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   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

   SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The estimated savings on a pension proposal backed by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan earlier this year is nearly $25 billion less than originally thought.

   That's because the Teachers Retirement System - one of Illinois' five pension systems - says it made a mistake in its calculations. The change was outlined in a Monday letter to a bipartisan panel tasked with coming up with an approach to solving Illinois' nearly $100 billion pension crisis.

   Madigan's plan involves across-the-board cuts in benefits. It was originally touted to save Illinois about $187 billion over 30 years. However, the new estimate is about $163 billion in the same time period.

   Another plan from Senate President John Cullerton, which had union support, was estimated to save roughly $47 billion over the same timeframe.

 

Published in Local News
Wednesday, 21 August 2013 17:21

Feds running out of money to fight wildfires

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) - Running out of money to fight wildfires at the peak of the season, the U.S. Forest Service is diverting $600 million from timber, recreation and other areas to fill the gap.

The nation's top wildfire-fighting agency was down to $50 million after spending $967 million so far this year, Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers said Wednesday in an email.

Wildfire spending by other federal agencies takes the total to $1.2 billion.

Chambers says the $50 million the Forest Service has left is typically enough to pay for just a few days of fighting fires when the nation is at its top wildfire preparedness level, which went into effect Tuesday.

There are 51 large uncontained fires burning across the nation, making it tough to meet demands for fire crews and equipment.

Published in National News

   SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois has awarded contracts for computer upgrades intended to screen out people prohibited from carrying concealed weapons under the state's new gun legislation.

   The Springfield Journal-Register reports on two contracts totaling more than $350,000. The Illinois State Police is contracting with a division of Levi, Ray & Shoup of Springfield to automate the entry of names into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

   The Department of Human Services is contracting with Levi, Ray & Shoup for help dealing with the new law's mental health reporting requirements.

   The law gives the Illinois six months to create an application system and another three months to approve applications.

   Earlier this month, Illinois became the last state in the nation to make it legal for people to carry concealed weapons in public.

Published in Local News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois lawmakers have convened a special session in Springfield, where they're expected to move ahead with plans to form a committee to deal with pensions.

Moving to committee requires a vote by both the House and Senate.

Gov. Pat Quinn met separately with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders Wednesday morning.

Republican House Leader Tom Cross says the governor wants to move ahead quickly so pension reform can be voted on by early July in another special session.

House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton each would get three appointees to the 10-member committee. Cross and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (rah-DOH'-nyoh) each would get two.

Illinois' $97 billion unfunded pension liability is the worst in the nation.

 

Published in Local News

CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) - Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard says the school has met a budget milestone.

He told The Southern Illinoisan Editorial Board on Monday that for the first time in several years SIU has been able to enter the next fiscal year with a budget equal to the previous year. University officials had been bracing for another 5 percent cut, but instead were able to convince state lawmakers to reinstate funding at the previous year's level. The school's budget will be $203 million.

Poshard also discussed enrollment. He says it's unrealistic to think the school's declining enrollment will turn around. But Poshard says he sees evidence enrollment is moving in the right direction. He says he has confidence Chancellor Rita Cheng will accomplish the task.

Published in Local News

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri lawmakers have prepared a budget that could force Gov. Jay Nixon to choose between developmentally disabled children and low-income seniors.

The nearly $25 billion operating budget being considered Thursday by lawmakers assumes more than $55 million of savings from the elimination of a tax break for low-income seniors and disabled residents who live in rental housing.

The budget would spend that money on early childhood programs for the developmentally disabled, health care for the blind and medical clinics that treat low-income people.

Nixon has said he would veto a repeal of the renters tax break unless it's part of a broader tax-credit overhaul. But if he does, then the early childhood programs and health care initiatives would lose money.

Lawmakers hope that will compel Nixon to accept the plan.

 

Published in Local News

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri public schools and universities will be getting a funding increase under an agreement by legislative budget negotiators.

A group of House and Senate members decided Tuesday to provide a $25 million funding increase to public colleges and universities based on whether they have met performance criteria such as student graduation rates. That's less than the $34 million increase sought by Gov. Jay Nixon but more than the House had approved earlier this year.

The budget also includes $10 million for the University of Missouri medical school to expand a residency program at the Cox Health system in Springfield.

Public school districts would get a $66 million increase to their $3 billion of core funding - the same amount Nixon recommended.

Published in Local News

 

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri lawmakers have until Friday to finalize the state's roughly $25 billion operating budget.

The House and Senate have each passed their own budget and now must hammer out an agreement on the spending plan that will take effect July 1. Budget negotiators were scheduled to begin formal talks Monday, but delayed that until Tuesday.

The House and Senate must reconcile differences on higher education funding and whether to keep intact cuts made to state agencies over concerns about the new drivers' license procedures.

One item not up for debate this week is Gov. Jay Nixon's plan to draw down nearly $1 billion from the federal government to expand Medicaid coverage for about 260,000 adults. Neither the House nor Senate included the federal money in their budget proposals.

 

 

Published in Local News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - State senators are expected to consider two possible paths toward addressing the nation's worst pension crisis.

One option is legislation approved in the Illinois House last week. That bill is sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan. It would require public employees to pay 2 percent more toward their retirement benefits. It would also reduce annual cost-of-living increases for retirees and raise the retirement age for workers under 45.

Labor unions also are expected to pitch a plan. The details of that proposal have not been disclosed. But a spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton says it would offer employees a choice between health insurance or cost-of-living increases.

Lawmakers are expected to discuss the two options in a closed-door meeting on Monday before convening on the Senate floor.

 

Published in Local News
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