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Obama battles health care chatter

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Obama battles health care chatter

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — This is not the August that President Obama had planned.

Obama, who initially demanded that the House and Senate pass health care overhauls by now, was playing defense at a town-hall-style meeting here Tuesday, his signature initiative under increasingly fierce fire.

The session at Portsmouth High School lacked the chanting and catcalls that has disrupted hometown meetings some members of Congress have held, but the president found himself having to deny his proposals would lead to rationing, socialized medicine or government “death panels” to oversee end-of-life care.

“I’ve seen some of those signs,” Obama said, ridiculing accusations from opponents that he wants to create “death panels that will basically pull the plug on grandma because we’ve decided that it’s too expensive to let her live.

“I’m not in favor of that,” he told 1,800 people inside the hall while about 1,000 demonstrators outside shouted at each other across police cordons.

The fact that Obama felt the need to deny plans to “pull the plug on grandma” and that the White House moved to schedule a trio of town-hall meetings — the president will hold one in Bozeman, Mont., on Friday and another in Grand Junction, Colo., on Saturday — reflects growing concern within the administration that the most vociferous critics of his health care plans are now dominating the debate.

The reason the White House had pushed for congressional action before the August recess began was precisely to avoid this scenario: critics filling the summer lull with protests and ads that could raise concerns and rally opposition to Obama’s top legislative priority.

“It’s amplified the stakes,” Republican strategist Kevin Madden says of the demonstrations, saying the White House was “late in responding” to them.

“It wasn’t something (the White House advisers) wanted the president to get involved in right away, but they could see what was happening,” says Democratic consultant Peter Fenn. “You’ve got to answer the crazy charges.”

So Obama was a man on a mission in the Granite State, repeatedly trying to reassure the crowd and his broader national audience that a health-care overhaul would make the system work better for them, not worse.

“For all the chatter and the yelling and the shouting and the noise, what you need to know is this: If you don’t have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options, once we pass reform,” he said. “If you do have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or a government bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need.”

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White House declines to confirm death of Taliban chief in Pakistan

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File photo of Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud in 2004. The United States declined on Friday to confirm reports that Baitullah Mehsud, Taliban chief in Pakistan, has likely been killed along with his wife and bodyguards in a drone strike, Aug. 7, 2009.

White House declines to confirm death of Taliban chief in Pakistan

WASHINGTON, Aug. 7 (Xinhua) — The United States declined on Friday to confirm reports that Baitullah Mehsud, Taliban chief in Pakistan, has likely been killed along with his wife and bodyguards in a drone strike.

“The United States cannot confirm that he has been killed in a drone attack, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.

However, the spokesman said that “There seems to be a growing consensus among credible observers that he is indeed dead.”


1bFile photo of Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud in 2004. The United States declined on Friday to confirm reports that Baitullah Mehsud, Taliban chief in Pakistan, has likely been killed along with his wife and bodyguards in a drone strike, Aug. 7, 2009.

“Baitullah Mehsud is somebody who has well earned his label as a murderous thug. … He has killed scores of innocent men, women and children and is supposed to have plotted the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. If he is dead, without a doubt, the people of Pakistan will be safer as a result,” Gibbs said.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said in Islamabad on Thursday that the Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mahsud was killed in the missile attack on Wednesday. He said “We have some information, but they don’t have material evidence to confirm it.”

Mehsud has been the leader since 2007 of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, a coalition of Taliban factions loyal to Afghanistan’s Taliban leader, Mohammad Omar. An ally of al-Qaida, Mehsud commands as many as 20,000 fighters in Pakistan’s rugged northwestern frontier region and has directed or supported numerous suicide bombings in Pakistan, including a deadly attack in 2008 on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

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Obama vows to pass U.S. healthcare reform

4U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the economy at the Monaco RV vehicle maker in Wakarusa, Indiana, August 5, 2009.

Obama vows to pass U.S. healthcare reform

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Despite polls showing growing public doubts about his healthcare overhaul, U.S. President Barack Obama vowed on Wednesday to get a reform bill through Congress this year even without Republicans on board.

“I promise you, we will pass reform by the end of this year because the American people need it,” Obama said in Wakarusa, Indiana, where he traveled to tout his economic initiatives. “We’re going to have to make it happen.”

Obama’s drive for healthcare reform, his top legislative priority, has been attacked on all sides for its $1 trillion cost and scope. Democrats have feuded over how to pay for it, and Obama’s popularity has slipped as the debate dragged on.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday found 52 percent of voters disapprove of Obama’s handling of healthcare while 39 percent approve. That was a shift from 46 percent approval against 42 percent disapproval in a July 1 survey.

Concerns about spending too much and adding to the deficit appeared to fuel the change, with 72 percent saying they do not believe Obama can overhaul healthcare without expanding the deficit.

No Republicans have backed the healthcare proposals under consideration in Congress, and months of Senate Finance Committee negotiations with three Republican senators have not produced a deal. Obama said time was about up.

“I think at some point, sometime in September, we’re just going to have to make an assessment,” Obama told MSNBC after his appearance in Wakarusa, saying his priority was a plan that reined in healthcare costs, improved care and regulated insurance companies.

Obama wants to expand insurance coverage to most of the 46 million uninsured Americans and make it harder for insurance companies to prohibit coverage of those with pre-existing conditions.

“I would prefer Republicans working with us on that because I think it’s in the interest of everybody. That shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he said.

‘A DELAY GAME’

Democratic Senator John Rockefeller told reporters he suspects the three Republicans negotiating with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus — Charles Grassley, Mike Enzi and Olympia Snowe — ultimately will reject a Democratic healthcare reform plan.

“My own personal view is that those three Republicans won’t be there to vote for it, not in committee when it comes right down to it,” he said. “So this will evolve into three or four months of a delay game, which is exactly what the Republicans want.”

The Senate adjourns at the end of the week for a monthlong summer recess, joining the House of Representatives, which adjourned last week. Three House committees and one Senate committee have passed versions of the healthcare bill, while Senate Finance is still at work.

Baucus said other Democrats believed the party’s negotiators on Senate Finance should “keep working, be bipartisan, but sometime in September we are going to have to make a decision.”

Advocates on both sides are preparing for a fierce public relations battle this month. Baucus and Senator Chris Dodd of the Health and Education Committee, the other panel to pass a healthcare bill, held a briefing for Democratic senators on Wednesday to get them acquainted with the proposals.

Obama sent a message to his grassroots supporters asking them to get involved during the August break, contacting their representatives and taking at least one action in support of healthcare reform.

“The cost of inaction is simply too much for the people of this nation to bear,” he said in the message.

The six Finance Committee members trying to reach a bipartisan deal — three Democrats and three Republicans — met again on Wednesday and discussed a proposal for an independent Medicare Commission to oversee the healthcare program for the elderly.

They were set to meet with Obama at the White House on Thursday to discuss the status of talks, a congressional aide said.

Baucus told reporters the panel would make judgments about Medicare payments while preserving an “appropriate” level of congressional involvement in setting reimbursement rates.

“We’re trying to strike the right balance and we did. I think we came up with a pretty good resolution,” he said.

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