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OBAMA'S 2015 BUDGET APPEALS TO DEMOCRATS

Tuesday, 04 March 2014 06:28 Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — Striving for unity among Democrats rather than compromise with Republicans, President Barack Obama will unveil an election-year budget on Tuesday that drops earlier proposals to cut future Social Security benefits and seeks new money for infrastructure, education and job training.

But Obama's almost $4 trillion budget plan is likely to have a short shelf life. It comes just three months after Congress and the White House agreed to a two-year, bipartisan budget pact that has already set the parameters for this election year's budget work. Democrats controlling the Senate have already announced they won't advance a budget this year and will instead skip ahead to the annual appropriations bills for 2015, relying on new spending "caps" set by December's budget deal that provide $56 billion less than what Obama wants in 2015.

Obama would divide the extra money equally between the Pentagon and domestic initiatives like boosting manufacturing hubs, job training and preschool programs and cutting energy waste. Republicans are likely to balk at the idea, which would be paid for by curbing special interest tax breaks and making spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Obama has also announced a four-year, $302 billion plan to boost spending on highways, rail projects and mass transit. Half of the initiative would be financed through corporate taxes. Funding for highway and mass transit projects expires at the end of September, and there's bipartisan interest in finding a supplemental funding stream to augment stagnant revenues from the $18.4 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax.

Obama's budget arrives after a tumultuous year that began with Obama muscling through a 10-year $600 billion-plus tax increase on upper-bracket earners. Feeling stung, Republicans refused to yield on about $80 billion in automatic spending cuts that began in March. Then, conservatives in the GOP forced a 16-day partial government shutdown over funding to implement the nation's new health insurance program. The small-bore, two-year budget deal struck by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., emerged from the wreckage to alleviate the toughest automatic cuts.

With no design or expectation of luring Republicans into more budget negotiations in this election year, Obama's blueprint presents his vision for boosting job growth and favored initiatives like education. The White House announced earlier Obama was dropping a plan opposed by most Democrats in his budget proposal a year ago to slow Social Security cost of living increases.

The budget also will flesh out a plan Obama announced in his State of the Union address to expand the earned income tax credit for childless workers, helping more than 13 million. It would also boost the tax credit for child care and help people sign up for individual retirement accounts.

"This year the administration is returning to a more traditional budget presentation that is focused on achieving the president's vision for the best path to create growth and opportunity for all Americans, and the investments needed to meet that vision," the White House said in a statement last month.

Republicans are sure to brush aside most of Obama's new initiatives. Ryan released a report Monday criticizing many federal anti-poverty programs, saying they should be redesigned to better help the poor escape poverty. It found that many poor people have little incentive to find work or work more because higher incomes mean lower benefits.

The success that Washington has had in curbing spending over the past several years has come mostly at the expense of "discretionary" spending for agency operating budgets approved by Congress each year. The $521 billion defense budget for this year amounts to 3.5 percent of the size of the economy, according to the Congressional Budget Office, down from 5.4 percent of gross domestic product 40 years ago.

Discretionary spending on nondefense programs has dropped from 3.9 percent in 1974 to 3.4 percent today. Meanwhile, autopilot spending on benefit programs like Social Security, Medicare, food stamps and insurance subsidies under the new health care law are growing rapidly as a percentage of the economy.

Obama's budget does little to arrest these trends. And it arrives as dropping deficits have sapped much of Washington's urgency for tackling the government's fiscal problems. The deficit fell to $680 billion last year — still large but far smaller than the $1 trillion-plus deficits that plagued his first term.

Obama's austere request for the Pentagon, including cuts to Army personnel, the National Guard and the much-criticized littoral combat ship and a move to retire the Air Force's A-10 fighter, has already provoked howls of outrage from defense hawks. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Obama's proposal "guts our defense."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the $28 billion in extra defense money that Obama seeks would permit the Pentagon to increase training, improve aircraft and weapons systems and repair military facilities.

Obama will recommend tax changes that would generate billions in revenues to help pay for those initiatives. They include curtailing what the administration views as tax avoidance schemes by U.S. companies with profits earned overseas and by foreign-owned companies with operations in the United States.

One measure, according to administration officials, would limit the ability of companies to take advantage of differences in tax rules from country to country. A second would restrict the ability of multinational corporations to assign much of their debt to U.S. operations to take advantage of U.S. interest deductions. A third would classify as taxable the income from certain digital transactions that have escaped U.S. taxation.

The proposals are part of an international effort by leading economies to limit tax avoidance by multinational companies. Administration officials said the proposals in the budget would raise several billion a year and could be part of a broader tax overhaul that would be used to reduce corporate tax rates.

Obama is also likely to reprise a host of familiar tax increases such as limiting deductions for upper-income taxpayers and closing tax breaks for oil and gas companies. They have been routinely rejected in the past.

HARSH US WINTER EXTENDS INTO MARCH

Tuesday, 04 March 2014 06:27 Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — On the latest snow day in a winter full of them, residents of parts of the South, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast were coping with several inches of snow on top of a layer of slush.

With accumulations of 4-to-6 inches in Washington, Monday's storm would have been the largest in the nation's capital in all of last year. But in the seemingly endless winter of 2013-2014, it came 2 ½ weeks after a much bigger storm, and the region settled into a familiar routine of hunkering down.

Schools and government offices were closed. Federal workers stayed home. Young adults gathered on the sloppy, slushy National Mall for a semi-organized, afternoon snowball fight.

By early afternoon, the snow had stopped. But the region will face yet another challenge: another blast of bitterly cold arctic air. Temperatures were expected to dip into the single digits along the Eastern Seaboard on Monday night. That doesn't usually happen after March 1, which is sometimes referred to as the start of "meteorological spring."

If the forecast holds, it would be only the third single-digit day after March 1 in the recorded history of the nation's capital — and the previous two were in 1872 and 1873, according to the National Weather Service.

Records were in danger elsewhere, too. In New Jersey, nearly 6 inches fell in some areas, which could make it the eighth snowiest winter in the last 120 years.

"It's one of the more disruptive winters of the last several decades," New Jersey state climatologist David Robinson said.

Federal workers are familiar with the routine. This was the fourth time this winter that the government has shut down because of weather — the most such closures since the back-to-back "Snowmaggeddon" storms of February 2010.

In downtown Washington, the roads were messy but passable, and the snow had stopped by early afternoon. The worst conditions came during what would have been morning rush hour, but traffic was all but nonexistent. Commuter trains were canceled, Amtrak was on a limited schedule, and while the Metro subway system stayed open, the massive parking garage at the Springfield, Va., station was nearly empty.

Jim Lee, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., noted that every decade in Washington, there are only 6 days with 6-plus inches of snow.

"We've had pretty close to two of them this year, already — and winter's not over," Lee said.

Tourists, who flock to the nation's capital 365 days a year, were seeking out whatever activities they could find.

In the morning, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments inside a chamber packed with out-of-town visitors and legal wonks. By noon, crowds were growing at the National Air and Space Museum, the only Smithsonian institution that was open Monday. Among them were Russ Watters, 60, of St. Louis, and his 14-year-old son, Seth, who was touring Washington with his 8th-grade class.

"We're trying to find stuff that's open, so this is open," Watters said. The group planned to stay on their bus and get drive-by lessons on the city's monuments in the afternoon.

Government offices and schools were also closed throughout Delaware, parts of which got 6-plus inches.

Further south, there were more problems. The Richmond, Va., area got several inches of snow, and Virginia State Police troopers had responded to more than 800 traffic crashes across the state by 3 p.m. Monday. Police reported one fatal weather-related crash southeast of Richmond.

Governors declared states of emergency in Virginia and Tennessee, where there were hundreds of traffic crashes and tens of thousands of power outages.

More than 2,800 flights in the United States were canceled as of Monday afternoon, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.com. The bulk of the problems were at airports in Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

In Texas, An American Airlines jet taxiing to a maintenance hangar slid off a taxiway at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport during freezing weather Monday. A spokeswoman for the airline said there were no passengers on board and nobody was hurt. The MD-80 jet came to a stop in a grassy area and wasn't damaged, the spokeswoman said. Winter weather advisories have been issued from Monday evening into Tuesday in parts of the state.

In suburban Falls Church, Va., dozens of pre-teen daredevils went sledding and snowboarding down a steep hill behind an elementary school. But Maya Luera, 11, was unhappy that the snow day would force the school system to tack another day onto the end of the year.

"I'm more of a summer person, so I'd rather have more free time in the summer than the winter," she said.

___

Associated Press writers Brett Zongker in Washington; Matthew Barakat in Falls Church, Va.; Adrian Sainz and Sheila Burke in Memphis, Tenn.; Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield, N.J.; and Steve McMillan in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report.

___

Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.

CHICAGO (AP) -- At age 80, retired Chicago physician and educator Dan Winship is getting a bittersweet last chance to teach about medicine - only this time he's the subject. In the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, Winship is giving a young medical student a close-up look at a devastating illness affecting millions of patients worldwide.

The two are part of a "buddy" program pairing doctors-to-be with dementia patients, pioneered at Northwestern University and adopted at a handful of other medical schools.

Besides offering students a unique perspective on a disease they're likely to encounter during their careers, the programs give patients a sense of purpose and a chance to stay socially engaged before their illness eventually robs their minds.

Winship and his "buddy," first-year medical student Jared Worthington, are building a friendship - dining together, visiting museums, chatting about Winship's medical career and Worthington's plans for his own.

The programs help erase the stigma of Alzheimer's and are laudable for introducing students to medical opportunities related to aging and dementia, said Beth Kallmyer, an Alzheimer's Association vice president who oversees outreach services.

More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia, a number that could triple by 2050, the group estimates.

Data presented at an Alzheimer's Association conference last year showed the programs are increasing medical students' knowledge of the disease beyond what they learn in the classroom.

About 75 percent of Northwestern students who participate become doctors in fields that deal with Alzheimer's patients, said program director Darby Morhardt.

For everyone, the diagnosis is a cruel blow. For Winship, it was nothing less.

"You can't remember anything," Winship said, sometimes faltering to find the right words. "You lose your ability ... to keep your wits about you."

Alzheimer's "wreaks havoc," he said. But Winship has grown to see it as a chance to meld his loves of medicine and teaching.

His career included stints as medical school dean at Chicago-based Loyola University; professorships at Rush Medical College and the University of Illinois in Chicago, and as an associate dean at the University of Missouri's medical school. He retired in 2010 from the American Medical Association.

Early last year, he got the dreaded diagnosis. Jean Schmidt Winship, 53, his wife of 10 years, says at first she thought his occasional forgetfulness and difficulty learning new computer programs were just signs of aging. But his symptoms gradually worsened.

Jean Winship scrambled to learn more about their options after the diagnosis and found the buddy program online.

"Everyone in the buddy program is very committed to understanding that people at this stage of any kind of dementia still need to live and enjoy life," she said. Alzheimer's "is not Dan, it's just a disease that he has. And so, that was huge for us ... realizing we have a lot of living to do here."

In the program, first-year students are matched for a school year with patients, based mostly on common interests.

Winship is an open, engaging man with twinkly dark eyes and a groomed salt-and-pepper beard. He was the first choice for many students who joined the program last fall, said Morhardt, the program founder and director. She had a hunch, though, that he and Jared Worthington would click.

Worthington, 25, from Ontario, Canada, is perhaps more reserved than his Texas-born mentor, but with obvious earnestness and empathy for what Winship is going through. Worthington's grandmother is in the later stages of Alzheimer's.

He said he hopes being a "buddy" will "inform how I interact with patients and hopefully treat them with more compassion and understanding."

"It's something scary and difficult but just because you have Alzheimer's doesn't mean that ... your life is over," Worthington said. "You can still contribute and give back and participate meaningfully."

During a recent visit to Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, he and Winship shared banter watching dolphins leaping in an indoor pool, and curiosity over the anatomy of colorful specimens in an ethereal jelly fish exhibit.

"I'm so fond of Jared because we talk together, we talk the same language. He is a very good student, he's learning and learning, learning and that means everything to me," Winship said.

Winship said he hopes the program will train a new generation of doctors to find new treatments "so we can do away with that stinking disease. "

For him, though, just hanging out with Jared "is the best part of all."

---

Follow AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner atHTTP://WWW.TWITTER.COM/LINDSEYTANNER

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

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