Less than two months after Congress approved overhauling the nation’s Medicare systme, the White House said the new plan would cost $130 billion more than previously stated over the next 10 years. At the time of the vote, Congress was assured the 10-year cost would not exceed $400 billion. But yesterday the White House estimated the cost will be at least $530 billion, roughly one-third more. The bill was passed by a narrow 220 to 215 vote in the House. The New York Times reports the bill may have not been approved if lawmakers saw the half-trillion dollar pricetag. Democrats said much of the added costs will go toward drug manufacturers and insurers. Senator Edward Kennedy, of Massachusetts said “The news on the Republican Medicare bill gets better and better for drug company profits and H.M.O.’s, and worse and worse for seniors and the Medicare program.” Conservative Republican said this was one more example of Bush’s out-of-control spending problem. Overall federal spending has increased by 20 percent since 2000 while revenues have declined. Gail Wilensky, a Republican health economist who ran the Medicare program in the first Bush administration, said “I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of such a big discrepancy … weeks after legislation is passed.”
The Financial Times is reporting that the U.S. has suffered considerably more combat deaths in January than in December. To date 33 U.S. soldiers have been killed this month by hostile fire in Iraq. In December 24 U.S. soldiers were killed. This comes as the head of US Central Command, General John Abizaid, predicted Thursday there would be “a lot of fighting ahead.” He said Thursday, “The clear thing I understand as a military commander is–whether we have elections or not–as we move toward an Iraqi sovereign authority, we’re going to have increased levels of violence.” In the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, 10,000 Shiite Muslims demonstrated Wednesday to demand that the U.S.-appointed regional governor be fired.
In Afghanistan seven U.S. soldiers died Thursday in an explosion at an ammunition dump southwest of Kabul. The cause of the explosion is not known. It was one of the deadliest days for U.S. forces since they invaded Afghanistan two years ago. Meanwhile the Taliban has taken credit for carrying out separate suicide bombing attacks in Kabul earlier this week that killed a British soldier and a Canadian soldier. And a U.S. military spokesperson said Thursday that the military is “sure” it will catch Osama Bin Laden this year.
The U.S. military has released from Guantanamo Bay three teenage boys aged between 13 and 15 years old. The boys had been captured in early 2003 in Afghanistan. Approximately seven more teenagers are still being held at the base. William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International said QUOTE “The detention of children as 'enemy combatants' and their interrogation without even the basic safeguards to which they were entitled was a significant violation of human rights.”
The Bush administration is threatening to veto any move by Congress to scale back portions of the Patriot Act. In a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch, Attorney General John Ashcroft warned that weakening the Patriot Act “would make it even more difficult to mount an effective anti-terror campaign than it was before the Patriot Act was passed.”
Israeli forces raided the West Bank town of Bethlehem for the first time in six months and demolished the home of a Palestinian man who carried out Thursday’s bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 10 people.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is calculating that a record high 375,000 jobless workers will exhaust their unemployment insurance benefits this month. An estimated 2 million workers will lose benefits over the first six months of the year.
On the campaign front, John Kerry received a boost in South Carolina with the endorsement of the state’s only African-American Congressman, James Clyburn. In South Carolina, all seven Democratic contenders took part in a debate Thursday night. John Kerry claimed Bush had failed as commander in chief. He said “He did not go to war as a last resort, and I think he fails the test of the commander in chief.” Meanwhile Kerry’s Senate record came under criticism from Howard Dean who pointed out Kerry had failed in passing eleven health care bills that he had written.