- - Thursday, December 9, 2010

HOUSE

‘Doc fix’ vote delays Medicare cut

The House has passed and sent to President Obama a bill to delay for a year an impending sharp cut in Medicare pay to doctors that threatened to disrupt care for the nation’s seniors.

The action to prevent a scheduled 25 percent cut to doctors on Jan. 1 will cost an estimated $19 billion, to be paid for by shifting money from the health care overhaul law. The money will come mostly from tightening the rules on tax credits in the health care law intended to prevent waste. The credits will make premiums more affordable for millions.

The 409-2 House vote came a day after the Senate approved the measure by a voice vote. It now goes to Mr. Obama, who had urged quick passage of the measure he said was “an important step forward to stabilize Medicare.”

Reps. Brian Baird, Washington Democrat, and Tom McClintock, California Republican, were the only House members to vote against the so-called “doc fix.”

IRS

New amnesty for overseas cheats mulled

The Internal Revenue Service is seriously considering a new program of reduced penalties for overseas tax cheats who turn themselves in.

About 15,000 tax cheats came clean last year as part of an IRS offer of reduced penalties and no prison time for people who turn themselves in.

IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman told an international tax conference Thursday that the program was so successful the agency is considering another one.

Last year’s offer was made as the IRS stepped up efforts to go after Americans hiding money overseas, including a well-publicized case involving Swiss banking giant UBS AG.

Mr. Shulman said any new program would not be as generous as last year’s.

HOUSE

Money OK’d for nuke loan guarantees

The House has passed legislation that would provide $7 billion in new loan guarantees for nuclear-power plant construction.

The money was approved as part of a $1.2 trillion spending bill that passed the House on Wednesday night.

The $7 billion in loan guarantees is just a fraction of the $36 billion that President Obama requested earlier this year. But Steve Kerekes, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute trade group, says the $7 billion “works in the short term.”

In February, the Obama administration awarded $8 billion in loan guarantees for Southern Co. to build a pair of reactors in Burke County, Ga.

SENATE

9/11 health bill fails in test vote

Senate Republicans have blocked a bill to aid people who got sick after exposure to dust from the World Trade Center’s collapse.

Supporters fell short Thursday of the 60 votes needed to advance the bill to provide as much as $7.4 billion in health care and compensation to 9/11 responders and survivors.

Backers of the legislation see this lame-duck session of Congress as possibly its last chance. The bill has passed the House.

New York and New Jersey lawmakers have fought for years for the measure. Critics question its cost and whether the government could ensure the money would go only to people sickened by trade center dust.

Republican senators have promised not to consider any other bills until the Senate acts on funding the government and extending tax cuts.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama still trying to quit smoking

President Obama is still trying to kick the habit.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Thursday that he hasn’t seen Mr. Obama smoke or seen evidence that the president has smoked a cigarette in about nine months. Mr. Gibbs says Mr. Obama has been working “extremely hard” to quit for good.

Mr. Gibbs says he thinks Mr. Obama is still chewing nicotine gum.

A new report this week from the U.S. surgeon general says tobacco smoke begins poisoning the body immediately. The report estimates that about 46 million adults, or one in five, still smoke.

Mr. Gibbs says Mr. Obama understands smoking’s dangers and has done a lot of “extraordinary work to wrestle with that habit,” as have millions of other Americans.

FAA

Laser incidents worry aviation officials

The Federal Aviation Administration says it has recorded a steady increase in reports from across the country of people pointing lasers at aircraft cockpits.

And these incidents are dangerous.

The lasers’ intense light can distract and temporarily blind pilots. In some cases, pilots have had to relinquish control of planes and helicopters to their co-pilots or abort landings. Lasers have also been directed at air-traffic control towers.

There hasn’t been an air crash so far, but the incidents have aviation officials worried.

This year there have been more than 2,200 incidents, up from fewer than 300 incidents in 2005.

OREGON

GOP funding partial recount in governor race

PORTLAND | Oregon Republicans are funding a test recount of the votes for governor in three Multnomah County precincts, aiming to see whether major irregularities turn up that would warrant a broader recount.

The Republicans are putting up “a few thousand dollars” for the recount, to take place Monday. It will involve a token number of ballots — 8,347 in a county that Democrat John Kitzhaber carried by 121,000 on his way to defeating Republican Chris Dudley statewide by 22,000 votes.

Republican state GOP Chairman Bob Tiernan said Wednesday the recount is a “cheap form of insurance,” and if it does turn up major irregularities, the party could seek a wider recount.

Mr. Tiernan said that on election night, his Multnomah County observers saw elections workers carrying in ballot boxes without seals and spotted an open door to a computer room, raising the possibility of someone hacking into the tally.

County spokesman David Austin wouldn’t address the specific allegations, but said Multnomah elections workers are “professionals who do their jobs very well.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports