- - Monday, November 29, 2010

MEDICARE

Lawmakers delay doctor pay cuts

Congress agreed Monday to a one-month delay in Medicare payment cuts to doctors, giving a short-term reprieve to a looming crisis over treatment of the nation’s senior citizens.

The House, in approving the bill already passed by the Senate, postponed a 23 percent cut in doctors’ pay scheduled to take effect Wednesday. That gives lawmakers a month to come up with a longer-term plan to overhaul a system that in recent years has bedeviled Congress, angered doctors and jeopardized health care for 46 million older and disabled Americans.

The payment cuts are the result of a 1990s budget law that attempted to keep Medicare spending in line. With medical groups estimating that as many as two-thirds of doctors would stop taking new Medicare patients if the cuts go into effect, Congress has had to periodically step in to stop the automatic cuts.

The one-month postponement passed Monday will cost $1 billion over 10 years, to be offset by changes in Medicare reimbursement for outpatient therapy services.

Doctors still face a payment cut of almost 25 percent on Jan. 1 if Congress doesn’t act on another postponement.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Obama-Gray meeting set for Wednesday

It had been penciled in for nearly a month, but now it is in ink.

President Obama and D.C. Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray will break bread together Wednesday at the White House, a meeting the two Democrats began penciling in the week of Mr. Gray’s victory in the general election.

Last week, Mr. Gray had a breakfast meeting with Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Interim Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson also attended.

Mr. Gray told Deborah Simmons of The Washington Times that he “welcomed the opportunity to sit down over breakfast” with Secretary Duncan, his Chief of Staff Joanne Weiss, the architect of the $4.35 billion federal Race to the Top program. She formerly served as chief operating officer of NewSchools Venture Fund, which aids entrepreneurs in the education sector.

The mayor-elect called it “a very productive meeting that Ms. Henderson and I believe will bolster the positive partnership between the District of Columbia and the U.S. Department of Education.”

The president and the mayor-elect have several education policies in common, including support for charter schools, making early childhood schooling academically meaningful, and making it easier for youths and adults to attend community college.

The White House lunch will be far more formal than the sit-down the president and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty had once Mr. Obama had settled into the White House in 2007. Those two shared lunch at Bens Chili Bowl, the D.C. eatery famous for its spicy chili half-smokes and hot dogs.

MINNESOTA

Recount under way in governor’s race

ST. PAUL | Minnesota launched a recount in its undecided governor’s race on Monday, hand-sorting more than 2.1 million ballots in a tedious process that election officials hoped would go more smoothly thanks to lessons from the state’s 2008 bitterly contested U.S. Senate recount.

Workers and partisan observers were briefed before the seals on ballot boxes were broken at scores of counting locations statewide. Democrat Mark Dayton, a former U.S. senator, led Republican Tom Emmer by nearly 8,800 votes going into the recount.

The process will last into next week. If Mr. Emmer overcomes Mr. Dayton’s lead - a result most observers think unlikely - the GOP would hold the governor’s office and both chambers of the state Legislature. Mr. Emmer also could sue if the recount confirms Mr. Dayton as the winner.

CLIMATE

Weather fatalities surge in 2010

Climate-related disasters killed 21,000 people in the first nine months of this year, more than double the number in 2009, the humanitarian organization Oxfam reported Monday.

Timed to coincide with the start of international talks tackling climate change in Cancun, Mexico, the report cited floods in Pakistan, fires and heat waves in Russia and sea-level rise in the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu as examples of the deadly consequences of climate change.

The new round of U.N. climate negotiations aims to agree on a narrow range of issues dividing rich and poor economies, specifically on funding, preservation of rain forests and preparations for a warmer world. The talks also will seek to formalize existing targets to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Last year’s climate negotiations in Copenhagen ended with no binding global agreement, and expectations for this year’s talks are low. U.S. lawmakers are unlikely to consider legislation creating a market-based “cap-and-trade” system to curb climate-warming emissions.

TERRORISM

Holder: NYC verdict won’t change policy

The acquittal of a man on all but one of the charges related to the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa has had no impact on deciding the fate of terrorism suspects at the U.S. military prison at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Monday.

A civilian jury this month acquitted Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on all but one of 285 charges he faced in a federal court in New York in connection with the bombings, which killed hundreds of people.

Despite criticism from Republicans in Congress, Mr. Holder has said he still wants to prosecute some terrorism suspects held at the prison, including the self-professed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, in federal courts. Others would be tried in military courts.

REPUBLICANS

GOP Hill leaders, governors to meet

Top Republicans in Congress are meeting with more than a dozen GOP governors this week to discuss spending cuts, job creation and repealing President Obama’s health care law.

House Speaker-to-be John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, announced the Wednesday meeting as the Democrat-controlled Congress reconvened to vote on last-minute legislation. Republicans are strategizing how to roll back the president’s signature domestic law when the next Congress convenes in January.

Many of the midterm election voters who gave Republicans control of the House and more Senate seats are opposed to the health care overhaul in the struggling economy.

Mr. Boehner’s office said Monday that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, also is expected to attend the meeting.

TRADE

U.S., South Korea ready to talk trade

Top U.S. and South Korean trade officials will meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Columbia, Md., to try again to resolve differences blocking approval of a free-trade agreement, U.S. officials said.

It will be the first meeting between U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon since the two sides failed at the recent Group of 20 summit in Seoul to meet a self-imposed deadline for reaching a deal on outstanding beef and auto trade concerns.

The effort was renewed one week after a North Korean military strike on a South Korean island raised tensions in the region to the highest level in at least two decades. U.S. and South Korean warships held military exercises Monday, prompting concern from China and threats of war from North Korea.

Even so, U.S. trade officials said there would be a trade deal only if South Korea agrees to better terms for American automakers than the United States got when the pact was originally negotiated and signed in 2007.