutdown deadline, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has already promised that majority Democrats will kill the House's latest volley.

   A House GOP leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, said the House would again rebuff the Senate's efforts to advance the short-term funding bill as a simple, "clean" measure shorn of anti-heath care reform provisions.

   Since the last government shutdown 17 years ago, temporary funding bills known as continuing resolutions have been noncontroversial, with neither party willing to chance a shutdown to achieve legislative goals it couldn't otherwise win. But with health insurance exchanges set to open Tuesday, tea party Republicans are willing to take the risk in their drive to kill the law, so-called "Obamacare."

   "You're going to shut down the government if you can't prevent millions of Americans from getting affordable care," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

   A leader of the tea party Republicans, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, insisted the blame rests with Senate Democrats.

   "The House has twice now voted to keep the government open. And if we have a shutdown, it will only be because when the Senate comes back, Harry Reid says, 'I refuse even to talk,'" said Cruz, who led a 21-hour broadside against allowing the temporary funding bill to advance if stripped clean of a tea party-backed provision to derail Obamacare. The effort failed.

   The battle started with a House vote to pass the short-term funding bill with a provision that would have eliminated the federal dollars needed to put Obama's health care overhaul into place. The Senate voted along party lines to strip that out and set the measure back to the House.

   The latest House bill, passed early Sunday by a near party-line vote of 231-192, sent back to the Senate two major changes: a one-year delay of key provisions of the health insurance law and repeal of a new tax on medical devices that partially funds it. The steps still go too far for the White House and its Democratic allies.

   Senate rules often make it difficult to move quickly, but the chamber can act on the House's latest proposals by simply calling them up and killing them.

   Eyes were turning to the House for its next move. A senior leader vowed the House would not simply give in to Democrats' demands to pass the Senate's "clean" funding bill.

   "The House will get back together in enough time, send another provision not to shut the government down, but to fund it, and it will have a few other options in there for the Senate to look at again," said McCarthy, the No. 3 House Republican leader.

   He suggested that House Republicans would try blocking a mandate that individuals buy health insurance or face a tax penalty, saying there might be some Democratic support in the Senate for that.

   On the other hand, Democrats said the GOP's bravado may fade as the deadline to avert a shutdown nears.

   Asked whether he could vote for a "clean" temporary funding bill, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said he couldn't. But Labrador added, "I think there's enough people in the Republican Party who are willing to do that. And I think that's what you're going to see."

   A leading Senate GOP moderate called on her fellow Republicans to back down.

   "I disagree with the strategy of linking Obamacare with the continuing functioning of government — a strategy that cannot possibly work," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

   McCarthy wouldn't say what changes Republicans might make. He appeared to suggest that a very short-term measure might pass at the last minute, but GOP aides said that was unlikely.

   Republicans argued that Reid should have convened the Senate on Sunday.

   Yet even some Republicans said privately they feared that Reid held the advantage in a fast-approaching end game.

   Republicans argued that they had already made compromises; for instance, their latest measure would leave intact most parts of the health care law that have taken effect, including requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions and to let families' plans cover children up to age 26. They also would allow insurers to deny contraception coverage based on religious or moral objections.

   Tea party lawmakers in the House — egged on by Cruz — forced GOP leaders to abandon an earlier plan to deliver a "clean" stopgap spending bill to the Senate and move the fight to another must-do measure looming in mid-October: a bill to increase the government's borrowing cap to avert a market-rattling, first-ever default on U.S. obligations.

   In the event lawmakers blow the Monday deadline, about 800,000 workers would be forced off the job without pay. Some critical services such as patrolling the borders, inspecting meat and controlling air traffic would continue. Social Security benefits would be sent, and the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and poor would continue to pay doctors and hospitals.

   McCarthy appeared on "Fox News Sunday," while Cruz and Labrador were on NBC's "Meet the Press." Van Hollen appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi says Republicans are using their opposition to health-care reform as an excuse to shut down the federal government.

The California Democrat says anti-government ideologues dominate the GOP and for them forcing a shutdown would be a victory.

She says, however, that GOP efforts to derail health-care reform and shut down the government have "no prospect of prevailing."

Pelosi says the goal of some in the GOP is to get the government out of the lives of Americans by handing Social Security over to private bankers and allowing Medicare to "wither on the vine."

The former House speaker made her comments Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

Published in National News

CHICAGO (AP) - With his top Democratic challenger out of the 2014 race, Gov. Pat Quinn says he remains focused on his day job.

Quinn addressed reporters Wednesday in Chicago. The appearance was his first since former White House chief of staff Bill Daley bowed out of the 2014 race.

Quinn shied away from addressing Daley's criticisms, including parting statements that Quinn wouldn't win.

With just one lesser known candidate left, he's widely expected to get the nod from his party during the March primary.

Quinn says he'll still attend a statewide slating discussion this weekend in Springfield by the state's Democratic party.

Four Republicans are running for governor. Quinn says it'll be a tough contest.

 

Published in Local News

   The largest coalition of organized labor unions in the St. Louis region is pulling its support for St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley's 2014 reelection bid.  Greater St. Louis Labor Council President Robert Soutier and Jeff Aboussie of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council met with Dooley Monday.  

   Soutier spoke with Fox 2 News about that meeting. "And I said at this point, we're withholding support.  We would urge you not to run." 

   Dooley says he's sorry the labor leaders are pulling their support, but he has no plans to bow out of the race.

   "There is no better friend to labor than Charlie Allen Dooley," he said.  "I have been labor's friend since I've been in politics, since I've been the county executive, on the county council since 1995."

   Soutier says the action isn't the result of any one incident, but stems from a relationship that has deteriorated over time.

   "The building trades certainly have some problems with non-union contractors in the county," Soutier said.  "Certainly, the firefighters have a problem with an appointment that Dooley made for, I think, one of the training centers." 

 

Published in Local News

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The owners of a multi-state tobacco store chain have contributed thousands of dollars to Missouri officials and even hired their own lobbyists. But their cause this year is not focused on cigarettes.

Jon Rand and Sharie Keil are backing Missouri legislation that would remove hundreds of people convicted of sex crimes as juveniles from the state's online listing of registered sex offenders. Their cause is intensely personal, because their son is among those whose name, photo and address would come down from law enforcement websites.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill earlier this summer. He said it could endanger the public by hiding the whereabouts of violent sex offenders. But the political battle is not over. Missouri lawmakers are to convene next Wednesday to consider overriding the veto.

Published in Local News

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri House Majority Leader John Diehl (deel) is promising to raise money for the Republican cause - not his personal political aspirations - if colleagues nominate him as the next House speaker.

The fundraising pledge is one of several promises contained in a letter Diehl sent colleagues as part of a behind-the-scenes campaign.

A similar letter was sent to House Republicans by Diehl's rival for speaker, Rep. Caleb Jones. But Jones' letter makes no mention of fundraising.

The Associated Press obtained copies of both of the lawmakers' letters.

Republicans are meeting in St. Louis to discuss the potential override of Gov. Jay Nixon's vetoes of several bills. They're expected to vote during the September veto session on a nominee for House speaker in 2015.

 

Published in Local News
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