Wednesday, December 30, 2009

DGA Statement on MI Representative Fundraising off Attempted Terror Attack

/PRNewswire/ -- Nathan Daschle, Executive Director of the Democratic Governors Association, issued the following statement in response to Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra using an attempted terrorist attack to fundraise for his gubernatorial campaign.

"We're deeply disappointed that Rep. Hoekstra would use an attempted terrorist attack to fundraise for his gubernatorial campaign," Daschle said. "That's a shallow political ploy at a time when Americans need leaders who will take our national security seriously - not as opportunities to build a campaign war chest. Michiganders deserve a governor who cares more about serious issues than about politics, and today Rep. Hoekstra showed that he's more interested in the politics of the past than showing true leadership."

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Congress Passes Commercial Space Launch Indemnification Extension

/PRNewswire/ -- Congress has taken a major step for the U.S. commercial space launch industry by extending government indemnification of launches for another three years.

"Elimination of government indemnification would have driven launch business overseas," said AIA President and CEO Marion C. Blakey. "In 2008, only six of the 28 worldwide commercial launches were conducted by U.S. companies, and America can't afford to lose more of that business."

The indemnification regime, set to expire on December 31, helps protect U.S. commercial launch services providers against catastrophic third-party liability claims resulting from FAA-licensed launch activities. Payment of claims is not automatic and no funds are committed to this regime. Congressional approval is required for any payment.

"As space launch capabilities have been developed by other nations our share of commercial launches has decreased significantly," Blakey said. "Further loss of our commercial launch share could impact civil and national security payloads because the same U.S. companies also launch under government contracts."

While today's passage marks a very important step, AIA looks forward to working with Congress to make the indemnification regime permanent. Since launch manifests can extend out for several years, the regime maintains continuity in the business environment and strengthens U.S. international competitiveness.

"The indemnification regime provides a level playing field in a very competitive global space launch market, since every other space faring nation provides some form of government indemnification to commercial launchers," said Blakey.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

New Concord Coalition Paper Discusses 'End Game' Fiscal Considerations for Health Care Reform

/PRNewswire/ -- With the House having passed its version of health care reform (H.R. 3962) and the Senate on the verge of passing its version (H.R. 3590), the outline of a final bill is beginning to take shape. In its new Issue Brief, The Concord Coalition looks ahead at the fiscal considerations that will likely be the subject of conference committee discussions and "end game" negotiations. These include the cost of expanding coverage, the methods used to prevent that cost from adding to the deficit, and the prospects for systemic reforms to reduce cost growth over time.

This issue brief gives The Concord Coalition's perspective on how the bills measure up, what the risks are and how these risks could be lessened. We conclude that:

-- Both bills establish an important benchmark by achieving deficit
reduction according to official cost estimates by the Congressional
Budget Office (CBO). However, the fiscal outlook remains on an
unsustainable track even with the modest deficit reduction achieved
under either plan.
-- There are clear risks that some of the methods used to achieve deficit
reduction in the official scores may not hold up over the long-term.
-- The revenue package in the Senate bill holds more promise to reduce
the deficit than the House version because its largest component --
the high-cost insurance excise tax -- will better keep up with the
growth rate of health care spending, and will also work to lower
health care costs.
-- Both bills contain many promising reform strategies to achieve
long-term cost control. However, these strategies remain unproven and
cannot be counted on to produce timely, reliable savings without a
strong cost control mechanism such as the Senate's proposed
Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB).

The "Fiscal Risks" mentioned in the discussion include:

-- Doing Nothing
-- Spending offsets that are not maintained over time
-- "Curve benders" that don't pan out or are not adopted more broadly
-- Failure to include an effective cost control mechanism
-- Lagging revenue increases
-- General revenue bailout of the CLASS provision
-- Inadequate premium subsidies, weak penalties, and a poorly designed
exchange


In the conclusion, Concord discuss the possible changes that could be added to the legislation to lessen these risks and further promote fiscal responsibility.

To read the full issue brief, go to: http://www.concordcoalition.org/issue-briefs/2009/1223/health-care-reform-end- game-fiscal-considerations

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The 'Big 3' Fixes for the Weakened Senate Health Reform Bill to Block Full Insurance Co. Take-Over of Health System

/PRNewswire/ -- Consumer Watchdog condemned the removal of the Medicare buy-in provision for those over 55 and the public option from the U.S. Senate health reform bill. But the group said that the Senate must still make three essential fixes to the greatly weakened bill to prevent ceding the entire health care system to the insurance industry.

Without the changes, said the consumer advocacy group, the legislation will fail even to provide basic consumer protections of cost containment, access to necessary care, and protection against bankruptcy when patients get sick and need coverage the most.

Consumer Watchdog said that it is essential that the bill be fixed now because there is a growing belief that a conference committee will be bypassed altogether, and instead the House of Representatives will be pushed to approve the Senate bill with no amendments. The three key fixes, detailed below, are:

1. Remove Provisions that Would Pre-empt More Protective State Laws
2. Bar Insurers From Placing Annual Limits on Medical Payments
3. Make Health Insurance Rate Regulation Real


"If health care reform is really about consumers and patients, then Senators must make these fixes before they pass the bill," said Jerry Flanagan, health policy director of Consumer Watchdog. "Current provisions of the Senate bill requiring Americans to buy insurance policies, while gutting state laws and ineffectively capping what insurers can charge for bare bones coverage, add up to a dream bill for insurance companies."

"Eliminating the public option, pre-empting state health benefit laws and avoiding tough rate oversight is an insurance company hat trick - the top three legislative goals of the insurance industry of the last twenty years," said Flanagan. "If health reform is going to be worth anything to consumers, Senators must fight back on these three points. Without them, health reform is little more than a scheme for health insurers to increase profits at the expense of patients and taxpayers."

The three changes that the U.S. Senate must make to HR 3590 are:

1. Remove Provisions that Would Pre-empt More Protective State Laws


For 60 years, states have been responsible for the oversight of health insurance. States have traditionally been the laboratories of innovation in health care and insurance reform. States also have a greater ability to respond quickly to local needs.

However, provisions in the current bill could replace hard-fought "Patients Bill of Rights" laws with new, weaker federal protections.

For example, section 1333 on page 219 of the Senate bill allow health insurers to avoid strong state patient protection laws under so-called "nationwide plans" and multistate "compacts." Under these provisions, health insurers that sell policies in more than one state would only be regulated by the state where the policy was "written or issued." Therefore, if an insurer "issues" all of its policies from Wyoming, then the laws of Wyoming would control policies sold to consumers in states with more protective laws like California, New York, Texas or Virginia.

Insurers would certainly elect to issue their policies from the states with the weakest laws. As a result, new federal minimum coverage requirements would become the norm. Coverage of AIDS/HIV testing, reconstructive surgery, home health care services, and child delivery and mastectomy minimum hospital stays, for instance, would likely be lost.

The Senate health reform bill should be modeled on existing federal health care laws, which provide for a federal-state partnership rather than federal pre-emption of more protective state standards. Minimum federal standards should set a floor, not a ceiling, on state health care protections. Read Consumer Watchdog's analyses of the pre-emption provisions and the group's letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at:


http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/patients/articles/?storyId=31197

Read the Los Angeles Times coverage of the pre-emption provisions:
http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/patients/articles/?storyId=31200

2. Bar Insurers From Placing Annual Limits on Medical Payments


A cornerstone of national health reform is to ensure that patients get the care their doctor prescribes when they are sick and need treatment the most. An essential element to reach that objective is to bar insurance companies from placing annual limits on how much health care a patient can receive.

Current caps mean that patients with serious illnesses, including many cancers, can be left without coverage in the midst of treatment. As a result, patients face bankruptcy even though they have insurance. In fact, a Harvard Medical School study released this year found that 62% of U.S. bankruptcies were caused by big medical bills, while 78% of those declaring bankruptcy had insurance.

A loophole in the Senate bill would allow health insurers to impose unspecified "reasonable" annual limits on the annual dollar value of benefits that patient can receive this year. This is a major departure from previous version of the Senate bill, and the House legislation, which bar any annual caps.

The Senate bill cites section 223 of the Internal Revenue Code, which regulates Health Savings Accounts. That section does not define "reasonable" annual limits. As a result, health insurers will be left to define "reasonable" as they see fit. However, for an insurance company, a "reasonable" limit on annual health care costs is one that increases shareholder profits by cutting off access to necessary care.

3. Make Health Insurance Rate Regulation Real

Requiring insurance companies to justify rate increases and seek "prior approval" for those increases are essential components to controlling skyrocketing health insurance premiums, deductibles, and other out-of-pocket costs.

Page 37, section 2794 of HR 3590 provides some additional transparency on insurance premiums and takes some first steps toward limits on insurance company gouging, but does not provide real protections for Americans by, for instance, requiring insurers to seek approval before imposing premium and rate increases.

Consumer Watchdog, which pioneered the most successful insurance premium regulation law in the nation, Proposition 103, calls on the Senate to adopt amendments reflecting key provisions of California's landmark insurance reform law, including:

-- Mandatory justification of any rate increase (including premiums,
deductibles, co-pays), not merely justifications of "unreasonable"
premium increases.
-- Mandatory prior approval, which means requiring insurers to seek
permission from government regulators, in addition to justifying rate
increases, before imposing rate increases. Since 1988, California's
Proposition 103 has saved drivers $62 billion while fostering a
competitive and profitable insurance market.
-- An intervenor system that provides consumers a forum to challenge
unnecessary or excessive rate increases. Since 2003, Consumer Watchdog
has saved the state's consumers $1.7 billion by challenging
unnecessary premium increases using the public intervention process.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Congressional Support for Right to Repair Reaches 51

/PRNewswire/ -- Congressional support of the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act (HR 2057) has reached 51, it was announced today by Kathleen Schmatz, president and CEO of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA).

Reps. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), Donna Christensen (D-VI), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Collin Peterson (DFL-MN) and Laura Richardson (D-CA) are the most recent co-sponsors of the Right to Repair Act, which has gained steady support since its introduction.

"We applaud these seven members of Congress for backing this critical piece of pro-consumer and pro-small business legislation," said Schmatz. "Every single person who owns or operates a vehicle stands to suffer economically if the Right to Repair Act is not passed."

A new study conducted by John Dunham and Associates for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) and the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE) shows that consumers greatly benefit from a competitive vehicle repair marketplace. According to the study, independent auto repair shops save American consumers nearly $26 billion annually or $360 per family. The data is available not only by state, but by congressional district, and can be viewed at www.guerrillaeconomics.biz/righttorepair.

"This new study shows that the automotive aftermarket and its independent repair shops are a central part of the U.S. economy. With the significant dollars at stake, it's not hard to figure out why the car manufacturers want to retain control of the non-proprietary repair information, tools and software needed by independent repair shops to service late model vehicles," said Ray Pohlman, president of the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE). "Passage of the Right to Repair Act will prevent a vehicle repair monopoly by ensuring that consumers have safe and affordable choices when it comes to auto repair."

About Right to Repair:

The Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act, which was introduced by Reps. Edolphus Towns (D-NY), Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and George Miller (D-CA), would require car companies to make the same service information and tools capabilities that they provide to their franchised dealer networks available to independent repair shops. The legislation further provides car companies with strong protections for their trade secrets unless that information is provided to the franchised new car dealers. The bill clarifies the responsibilities of the Federal Trade Commission in enforcing the bill's requirements. For more information about the Right to Repair Act, visit www.righttorepair.org.

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Congress Passes Funding for Evidence-Based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative

/PRNewswire/ -- The United States Senate yesterday passed a package of spending bills for FY 2010, which included a historic new investment in efforts to prevent teen pregnancy. The Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations bill includes a total of $114 million for a new evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention program. This funding is the first and only large scale federal investment dedicated to preventing teen pregnancy through proven, effective efforts. The House of Representatives approved the spending bills last Thursday, and the President is expected to sign it into law by Friday, December 18th.

The teen pregnancy prevention initiative provides $75 million for programs that have been shown through rigorous evaluation to positively affect teens' behavior, and $25 million for research and demonstration on promising models and innovative strategies. The provision also includes $10 million for technical assistance, training, and other supportive activities to assist the department in effectively running the program, and an additional $4.5 million for program evaluation. The funding will be administered by a new Office of Adolescent Health in the Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The initiative is very similar to what President Obama proposed in his FY 2010 budget.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Washington, DC, released the following statement regarding the teen pregnancy prevention funding:

"We applaud leaders in Congress and the Administration for making teen pregnancy prevention a funding priority for the coming year," said Sarah Brown, CEO of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

"Given the recent increase in the teen birth rate, it is more important than ever to invest in interventions with evidence of success, and the bill Congress has passed does just that. At the same time, the initiative also focuses on research and innovation, which will continue to grow the number of effective approaches available to states and communities, as well as help find fresh new strategies to prevent teen pregnancy.

"We look forward to continuing to work with Congress in the coming years to ensure that this critical issue remains on its agenda, and that this country continues the progress it has made on reducing teen pregnancy. We also look forward to working with state and local organizations to use the available funding in a timely and productive way."

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Friday, December 11, 2009

New Healthcare Amendment Will Preserve Access to Care for Millions of Patients

/PRNewswire/ -- Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) today proposed a new amendment to the current healthcare reform bill which will preserve access to care for millions of Medicare patients seen by a medical specialist.

Senate Amendment 3163 would require the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to delay for one year implementation of its decision to eliminate consultation codes for specialists. A survey of its members recently conducted by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) indicated that if the consultation codes were eliminated four out of five endocrinologists would be forced to drastically reduce or eliminate the number of Medicare patients seen in their practices.

The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) fully endorses the Specter Amendment. AACE has opposed the CMS ruling since it was originally announced. In a letter sent August 26, 2009, AACE cautioned CMS that the result of the ruling "will be a significant reduction in the quality of care received by older Americans when they need it the most." The CMS rule, which goes into effect on January 1, 2010, would no longer allow endocrinologists and other specialists to bill for consultations provided for patients referred to them by primary care physicians.

"The Specter amendment will enable Medicare patients, the major segment of our population that is most vulnerable to serious illness, to continue to have access to specialists," AACE President and Chief of Endocrinology at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, Dr. Jeffrey R. Garber said. "It will also give CMS and Congress a chance to critically re-examine this flawed proposal."

In addition to AACE, the amendment is being endorsed by: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), American Academy of Neurology (AAN), American Medical Group Association (AMGA), American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), American College of Cardiology (ACC), American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), American College of Rheumatology (ACR), American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), American Medical Association (AMA), American Psychiatric Association (APA), American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE), American Urological Association (AUA), Coalition of State Rheumatology Organizations (CSRO), Heart Rhythm Society (HRS), Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), Joint Council of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (JCAAI), North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society (NANOS), Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions (SCAI) and The Endocrine Society (TES).

AACE is encouraging all medical specialists and their patients to write their Members of Congress asking them to support the Specter Amendment and to sign an online petition to reverse the elimination of these codes at www.keepthecodes.com.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Snowe, Landrieu Introduce Legislation to Bolster Small Business Participation in International Trade

/PRNewswire/ -- U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship Ranking Member Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and Chair Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) last night introduced two bipartisan measures to strengthen and improve support for American entrepreneurs seeking opportunities to expand their business, create new jobs and compete in the international market. The Small Business Export Enhancement and International Trade Act (S. 2862) and the Small Business Trade Representation Act (S. 2861) will ensure small businesses have access to the resources and tools needed to explore new export opportunities in emerging markets or expand their current export business.

"Small businesses face particular challenges in exporting, and the bills that Chair Landrieu and I have introduced will take great strides toward ensuring their greater participation in international trade," said Ranking Member Snowe. "By improving and bolstering critical Small Business Administration (SBA) lending and assistance programs, we will be giving our nation's entrepreneurs a helping hand in surviving, diversifying, and competing effectively in the international marketplace. Additionally, the Small Business Trade Representation Act would once and for all establish an Assistant United States Trade Representative for Small Business, a critical position that will help ensure American small businesses are at the forefront of trade policy considerations."

"Building upon legislation that I have introduced in the last three Congresses, including, S. 1196 the Small Business International Trade Enhancements Act of 2009 that I introduced in June of this year, this bipartisan legislation will ensure that small businesses seeking to export their goods and services will have access to the resources they need to successfully expand into foreign markets," Chair Landrieu said. "With health premiums increasing more each year and cash registers at home not ringing like they used to, exporting has become a practical solution for small firms. Expanding opportunities for small business trade is not only vital to the financial security of our entrepreneurs, it is vital to the recovery of our economy."

The Small Business Export Enhancement and International Trade Act contains several crucial provisions, including ones to:

-- Establish an SBA Associate Administrator for International Trade to
carry out the Agency's international trade programs and formulate its
trade and export policy;
-- Bolster the number of SBA export finance specialists assigned to
Export Assistance Centers;
-- Raise, from $2 million to $5 million, the maximum amount of an
International Trade Loan or Export Working Capital Program loan;
-- Establish in statute an Export Express program and expand the maximum
loan size from $250,000 to $500,000; and
-- Create a State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) Grant Program to
increase the number of small businesses that export and increase the
value of the exports by small businesses.


Additionally, the Small Business Trade Representation Act would create an Assistant United States Trade Representative for Small Business whose responsibility would be to ensure that small businesses are represented in trade negotiations and in U.S. trade policy.

The provisions in these bills come from both S. 1208, the Small Business Export Opportunity Development Act, introduced by Senator Snowe, and S. 1196, the Small Business International Trade Enhancements Act of 2009, introduced by Senator Landrieu.

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Members of Congress Urge Obama to Adopt 350 Carbon Target

/PRNewswire/ -- As President Obama prepares to travel to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, 14 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have sent a letter urging the President to seek agreement with world leaders on the need to reduce the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million.

Climate scientists, led by Dr. James Hansen of NASA's Goddard Space Institute, warn that global temperatures will rise to dangerous levels if the concentration of CO2 remains above 350 ppm for a sustained period of time.

Hansen has said, "If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted... CO2 will need to be reduced... to at most 350 ppm."

Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) initiated the letter, which advises the President, "there is one singular goal around which all nations must align in order to avert disaster, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We urge you to... seek agreement with fellow leaders in Copenhagen on the ultimate goal of lowering and maintaining the level of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere at 350 parts per million."

"If we are serious about combating global climate change we must agree to set a goal that will represent our best shot at averting the worst effects of climate change. The best science tells us that goal is 350 parts per million," said Congressman Kucinich.

Marshall Saunders, Founder and President of Citizens Climate Lobby, urged decision-makers to adopt legislation and policies that will achieve the 350 goal.

"Unfortunately, most of our legislators are operating under the assumption that we can allow CO2 levels to rise to 450 ppm. That would be a disaster. We've crossed the 350 threshold. We're at 390 and we're seeing glaciers recede at an alarming rate and summer sea ice disappearing from the North Pole."

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AUL Action Urges the Defeat of Omnibus Bill Over D.C. Abortion Funding

/PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. House will vote today on H.R. 3288, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010. While in Fiscal Years 1996-2009, Congress prohibited the use of all Congressionally appropriated funds for abortions in the District of Columbia (except in cases of rape, incest, and life of the mother), H.R. 3288 only prohibits the use of "federal" funds for abortions in D.C. (Division C, Section 814). This modification allows funds which are Congressionally appropriated for the D.C. budget to be used for elective abortions.

Americans United for Life Action President and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest stated, "This appropriations bill guts a longstanding prohibition on using public funds to pay for abortions in the District of Columbia. The bill also provides millions of dollars for international 'family planning' that could be directed to organizations that pay for and promote abortions. A majority of Americans do not support the use of their tax dollars to pay for abortions."

The bill also appropriates $648.5 million for international family planning funding, an increase of $103 million from Fiscal Year 2009, without the constraints of the Mexico City Policy to prevent these dollars from being provided to organizations that promote and perform abortions (Division F, Section 7060). Finally, the bill increases funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which has an admittedly pro-abortion agenda, to $55 million, a $5 million increase from FY09 (Division F, Section 7078).

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

U.S. Department of Labor unveils new 'Open Government' efforts

/PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. Department of Labor today announced a broad array of efforts designed to improve the public's accessibility to its agencies and ensure the department can function more effectively. The work is part of the Obama Administration's continued commitment to improved accountability, transparency and service to the American public.

"True progress is not something that happens to people. It happens because of them. And, it all begins with information that can be shared in a timely and effective manner," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "People deserve to know what their government is doing on their behalf, and what they can do to participate actively in that work. I am proud of the steps we are taking to make that possible, and I look forward to broadening our efforts further."

Previously, only the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration posted worker fatality data on its Web site. Now, the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is also systematically publishing employer-specific information about occupational fatalities online and making these data available for easy download. Comprehensive, weekly reports on this topic are now available at https://www.osha.gov/dep/fatcat/dep_fatcat.html. Employers with reported fatalities will have an incentive to take steps to improve safety and prevent future accidents. In addition, responsible employers will be able to use the database to identify dangerous conditions and take precautions.

Other agencies at the department are also making additional information available to the public. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is contributing a vast array of new information to http://www.data.gov/, enhancing its already impressive searchable databases. The Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, meanwhile, recently launched a Web-based competition at http://www.dol.gov/challenge. It enlists entrepreneurs and technology firms, workforce professionals and the public to help identify the best online tools to enable America's job seekers to quickly and easily connect with jobs.

The department's commitment to enhance participation also extends to the regulatory arena. On Monday, Dec. 7, the department rolled out its regulatory agenda entirely online. All of the information -- including more than eight hours of Web chats with the secretary of labor and other Department of Labor officials -- can be viewed at http://www.dol.gov/regulations. The Web page also contains links to resources and testimonials, and it even helps visitors submit comments to specific regulations.

"As a legislator, I always felt it was essential for people to take part in the processes of their government. As a regulator, I feel exactly the same way," added Solis.

The department also has launched an extremely successful weekly e-newsletter, which offers readers the latest details in everything from the department's enforcement and compliance assistance to job openings at its various agencies. Not content with one-way communication, however, the department is also using social media tools to engage the public online -- and tapping into the power of crowd sourcing. In fact, the Department of Labor's presence on Facebook and Twitter is already helping to link knowledge communities together and speeding up the sharing of valuable information among the department, state workforce agencies, a variety of stakeholders and, most importantly, the American public.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Obama Rates Favorably with Americans in Bloomberg National Poll

/PRNewswire/ -- President Barack Obama receives high marks for his foreign policy while most Americans disagree with his handling of health care and the budget deficit, according to the Bloomberg National Poll, a quarterly survey of Americans.

While most Americans polled generally support Obama with a job-approval rating of 54 percent, he receives negative marks on many domestic issues. More than 50 percent of respondents say they disapprove of his plan to overhaul the health care system and even more, 57 percent, criticize his management of the federal budget deficit. In contrast, he receives strong support for his approach to foreign policy, 62 percent of Americans approve of his decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and 59 percent approve of the way he is managing relations with other countries.

The economy is still the country's top concern with 8 out of 10 Americans rating joblessness as a high risk to the economic performance in the next two years, outranking the federal budget deficit, which was cited by 7 out of 10.

Despite concerns with Obama's handling of the economy, health care and the deficit, Americans appear to still be allowing him a honeymoon period to address these issues, with 60 percent saying the nation's economic problems are mostly the result of decisions he inherited, according to the Bloomberg National Poll, which interviewed a random sample of 1,000 U.S. adults ages 18 or older, for a snapshot of Americans' thoughts on Obama's administration and the economy.

The Bloomberg National Poll was conducted by Selzer & Company, whose survey of Iowa Caucus voters in 2008 was the only one to accurately predict Barack Obama's victory. The firm has conducted surveys for more than two dozen major newspapers in the U.S., and was named the best of 32 polling firms ranked by polling Web site FiveThirtyEight.com. Poll results are available at www.bloomberg.com.

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U.S. Mayors Praise President Obama for Supporting Fiscal Relief for Local Governments and States, Targeted Infrastructure Investment, Small Business

U.S. Mayors Praise President Obama for Supporting Fiscal Relief for Local Governments and States, Targeted Infrastructure Investment, Small Business Capital

/PRNewswire/ -- The following statement from Tom Cochran, USCM CEO and Executive Director, was released today:

"The President and his advisors have been meeting with U.S. mayors. The President understands the jobs and fiscal crisis happening in America's cities, and he is calling for action," Conference of Mayors CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran said today following President Obama's jobs address.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has developed A Call to Action which highlights the ongoing jobs crisis in America's cities -- predicted to last for years -- and the need for more targeted investments in cities and local infrastructure to create jobs.

One of the key action items called for by mayors is "Targeted Fiscal Relief for High Unemployment Cities and Metro Areas." Cities all across the country have faced significant layoffs and budgetary cutbacks this summer, with dire local revenue projections in the coming years. ARRA provided significant fiscal assistance to states, but none to local governments. The recession is now having drastic effects at the local level. Therefore, mayors are calling on the Administration and Congress to develop a fiscal assistance program targeted to cities with high rates of unemployment and budget shortfalls. This is needed to prevent even deeper layoffs in critical areas such as public safety and public works, and help cities promote private sector job creation through local infrastructure projects.

In his address today, the President said, Congress should extend "relief to states and localities to prevent layoffs." And during the recent White House Jobs Summit on December 3 -- attended by five mayors -- the President said, "As tough as this financial crisis or recession has been on the federal budget, it has in some cases been worse on state and local government budgets... Usually, state and local government revenues lag the recovery as a whole. They may need some more help from the federal government... If you see a complete collapse in state and local government spending on basic needs, that could create a very bad business climate for all of you."

The President also called for more targeted infrastructure investment in programs such as TIGER grants and public transit, as well as support for small business lending -- all strongly supported by mayors.

The Conference of Mayors is working closely with both the Administration and Congress to ensure that in this jobs bill, more resources and infrastructure projects go directly to cities and local areas -- ensuring they are not stalled in state bureaucracies - so that more jobs can be created now.

"Mayors can be the catalyst for creating public and private sector jobs quickly, which is exactly what this economy needs now," Cochran added.

A copy of the USCM report A Call to Action is available at usmayors.org.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are 1,139 such cities in the country today, each represented in the Conference by its chief elected official, the Mayor.

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Attorney General Holder, Secretary Salazar Announce Settlement of Cobell Lawsuit on Indian Trust Management

/PRNewswire/ -- Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced a settlement of the long-running and highly contentious Cobell class-action lawsuit regarding the U.S. government's trust management and accounting of over three hundred thousand individual American Indian trust accounts. Also speaking at the press conference today were Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli and Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes.

"Over the past thirteen years, the parties have tried to settle this case many, many times, each time unsuccessfully," said Attorney General Holder. "But today we turn the page. This settlement is fair to the plaintiffs, responsible for the United States, and provides a path forward for the future."

"This is an historic, positive development for Indian country and a major step on the road to reconciliation following years of acrimonious litigation between trust beneficiaries and the United States," Secretary Salazar said. "Resolving this issue has been a top priority of President Obama, and this administration has worked in good faith to reach a settlement that is both honorable and responsible. This historic step will allow Interior to move forward and address the educational, law enforcement, and economic development challenges we face in Indian Country."

Under the negotiated agreement, litigation will end regarding the Department of the Interior's performance of an historical accounting for trust accounts maintained by the United States on behalf of more than 300,000 individual Indians. A fund totaling $1.4 billion will be distributed to class members to compensate them for their historical accounting claims, and to resolve potential claims that prior U.S. officials mismanaged the administration of trust assets.

In addition, in order to address the continued proliferation of thousands of new trust accounts caused by the "fractionation" of land interests through succeeding generations, the settlement establishes a $2 billion fund for the voluntary buy-back and consolidation of fractionated land interests. The land consolidation program will provide individual Indians with an opportunity to obtain cash payments for divided land interests and free up the land for the benefit of tribal communities.

By reducing the number of individual trust accounts that the U.S. must maintain, the program will greatly reduce on-going administrative expenses and future accounting-related disputes. In order to provide owners with an additional incentive to sell their fractionated interests, the settlement authorizes the Interior Department to set aside up to 5 percent of the value of the interests into a college and vocational school scholarship fund for American Indian students.

The settlement has been negotiated with the involvement of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It will not become final until it is formally endorsed by the court. Also, Congress must enact legislation to authorize implementation of the settlement. Because it is a settlement of a litigation matter, the Judgment Fund maintained by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Treasury will fund the settlement.

"While we have made significant progress in improving and strengthening the management of Indian trust assets, our work is not over," said Salazar, who also announced he is establishing a national commission to evaluate ongoing trust reform efforts and make recommendations for the future management of individual trust account assets in light of a congressional sunset provision for the Office of Special Trustee, which was established by Congress in 1994 to reform financial management of the trust system.

The class action case, which involves several hundred thousand plaintiffs, was filed by Elouise Cobell in 1996 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and has included hundreds of motions, dozens of rulings and appeals, and several trials over the past 13 years. The settlement funds will be administered by the trust department of a bank approved by the district court and distributed to individual Indians by a claims administrator in accordance with court orders and the settlement agreement.

Interior currently manages about 56 million acres of Indian trust land, administering more than 100,000 leases and about $3.5 billion in trust funds. For fiscal year 2009, funds from leases, use permits, land sales and income from financial assets, totaling about $298 million were collected for more than 384,000 open Individual Indian Money accounts and $566 million was collected for about 2,700 tribal accounts for more than 250 tribes. Since 1996, the U.S. Government has collected over $10.4 billion from individual and tribal trust assets and disbursed more than $9.5 billion to individual account holders and tribal governments.

The land consolidation fund addresses a legacy of the General Allotment Act of 1887 (the "Dawes Act"), which divided tribal lands into parcels between 40 and 160 acres in size, allotted them to individual Indians and sold off all remaining unallotted Indian lands. As the original holders died, their intestate heirs received an equal, undivided interest in the lands as tenants in common. In successive generations, smaller undivided interests descended to the next generation.

Today, it is common to have hundreds -- even thousands -- of Indian owners for one parcel of land. Such highly fractionated ownership makes it extremely difficult to use the land productively or to provide beneficial use for any individual. Absent serious corrective action, an estimated 4 million acres of land will continue to be held in such small ownership interests that very few individual owners will ever derive any meaningful financial benefit from that ownership.

Additional Information is available at the following sites: www.cobellsettlement.com. The Department of the Interior website: www.doi.gov. The Office of the Special Trustee website: www.ost.doi.gov.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

CCH Briefing Details House Estate Tax Measure

/PRNewswire/ -- Following passage by the House of Representatives on December 3, 2009 of the Permanent Estate Tax Relief for Families, Farmers, and Small Business Act of 2009, CCH has issued a Special Tax Briefing on its provisions which, if adopted by the Senate, will provide certainty for estate taxes and estate planning, largely by freezing the status quo as of this year. Read the Briefing at http://tax.cchgroup.com/Legislation/2009-Estate-Tax-Relief.pdf.

"The House bill provides for a $3.5 million estate tax exclusion with no portability, a top estate tax rate of 45 percent, a continuation of stepped-up basis and ratifies the permanent repeal of the state death tax credit," said CCH Senior Estate Planning Analyst Bruno Graziano, JD, MSA.

The measure moves on to the Senate, where the bill's lack of indexing for inflation may pose a difficulty, but many observers believe some kind of estate tax "fix" is imperative this year.

"Without some new legislation in place, 2010 would see the complete abolition of the estate tax - for that year alone - but also a move to a 'modified carryover basis' system for valuing inherited assets that could increase the income tax burden of beneficiaries and would be very difficult for executors and accountants to deal with," Graziano said.

The Briefing also details the impact of the House bill on the gift tax and generation-skipping transfer tax.

CCH Tax Briefings

To read the Briefing, visit http://tax.cchgroup.com/Legislation/2009-Estate-Tax-Relief.pdf. Timely, current analysis of this and other tax legislation can be found at CCH Tax Legislation Coverage (http://tax.cchgroup.com/Legislation/Briefings).

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Deputy Attorney General David Ogden to Leave Department of Justice

/PRNewswire/ -- Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden announced today that he will leave the Department on February 5, 2010 to return to private practice. Prior to joining the Department as Deputy Attorney General in March, Ogden chaired the Obama Administration's transition team for the Department of Justice.

"David Ogden has been an invaluable leader for the Department of Justice and for this Administration," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "From leading the transition team that established early goals for the Department to spearheading major initiatives such as our effort to fight health care fraud, he has been an effective and diligent advocate for the American people. Through his work here, he has helped reinvigorate the Department's traditional missions, restore its reputation for independence, and make the country safer and more secure. I am sorry to see him go, and I thank him for his service to the Department and to the nation."

Prior to his confirmation, Deputy Attorney General Ogden was a partner at the law firm of WilmerHale, which he joined in 2001. He previously served in senior positions at the Department of Justice during the Clinton Administration.

Deputy Attorney General Ogden made the following statement:

"I took a leave from my practice of law thirteen months ago on Election Day to lead the Department of Justice transition for President Obama. My hope then was to identify the goals for a successful transition at a critical time for the Department, when its credibility was under attack and when its traditional law enforcement missions had suffered. During the transition, President-elect Obama and Attorney General-designate Holder asked me to serve as the Deputy Attorney General, which gave me the opportunity to complete the transition process and see the Department solidly on a path to achieving those goals. I accepted that challenge, with the intention of returning to my practice as soon as I felt the Department was firmly on that path.

"I believe the objectives established over a year ago have been accomplished. In order to afford the President and the Attorney General sufficient time to identify my successor and to ensure a smooth transition, I have agreed to continue to serve until February 5, 2010, when I will step down to return to private practice.

"The Department today is on the path we first set out over a year ago. First, we have reinvigorated the Department's traditional law enforcement mission with new resources and new initiatives. I am proud of the work we have done in establishing a Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to fight financial crime, leading a Health Care Prevention Task Force that has already pursued major prosecutions, establishing a Border Working Group to combat Mexican cartels, and attacking international organized crime through increased intelligence sharing with our partners. We have implemented new policies to stem the terrible tide of violence against women and children in Indian Country, crafted budgets that will provide critical new funding for law enforcement, civil rights and our nation's prison system, and we will soon make key recommendations for reforms of sentencing and corrections policy. I appreciate the Attorney General's having asked me to lead these initiatives and am proud of the progress we have made.

"Second, we have taken significant steps to ensure that we vigorously protect our national security consistent with the rule of law, including working closely with the FBI and the Intelligence Community on major counter-terrorism investigations, working on closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and bringing perpetrators to justice in federal courts or military commissions, and developing a new policy for effective and lawful interrogations.

"Third, we have substantially restored the Department's historically strong relationship with state, local, and tribal law enforcement through outreach and inclusion on the Department's major initiatives including the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force and HEAT.

"And finally, we have put in place a terrific senior management team that under the Attorney General's leadership will build on this foundation. Through our work in each of these areas, the goals I hoped to achieve when I accepted this position either have been or soon will be fulfilled. The Department is in good hands, and I feel I can now return to the private practice I have missed these thirteen months.

"It has been a singular privilege to work alongside the Department's dedicated career professionals, whose commitment to the national interest and the cause of justice is an inspiration to me. I am very grateful to President Obama and Attorney General Holder for the opportunity to serve my country and the Department of Justice in this Administration, and I will continue to assist them in any way possible."

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Libertarians opposed to new war plans for Afghanistan

The Libertarian Party (LP) today expressed its opposition to the Afghanistan war plans announced by President Barack Obama last night.

Wes Benedict, Executive Director of the LP, said, "Rush Limbaugh should buy Obama a nice cigar. The liberal president has done exactly what the conservative leader wanted: escalate the war."

William Redpath, Chairman of the Libertarian National Committee (LNC), commented, "This is further evidence that the differences between Republicans and Democrats are, at most, rhetorical. This president, whose votes made him the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, has just announced an escalation of a foreign war. His campaign promise of 'Change' now sounds a lot more hollow."

Redpath continued, "Some congressional Democrats may make a rhetorical show of opposing Obama's decision, but that is all it will be. Obama is guaranteed to get the additional troops and funding that he wants."

Redpath continued, "Instead, Congress should re-assert its authority in matters of war, by passing legislation that terminates the president's authorization to make war in Afghanistan, and that calls for an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan. If the president vetoes it, Congress should override the veto."

In September 2008, the LNC adopted a resolution calling for a military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Benedict commented further, "One problem with the president's strategy is that it demonstrates a hyperinflated fear of terrorists. When we act worried and threatened, we make the terrorists feel like they're having their intended effect, which encourages them to keep doing what they're doing."

Redpath continued, "According to the Cato Institute, 'the U.S. military's counterinsurgency doctrine says that stabilizing a country the size of Afghanistan would require far more troops than the most wild-eyed hawk has proposed: about 600,000 troops.' President Obama is proposing to put a total of about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, which won't come close to accomplishing anything."

Redpath concluded, "The president's speech was surprisingly content-free. The speech was nearly all platitudes, which is typical for politicians, particularly presidents. Will someone please restore substance to American political discourse?"

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Snowe, Landrieu Introduce Legislation to Make Permanent Critical Small Business Tax Deduction

/PRNewswire/ -- U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship Ranking Member Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and Chair Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) today introduced legislation to make permanent the enhanced Section 179 expensing limits enacted in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Specifically, the bill will aid small businesses by allowing them to deduct up to $250,000 of the cost of qualifying property in the year it is purchased, rather than to recover such outlays through depreciation deductions over a number of years.

"Small businesses continue to struggle as a result of the current recession, and many are having trouble finding capital to make job-creating new investments," said Ranking Member Snowe. "Our bill will permanently allow small businesses to expense up to $250,000 of new investments, enabling them to acquire vital new facilities and equipment. By permitting small businesses to deduct more of their equipment purchases today, they will retain substantial savings instead of waiting a period of years to recover their costs through depreciation. Additionally, this change would simultaneously save small firms the vital time currently required to comply with complex and confusing depreciation rules."

"The $250,000 expensing limit put into place in the Recovery Act has produced a positive economic impact for the nation's small businesses," Chair Landrieu said. "By making this limit permanent, small business owners will have a valuable incentive to make investments in business assets critical to business growth and important to remaining competitive in the global marketplace."

The ARRA signed into law in February set the maximum amount that a taxpayer may expense in 2009 at $250,000. Subsequently, under current law, the maximum amount that may be expensed will be approximately $133,000 in 2010 and $25,000 in 2011. The Snowe-Landrieu bill would permanently set the maximum amount at $250,000.

Ranking Member Snowe has previously introduced legislation to raise the expensing limit to $200,000 in both 2007 and 2008. Both she and Chair Landrieu successfully advocated for the language that was included in the ARRA.

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US Secretary of State Clinton Statement on Kenyan Consideration of a New Constitution

(APO)/ -- Hillary Rodham Clinton

US Secretary of State

The United States welcomes the publication of the new draft constitution by Kenya's Committee of Experts. On my visit this summer, I urged Kenya's people and leaders to move forward with the reform agenda that is so important to Kenya's future. I am pleased that they have taken this step, which represents a major milestone in that process.

I encourage all Kenyans to use the 30-day comment period to engage in a constructive and substantive dialogue on a new constitution. This is an opportunity for the Kenyan people to help determine the content of the constitution and come together to build a system of government that serves and protects the interests of all, regardless of political affiliation, ethnic group, or faith.

This is also a time for President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga to demonstrate their leadership and commitment to a peaceful future by working together to support a constitution that will serve the national interest for generations to come. I hope Parliament will act expeditiously, and with a sense of shared purpose, when the draft is formally presented to it.

The United States is committed to supporting the Kenyan people's efforts to implement their reform agenda. Development and ratification of a new constitution will provide a solid foundation for a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic future.

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