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Obama: Ouster of Honduran president Zelaya was coup

1U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the joint statement at the Cabanas Cultural Center in Guadalajara, Mexico, while attending the North American Leader’s Summit, August 10, 2009.

Obama: Ouster of Honduran president Zelaya was coup

GUADALAJARA, Mexico (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said on Monday it was hypocritical for critics of Washington’s response to a coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to demand a more forceful U.S. role in returning him to power.

Zelaya, an ally of anti-U.S. leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said last week the United States needs “only tighten its fist” to evict the de facto government installed after he was overthrown in June.

“The same critics who say that the United State has not intervened enough in Honduras are the same people who say we are always intervening and the Yanquis need to get out of Latin America,” Obama said told a closing news conference at a U.S.-Mexico-Canada summit in Guadalajara.

“You can’t have it both ways,” he insisted, without naming names. “We have been very clear in our belief that President Zelaya was removed from office illegally, that it was a coup and that he should return. We have cooperated with all the international bodies in sending that message.”

The Latin American left had bitterly criticized Washington over the decades for intervening in the region’s affairs through military force, covert action and economic pressure.

Obama, who took office in January, has promised to forge a relationship with Latin America based on mutual respect.

Obama told reporters in Washington last week he had no quick way to resolve the political crisis in Honduras and that the United States would not take unilateral action.

“If these critics think that it’s appropriate for us to suddenly act in ways that in every other context they consider inappropriate, then I think that what that indicates is that maybe there’s some hypocrisy involved in their approach to U.S.-Latin American relations,” Obama said on Monday.

Mediation efforts by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias have so far failed to achieve Zelaya’s return.

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Obama prods Congress on healthcare; Senate panel acts

in.reuters.com

Obama prods Congress on healthcare; Senate panel acts

WASHINGTON – july 16  – Saying it was “time to get this done,” President Barack Obama pressed on Wednesday for swift congressional action on healthcare after a Senate panel approved a bill to overhaul the $2.5 trillion industry.

Panels led by his Democratic Party have stepped up activity on legislation that would meet Obama’s goal of guaranteeing all Americans healthcare coverage, but they remain far from resolving the thorniest issue — how to come up with about $1 trillion over 10 years in new taxes or savings to pay for it.

The first of five congressional panels to act, the Senate Health Committee approved legislation by a 13-10 vote that would set up a government-run insurance program to compete with private insurers. No Republicans voted for the measure.

The vote came a day after House Democratic leaders introduced a sweeping healthcare reform bill that included a government insurance option and is partially paid for with a planned tax on the wealthy. It would require employers to offer health coverage or pay into a government fund.

Obama praised the Senate panel’s action, but appealed to Americans to get involved, saying at the White House, “It’s time for us to buck up Congress, this administration, the entire federal government, to be clear that we’ve got to get this done.”

The full Senate must vote on healthcare legislation and reconcile its bill with the House proposal before it goes to the White House.

Health insurance reform is considered central to Obama’s administration, building on his campaign pledge to expand coverage and control skyrocketing medical expenses, which are a burden on the federal government, businesses and individuals.

The Senate bill would require most Americans to obtain health insurance and require employers of more than 25 workers to provide coverage or face a $750-per-worker penalty. Insurers could no longer bar people with pre-existing conditions. But, no one with insurance would be required to change insurers.

In a renewed push for Congress to complete work on healthcare reform before it recesses in August, Obama met with four Republican senators at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. They discussed ways the healthcare delivery system could be reformed to eliminate waste and lower costs while improving the quality of care.

They agreed it was a top priority to fix what is broken in the healthcare system, while building on what works, an administration official said.

In a series of network television interviews on healthcare, Obama said he now supported a requirement that all Americans have health insurance.

TAX PROPOSALS CONTROVERSIAL

“I’m now in favor of some sort of individual mandate as long as there’s a hardship exemption,” Obama told the “CBS Evening News,” saying he had changed his mind since his statements during the presidential campaign opposing a mandate.

Most Americans have health insurance that is partially paid by their employers, but an estimated 46 million have no coverage.

The National Federation of Independent Business, which worked to derail President Bill Clinton’s reform push in the early 1990s, warned lawmakers the House bill would harm U.S. jobs and that it failed to meaningfully curb costs.

The trade group for small businesses called the employer mandate “punitive” and the tax “regressive” because it hits employers whether they have made a profit or not.

The senior Republican on the Senate health panel, Senator Mike Enzi, called the Senate bill “a prescription for failure,” and complained Republicans were shut out of the drafting process.

“If America is going to believe in what we do, this cannot be a bill just put together by one side.”

Senators were cool to one of the most controversial parts of the House Democrats’ bill, the so-called millionaires’ tax on the wealthiest Americans to pay for the expanded coverage. The tax starts at 1 percent on income of $350,000 a year and hits 5.4 percent for millionaires.

The second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, Richard Durbin, said the Senate would not follow the House lead on taxes.

“Their (House) revenue sources will be different from ours. We have a different political mix here. We’re trying to put together 60 votes; a majority that will pass,” he said.

The Senate health panel’s version costs about $615 billion over 10 years, but does not include changes to expand coverage for the elderly and poor.

Three House panels are to start work this week on the House plan. The Senate finance panel was expected to begin debate soon, but a senior Republican said he doubted it would act this week or next.

“They tell me they are making progress,” said Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, who is among a small group of lawmakers working with committee chairman Max Baucus on the effort. Asked if legislation could emerge this week or next, he said, “I personally doubt it.”

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Obama talks of progress on Israeli settlements

in.reuters.com

Obama talks of progress on Israeli settlements

WASHINGTON – july 14 – U.S. President Barack Obama indicated to Jewish-American leaders on Monday that the United States and Israel are making progress in bridging their differences on the issue of Jewish settlements.

Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have differed sharply on Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank. The United States wants a complete halt to settlement construction, a demand that has opened the most serious rift in U.S.-Israeli relations in a decade.

Israel has raised the possibility it might temporarily refrain from starting new building projects — while continuing many under way — in return for steps toward a regional peace agreement, including progress on Arab states normalizing relations with Israel.

U.S. envoy George Mitchell and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak have conducted a series of talks on the issue.

Obama, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and political adviser David Axelrod sat down with 16 Jewish-American leaders to discuss the Middle East and other issues.

“He (Obama) said that there is more progress than appears in the negotiations and spoke quite positively of the tracks between Mitchell and Barak and between the two administrations,” said one participant, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

One major obstacle has been Israel’s insistence on allowing some “natural growth” of existing settlements.

Hoenlein said Obama indicated that “there might be some opening for an understanding between the two parties. I don’t know what the understanding is.”

Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, a pro-Israel lobby group in Washington, said Obama stressed that further expansion of settlements was not in the interest of the United States or Israel.

“The president said that the gaps are narrowing and he did allude to progress and his hope that an agreement would be reached. He definitely alluded to that,” Ben-Ami said.

He said members of the group urged Obama to visit Israel.

Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said Obama stressed that he was also pressing the Palestinians to take steps necessary for peace.

A spokesman for Stephen Savitsky, president of the Orthodox Union, said there was concern about what appeared to be one-sided pressure on Israel. The spokesman said Obama indicated that he intends in coming weeks to make more public what is being done to nudge the Palestinians as well.

A White House statement said Obama “reiterated his unshakable commitment to Israel’s security, and reiterated his commitment to working to achieve Middle East peace.”

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