Marisa's Musings: Health Care Reform Push, Wicked Weather, Prius Hoax?

The President continues his push for health care reform, Toyota defends its Prius and the Northeast cleans up from a weekend of fierce storms. I'm Marisa Bramwell and here's the latest from the ABC News desk:

HEALTH CARE - OBAMA INTERVIEW: President Obama continued his push for health care reform today, this time in Ohio, where he told the crowd about Natoma Canfield, a cancer patient whose insurance premiums had skyrocketed. Canfield was supposed to introduce Obama’s speech in Strongsville, but was unable to because she was recently diagnosed with leukemia. Jake Tapper was able to get a few minutes with the President after his speech – he asked Obama what the bill would do for people like Natoma: “What would have happened is that Natoma would have been able to be part of this exchange, this marketplace that gave her a choice of plans just like members of Congress have but, because she’d be a part of a million people who are in a pool, her rates would be lowered.” When asked about Americans’ and lawmakers’ concerns about the bill, Obama said “A lot of the misinformation about ‘death panels’ or ‘this was a government takeover of health care’ turned out not to be true….for most people who already have health insurance, they’re not going to see much of a change except they’ll have more protection in the insurance they already have. But for millions of Americans, they’ll be in a more secure position and the federal government and state governments are going to be in a position where they are not running these huge, outside multi-billion-dollar deficits over and over again each year.” But will they get all the votes? “I believe we are going to get the votes, we’re going to make this happen,” Obama said.

COUNTING THE VOTES: Jonathan Karl presented the challenges of collecting votes to pass health care legislation in the House. On WORLD NEWS, Karl reported, “You may not know them, but these 37 men and women – Democrats who voted ‘no’ the first time – hold the fate of the health care bill in the balance.” Their reasons for voting no vary from member to member. Liberal Democrat and former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich said “my position’s been manifestly clear. We have to have a public option.” Steve Driehaus, who voted yes the first time, is no sure thing. He may change his vote because of intense pressure from his constituents. Karl reported that Driehaus, “told the Cincinnati Enquirer he’d vote no because the bill doesn’t do enough to restrict abortion funding.” (Thanks to George Sanchez for this entry)

TOYOTA PRIUS FINDINGS: Toyota Monday cast doubt on whether a California man really did experience sudden acceleration while driving his Prius on a highway two weeks ago and presented evidence they say shows inconsistencies in the man’s report. During Monday afternoon’s press conference, Toyota said its data showed the accelerator and brake on the Prius had been “rapidly and repeatedly pressed alternately back and forth, on and off, 250 times, which is the maximum recording capability of that system.” Toyota also said the brakes in the Prius were pushed “lightly” and that if the driver braked on them hard as he claimed, the vehicle’s override system would’ve kicked in and brought the car to a complete stop. “But what about the driver who said he was standing on the brakes? And the California Highway Patrol officer who indicated it sure looked that way? Toyota said they can’t verify it…but said they still believe the officer’s report is true,” David Muir reported on WORLD NEWS. The driver, Jim Sikes, released a statement that said he had no comment until the investigation was completed.

NORTHEAST WEATHER: States of emergencies were declared for Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts as the rain continued in the Northeast Monday. Sharyn Alfonsi reports: “Hurricane force winds snapped trees, knocking down power lines and leaving half a million people in four states in the dark for days. 911 operators in New York say they fielded more than 65 thousand calls for help – the second highest – in a single day.” Power is slowly being restored to 300,000 people in the region who remain in the dark, and clean up is expected to take weeks. Some parts of Massachusetts and Maine got up to eight inches of rain through the weekend, which caused minor flooding. In Rhode Island, residents living along the Pawtuxet River were forced to evacuate because of a strained dam. Officials there have laid sandbags and bricks to support the dam and prevent it from breaching. In New Jersey, officials say the storms caused serious erosion to the beaches in Orange and Monmouth counties. At least nine people were killed in the region in storm-related deaths.

FARGO FLOOD WATCH: The sandbagging has started in Fargo, ND as residents there anxiously watch the Red River, which forecasters say will peak eight feet above major flood stages by the end of this week. Officials there started delivering some of the 740,000 sandbags to vulnerable neighborhoods, and the Army Corps of Engineers says it will begin surveying the clay levees.

US-ISRAEL RELATIONS: The US continues to wait for Israel’s response to demands made by Secretary Clinton during a phone call Friday with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Simon McGregor-Wood reports: “In the 43 minute long phone call where Clinton did almost all the talking, she told Netanyahu in no uncertain terms to cancel the plan [to build in east Jerusalem]. Even so, Netanyahu told Israeli lawmakers today, no Israeli government has ever limited building in Jerusalem. For Netanyahu, giving in to the US may threaten the survival of his right wing government.”

US CONSULATE EMPLOYEE KILLED IN MEXICO: New details about the weekend murders of a U.S. consulate employee and her husband in Ciudad Juarez. Ryan Owens reports: “Investigators believe drug gangs chased down the pregnant US consulate worker and her husband as they left a children’s birthday party Saturday in Juarez. Americans Lesley Enriquez and Arthur Redelfs were in sight of the bridge back to El Paso, Texas when the gunman opened fire on their SUV. Their one-year-old daughter was unharmed in the back seat.” At a briefing today the State Department would not speculate as to whether Enriquez was targeted because of her work with the consulate, and said that the consulate in Ciudad Juarez would be closed tomorrow while they review their security procedures.

FINANCIAL INDUSTRY REFORM BILL: The Senate Banking Committee unveiled its proposal for regulation of the financial industry. The four main objectives for the new bill are to give the government the authority to split up large firms, create a Financial Stability Oversight Council to monitor the American economy for risk, create a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect consumers and make the derivatives market more transparent.

POTUS EDUCATION REFORM: President Obama unveiled his proposal to revamp the “No Child Left Behind” program introduced during President George Bush term. Mary Bruce reports: “The much-anticipated blueprint does away with the current law’s pass/fail grading system for schools, replacing it with a broader one focused on the academic growth of individual students. The proposal also asks states to report on a range of learning conditions, such a school climate and disciplinary incidents…While the proposal addresses concerns that the current law doesn’t set the bar high enough, it also retains some aspects of the 2002 'No Child Left Behind' legislation, such as annual math and reading exams. But the administration will also allow states to measure students’ progress based on scores in other subjects. The plan calls for increased intervention in failing schools, but would give states leeway to determine the appropriate interventions and allow flexibility to determine improvement strategies.”

JOBS BILL: Zach Wolf reports: “Democrats (with help from three Republicans) passed a final procedural hurdle Monday night on the first piece of their “jobs agenda” – the $17.4 billion bill that includes payroll tax breaks for companies hiring people long out of work.” A vote on the bill will happen Wednesday.

CHINA-US HOLDINGS: Matt Jaffe reports: “Foreign holders of US government debt slightly increased their holdings in January, but China reduced its holdings for a third straight month, according to new data released this morning by the Treasury Department. Chinese holdings fell by $5 billion to $889 billion in January, but China is still the largest foreign holder of Treasury securities…Today’s news comes a day after Chinese premier Wen Jiabao voiced concerns about the value of the dollar at a news conference in Beijing. If China and other nations offload their Treasury holdings due to the United States’ rising budget deficits, the US government could have to make higher interest payments.” Stocks closed flat Monday afternoon in response to the news, and also in anticipation of a possible Fed interest rate hike Tuesday.

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