Democrats unveil the final version of the health care bill, the American envoy to the Mideast heads to Israel for talks and two Americans charged with terrorism have their day in court. I'm Marisa Bramwell and here's the latest from the ABC News Desk:
HEALTH CARE REFORM: President Obama cancelled his trip to Indonesia next week so that he could continue to focus on the passage of the health care reform bill, the final version of which was unveiled by Democrats today. “Along with the bill today, we also received its long awaited price tag: $940 billion over 10 years. It’s paid for with more than $400 billion in new taxes, including taxes on insurance companies, medical device manufacturer and a hike in Medicare taxes for the wealthy,” Jonathan Karl reports. Plus “more than $500 billion in cuts to Medicare spending, much of it to the Medicare Advantage program which pays for private insurance coverage for seniors. The net result: deficit comes down by more than $130 billion over 10 years,” Karl tells us. The final bill mandates that all Americans have health insurance or pay a fine, prevents insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions and provides subsidies for families making less than $88,000 a year. Taxes for “Cadillac” health care plans are also decreased. The bill does leave in a few deals for select states – Karl again: “It removes the cornhusker kickback – that would have benefitted Nebraska. But it leaves in place the so-called ‘Louisiana Purchase’ – a provision that gives up the $300 million for any state that in the last seven years has had every county declared a federal disaster area. The only state that fits that bill: Louisiana….on page 146. Call it the Bismarck Bailout – special treatment for any bank that has a sitting governor on its board. There’s only one: the Bank of North Dakota.” This evening North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad requested that provision be removed. Today the White House got another Democrat to change their vote to YES – in a statement Tennessee Representative Bart Gordon said “The health care bill being considered by Congress now accomplishes three things: one, it reduces health care costs for families and small businesses; two, it improves access to affordable care, regardless of pre-existing conditions; three, it lowers our budget deficit. That’s why I am supporting it.”
BIDEN ON HEALTH CARE: Vice President Joe Biden stopped in Durham, North Carolina today to discuss job opportunities in manufacturing and new technologies for the middle-class, but when he sat down with ABC News’ Jake Tapper he made it clear the White House’s promotion of the health care reform bill continued to be the top priority. “The Vice President said today’s news of the estimated price tag of the plan would help convince conservative Blue Dog democrats to vote YES,” Tapper reports. Biden told Tapper he’s been calling members of Congress: “I’m telling them two things. One, if that, look, this is going to be something when the American people realize that once it’s passed, it takes care of pre-existing conditions. B, your premiums aren’t going to skyrocket. C, the insurance companies aren’t going to be running the show like they were before…you’re going to be rewarded.” “Do you hear back from vulnerable members who are worried this bill will cost them their jobs?” Tapper asked. “Well, I, yes,” Biden said. “Some of them I say, they say, ‘well Joe, look man, I mean, you know, you guys haven’t messaged this very well. And, you know, this thing has gone on so long, I don’t know.’ And my response is ‘hey man, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.’” Tapper reports that “among the wavering Democrats that the Vice President is calling are anti-abortion Democrats…the Vice President says he tells them that embedded in the bill is the principle of no federal dollars paying for abortion. When I asked him how he could side with the nuns who support the health care bill against the much higher ranking bishops who oppose it, the Vice President smiled, said ‘that’s easy. I love the nuns.’”
MIDDLE EAST FLAP: Word tonight that U.S. Envoy George Mitchell will head back to the Middle East this weekend to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu phoned Secretary of State Clinton late today after a disagreement on Israeli settlements that broke out during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden last week. The State Department says Clinton and Netanyahu discussed specific steps to try to improve the outlook for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Clinton has been in Moscow for a meeting of the so called Middle East “Quartet” - the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States. (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
CLINTON IN RUSSIA: Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow today. Alex Marquardt reports: “Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov held a press conference this evening following their meeting; the newsiest parts were a disagreement over the over Russia’s building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran and her non-answer on whether she has spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu since Friday. They also expressed optimism over having a replacement to the START treaty ‘in the nearest future.’”
CLINTON TO MEXICO: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and other Cabinet leaders travel to Mexico Tuesday March 23rd to discuss security and trafficking issues with Mexican leaders.
JIHADISTS IN COURT: In Philadelphia and Chicago today, there were court appearances for two Americans facing terrorism charges. Pierre Thomas tells us about the case of Colleen LaRose: “The FBI says it has evidence La Rose connected with Islamic radicals online - and traveled to Europe to carry out an attack on one of the cartoonists who offended Muslims. LaRose apparently led a troubled life, at one point trying to commit suicide after her father died. The FBI says she was willing to become a martyr, writing to radicals online about the plot: "I will make this my goal till I achieve it or die trying." She could face up to life in prison.” Then there was the case of David Headley, a U.S. citizen born in Washington, DC, who later grew up in Pakistan before returning to the United States. Pierre has the word on Headley’s appearance: “In a Chicago courtroom, a man who worked at a local travel agency pleaded guilty to being the advance man for terrorists who bombed and shot their way through hotels in Mumbai, India two years ago, killing 164.” Headley was also charged for his role in an attempt to attack a Danish Newspaper that had published a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed. Jason Ryan says Headley’s guilty plea was seen as good news at the Justice Department: “In a statement today Attorney General Eric Holder said, ‘Today’s guilty plea is a crucial step forward in our efforts to achieve justice for the more than 160 people who lost their lives in the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Working with our domestic and international partners, we will not rest until all those responsible for the Mumbai attacks and the terror plot in Denmark are held accountable…Not only has the criminal justice system achieved a guilty plea in this case, but David Headley is now providing us valuable intelligence about terrorist activities,’ Holder said.” (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
GROWING SEX ABUSE SCANDAL: The Roman Catholic Church is embroiled in another scandal over sexual abuse committed by priests against children. Nick Watt explains: “Pope Benedict XVI is facing a crisis. The scandal that first rocked the US church is now spreading to Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Germany and elsewhere. Alleged victims are now coming forward claiming sexual abuse. The Pope himself stands accused of complicity. As an archbishop in Germany in the 1980s he referred a pedophile priest to a therapist, not the police. That priest went on to abuse again.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told her country’s parliament today: “We all agree sexual abuse against children is a despicable crime." Merkel went on to say: "There is only one way for society to come clean and that is truth and clarity about everything that has happened." Since the first victims came forward in Germany, at least 300 others have said they suffered sexual or physical abuse at the hands of priests. And Ireland has been shaken by what some say is an even wider crisis over child abuse. Irish Cardinal Sean Brady is under pressure to resign because he failed to tell police about his knowledge of one of Ireland's worst pedophiles. Tomorrow, Pope Benedict is expected to sign his long awaited pastoral letter addressing pedophilia in Ireland. The Pope says: “My hope is that it will help in the process of repentance, healing and renewal.” (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)
MEXICO GANG ROUND-UP: Federal authorities are conducting a sweep of Mexican gang members in Texas in an effort to determine who is responsible for the murders of a U.S. consulate employee and her husband. Pierre Thomas/Jason Ryan/Rich Esposito report: “Two hundred Law Enforcement personal are on the hunt for members of the cross border prison based drug gang Barrio Azteca members as part of a major intelligence collection effort launched to generate leads regarding the ongoing investigation into Saturday’s Juarez murders…There is no indication at this time that there is any other link to the drug gang. Federal officials have told ABC News that it is quite common for there to be miscommunication as to who the intended target is. And there are a lot of close calls where the wrong people could have been killed. The multi agency effort [dubbed Operation Knock Down] is underway in the El Paso region and Southern New Mexico.”
MIDWEST FLOODING: Fargo appears to be better-prepared for the approaching floods, thanks to the lessons learned last year. Barbara Pinto reports: “more than a millions sandbags now stand between this city and the rising Red River…along with a fortress of freshly bulldozed floodwalls. We were here last year for Fargo’s worst flood ever, 100 homes lost. You could feel the panic and anxiety in these days before the flood. This year, the mayor and this city seem strangely calm.” Calm because they’ve completed sandbagging and the clay levees are 99 percent complete. So now they wait…the Red River is forecast to crest Sunday 20 feet above flood level.
PRISON DISPUTES MADOFF BEATING STORY: The Bureau of Prison is disputing reports financier Bernie Madoff was beaten by a fellow inmate at Butner Federal Correctional Complex in December. Jason Ryan reports: “The Bureau of Prisons did an investigation in December about the allegations at the time and found there was no assault of Madoff in Prison. ‘There was no assault. He indicated there was no assault. The investigation did not find any evidence of an assault,’ said BOP spokeswoman Traci Billingsley. ‘He was treated for hypertension in December.’” In addition, Drew Sandholm reports Madoff “signed an affidavit for the Federal Bureau of Prisons on Dec. 24, 2009, which says he was not assaulted and that he went to the hospital for hypertension.”