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Susan Smith-Harmon

Susan Smith-Harmon

Americans anxious, irritated as gov't shuts down

Monday, 30 September 2013 23:33 Published in National News

NEW YORK (AP) — From New York's Liberty Island to Alaska's Denali National Park, the U.S. government closed its doors as a bitter budget fight idled hundreds of thousands of federal workers and halted all but the most critical government services for the first time in nearly two decades.

 

A midnight deadline to avert a shutdown passed amid Congressional bickering, casting in doubt Americans' ability to get government services ranging from federally-backed home loans to supplemental food assistance for children and pregnant women.

 

For many employees of the federal government, Tuesday's shutdown meant no more paychecks as they were forced onto unpaid furloughs. For those still working, it meant delays in getting paid.

 

Park Ranger and father-to-be Darquez Smith said he already lives paycheck-to-paycheck while putting himself through college.

 

"I've got a lot on my plate right now — tuition, my daughter, bills," said Smith, 23, a ranger at Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Ohio. "I'm just confused and waiting just like everyone else."

 

The impact of the shutdown was mixed — immediate and far-reaching for some, annoying but minimal for others.

 

In Colorado, where flooding killed eight people earlier this month, emergency funds to help rebuild homes and businesses continued to flow — but federal worker furloughs were expected to slow it down.

 

National Guard soldiers rebuilding washed-out roads would apparently be paid on time — along with the rest of the country's active-duty personnel — under a bill passed hours before the shutdown. Existing Social Security and Medicare benefits, veterans' services and mail delivery were also unaffected.

 

Other agencies were harder hit — nearly 3,000 Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors were furloughed along with most of the National Transportation Safety Board's employees, including accident investigators who respond to air crashes, train collisions, pipeline explosions and other accidents.

 

Almost all of NASA shut down, except for Mission Control in Houston, and national parks closed along with the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo. Even the zoo's popular panda cam went dark, shut off for the first time since a cub was born there Aug. 23.

 

As the shutdown loomed Monday, visitors to popular parks made their frustration with elected officials clear.

 

"There is no good thing going to come out of it," said Chris Fahl, a tourist from Roanoke, Ind., visiting the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park in Hodgenville, Ky. "Taxpayers are just going to be more overburdened."

 

Emily Enfinger, visiting the Statue of Liberty, said politicians need to find a way to work together.

 

"They should be willing to compromise, both sides, and it discourages me that they don't seem to be able to do that," she said. "They're not doing their job as far as I'm concerned."

 

Joe Wentz, a retired federal employee from Lebanon, Va., visiting San Francisco with his wife, bought tickets to visit Alcatraz on Thursday — if it's open.

 

Wentz said he's frustrated that some politicians are using the budget to push changes in the Affordable Care Act.

 

"We've been disgusted a long time that they're not working together," he said.

 

The shutdown was strangely captivating to Marlena Knight, an Australian native visiting Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia. She was confounded that the impasse focused on the nation's health care system — an indispensable service in her home country.

 

"We can't imagine not having a national health system," she said. "I just can't believe that this country can shut down over something like a national health system. Totally bizarre, as an Australian, but fascinating."

 

It turns out an institution as massive as the federal government takes some time to grind to a total halt: Many federal workers were being permitted to come in Tuesday to change voicemail messages or fill out time cards. But after that, they were under strict orders to do no work, even check their email.

 

With no telling how long the budget standoff will last, even programs not immediately affected could run out of cash.

 

Barbara Haxton, executive director of the Ohio Head Start Association, said its preschool learning programs would be in jeopardy if a shutdown lasted more than two weeks. March's automatic budget cuts meant nearly 3,000 children lost access to services and there could be dire consequences if the budget standoff drags on.

 

"It's not as though this is a throwaway service. These are the poorest of the poor children," Haxton said. "And our Congressman still gets his paycheck. His pay doesn't stop and his health insurance doesn't stop."

 

___

 

Associated Press reporters Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia, Joan Lowy in Washington, D.C., Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Ky., Terence Chea in San Francisco and Amanda Lee Myers in Cincinnati contributed to this report.

Health law challenge threatens government shutdown

Monday, 30 September 2013 03:44 Published in National 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."

   LOS ANGELES (AP) — Rescuers and investigators were working amid the smoldering wreckage of a private jet and the hangar it hit after landing at a Southern California airport, but they did not expect to find any survivors from the flight from Idaho with an unknown number aboard, officials said.

   "This was an unsurvivable crash," Santa Monica Fire Department Capt. John Nevandro said at a media briefing hours later at Santa Monica Municipal Airport.

   Because the hangar collapsed in flames around it and a crane would be required before the plane could be reached, investigators had been unable to determine how many people were aboard the twin-engine Cessna Citation designed to hold eight passengers and two crew members, officials said.

   It had taken off from Hailey, Idaho and landed in Santa Monica when it went off the right side of the runway at about 6:20 p.m. and struck the hangar, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said.

   The blaze did minor damage to two other buildings and destroyed the hangar.

   "It was a total loss," Fire Department spokeswoman Bridgett Lewis said.

   News helicopter footage showed all but the tail of the plane trapped under a collapsed section of the small building.

   Investigators could not immediately say whether anyone was inside the hangar.

   A plume of smoke rising above the airport could be seen in the twilight sky over the populous neighborhoods surrounding the airport in the hours after the crash.

   After hearing a loud boom, several neighbors ran toward the airport and saw the fire.

   "It was very, very terrifying, it was sad to see just so much smoke, and the building collapse and the loud boom, you just put it all together and it's scary," witness Alyssa Lang told KABC-TV.

   Witness Charles Thomson told the TV station the plane appeared to make a "perfectly normal landing" before veering off course.

   The jet, a Cessna 525A manufactured in 2003, is registered to a Malibu, Calif. address and its corporate owner, Creative Real Estate Exchange, is based in Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta, according to FAA public records.

   Phone messages left after hours at the real estate company's two offices were not immediately returned.

   The National Transportation Safety Board would take over the investigation as is routine in such crashes.

   Santa Monica Airport, located in the coastal tourist destination known for its trendy bars, restaurants and wooden-pier carnival, is home to many private jets, many of them used by wealthy Southern Californians from the entertainment industry.

   The airport in Hailey serves Idaho's Sun Valley resort area, which is a frequent destination for many celebrities, and the rich and powerful alike.

 

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