- - Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Sources: GOP readies short-term bill if needed

Republican officials said GOP lawmakers are ready with another short-term spending bill if needed to avoid a government shutdown threatened for Friday.

These officials said a bill to finance the government for one week will be brought to the House floor if deadlocked talks on a longer-term measure fail to yield a compromise.

They said the stopgap bill would include about $12 billion in cuts in domestic programs and include enough money to finance the Defense Department through the end of the budget year on Sept. 30.

The talks are hung up on Republican demands for deeper spending cuts than either the Obama administration or Senate Democrats want.

President Obama invited top lawmakers to the White House for a meeting Tuesday on the issue.


Medicare Advantage plans to raise reimbursements

Health insurers offering private Medicare Advantage plans will see an average net 0.4 percent increase in federal reimbursements next year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Monday.

The increase is lower than the 1.6 percent net increase proposed in February by the agency that runs the nation’s health insurance plan for the elderly and disabled.

Jonathan Blum, deputy administrator and director at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the lower reimbursement rate reflects economic changes since the February proposal and does not indicate any Medicare policy adjustments.

The net rate increase is an average. It will vary by plan depending on geographic location and their quality star rating, Mr. Blum said.

“We believe that the final rates being announced will continue to see a very stable and very attractive Part C program for 2012,” Mr. Blum said.

Medicare Advantage plans are run through private health insurers and offered as alternatives to traditional fee-for-service Medicare plans.

Supporters say they are more efficient and offer better services for less money, but critics assert that the government pays more for the plans than for traditional Medicare.


Lawmakers renew push to shield intellectual property

A bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers of Congress Monday vowed to pass legislation giving the U.S. Justice Department new authority to go after foreign and domestic websites that sell pirated music and movies and counterfeit goods.

“Online infringement and the sale of counterfeit goods cost American creators, producers, and businesses billions of dollars and results in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, told reporters.

Intellectual property theft is “one of the greatest threats to our economy today” because of the big role that copyrights, patents and trademarks play in boosting U.S. exports and productivity, said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, Texas Republican.

“If we’re going to have a healthy economy, we need to have a healthy IP sector,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Leahy said he would push forward with a new version of a “rogue websites” bill that cleared his committee last year by a vote of 19-0 but did not get a vote in the full Senate.


Former Ensign aide pleads not guilty

A former aide to Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican, is pleading not guilty to violating conflict of interest laws.

Douglas Hampton and his wife, Cynthia, worked together for Mr. Ensign but left three years ago during an affair between Mrs. Hampton and the congressman.

Mr. Hampton became a lobbyist and is charged with violating a yearlong ban on former staffers lobbying the Senate.

The judge found Mr. Hampton is now indigent and last week appointed public defender A.J. Kramer to his case.

Mr. Kramer said prosecutors have turned over hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence that he needs to review, so U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell set another hearing for July 1.

She released Mr. Hampton pending trial, but restricted his travel to his home state of California, Nevada and the Washington area.


Transmission plant on Obama’s itinerary

President Obama plans to visit an Indianapolis transmission plant that produces systems for hybrid vehicles as part of his push for reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

The White House said Mr. Obama will tour a plant operated by Allison Transmission in Indianapolis on Friday. Last week, the president outlined his goals of increasing domestic oil exploration and production, making cars and trucks more energy efficient and building vehicles that run on alternative fuels or electricity.

The company says that buses equipped with its hybrid equipment have saved an estimated 15 million gallons of fuel since 2003. Its transmissions are used in a wide range of vehicles, including trucks, buses, and off-road and military vehicles.


LaHood gives urgency to gas pipeline repairs

ALLENTOWN | Federal transportation officials are calling on pipeline companies to speed up efforts to repair and replace aging oil and gas lines.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in Allentown, Pa., Monday to announce plans to strengthen oversight of the industry.

Mr. LaHood says pipeline owners and operators need to do more to prevent deadly explosions.

A February pipeline explosion in Allentown leveled homes and businesses and killed five people.

A gas transmission line ruptured in September in San Bruno, Calif., and killed eight people.

Mr. LaHood wants Congress to increase civil penalties for pipeline violations, close regulatory loopholes and add inspectors.

He also is calling on the industry to identify high-risk oil and gas pipelines and target those for replacement.

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