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On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has unveiled an $849 billion healthcare reform bill. The measure is similar to the House version in imposing mandates on Americans to obtain insurance and establishing so-called “exchanges” where insurance is sold. The bill would be partly funded by an increase in payroll taxes for high-income Americans and cuts to Medicaid. Reid says the measure would expand health coverage to 31 million people. On abortion, Reid excluded a House-backed amendment that would bar federal subsidies to women who enroll in an insurance plan that covers abortion and also rule out abortion coverage under the proposed government-run insurance plan. But his measure would preserve a law that bars federal funding for abortion coverage.
A new study, meanwhile, predicts the House abortion restrictions could likely result in the loss of abortion coverage for all women. Researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services say the restrictions will be so widespread that medical providers will be forced to scale back abortion services.
President Obama has acknowledged he’s unlikely to meet his own deadline to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. On Wednesday, Obama refused to give a new date to replace the January 22nd deadline, saying only the prison will be closed sometime next year. Obama meanwhile defended the decision to try the self-proclaimed mastermind behind for the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four others in federal court.
President Obama: “I don’t think it will be offensive at all when he’s convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him. What I’m absolutely clear about is that I have complete confidence in the American people and in our legal traditions.”
Obama’s comments came as Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before a Senate committee to discuss the 9/11 trial. Holder rejected criticism the trial would endanger the United States.
Attorney General Eric Holder: “I knew this decision would be a controversial one. This was a tough call, and reasonable people can disagree with my conclusion that these individuals should be tried in federal court rather than a military commission. The 9/11 attacks were both an act of war and a violation of our federal criminal law, and they could have been prosecuted in either federal courts or military commissions.”
The private military firm Blackwater is reportedly in talks to pay millions of dollars in fines for unlawful arms shipments to Iraq. The New York Times reports the State Department has concluded Blackwater committed “broad violations” of export laws. The settlement could help Blackwater avoid criminal charges. The news comes as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has requested a probe into recent allegations Blackwater authorized around $1 million to bribe Iraqi officials following the September 2007 killings of seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. Former company executives have claimed the payments were approved after the Iraqi government called for Blackwater’s expulsion from Iraq, threatening the company’s lucrative annual contract.
A previously undisclosed secret CIA prison has been identified in Lithuania. A Lithuanian official and a former US intelligence official told ABC News the CIA held prisoners at a horsing stable outside the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. The CIA is said to have bought the property using a front company. As many as eight prisoners were held at the prison for more than a year. Earlier this month, a Lithuanian parliamentary committee launched a probe into whether the CIA jailed and tortured prisoners in Lithuania.
In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has been sworn into a new five-year term. Karzai took the oath of office at a ceremony earlier today. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was among hundreds of foreign dignitaries on hand. Karzai won national elections in August in a race tainted by allegations of widespread fraud. His main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out of a runoff vote earlier this month. President Obama, meanwhile, says he’s prepared to announce a decision on escalating the Afghan war in the next several weeks.
President Obama: “I’m confident that at the end of this process I’m going to be able to present to the American people in very clear terms what exactly is at stake, what we intend to do, how we’re going to succeed, how much it’s going to cost, how long it’s going to take.”
Obama was speaking at the end of his visit to China. His comments come one day after NATO’s Secretary General said “substantially more” troops will be headed to Afghanistan.
In Pakistan, at least seventeen people have been killed in a suicide bombing in the northwestern city of Peshawar. It was the seventh deadly attack to hit Peshawar in less than two weeks. Another thirty people were wounded.
The US has taken part in an International Criminal Court meeting for the first time since the court’s establishment in 2002. On Wednesday, US war crimes ambassador Stephen Rapp sat as an observer at an assembly of the court’s management board. Rapp is expected to address the court later today. The Obama administration has voiced support for re-engagement with the court but says US ratification is years away. The US signed the ICC treaty during Bill Clinton’s presidency, but it was never ratified by Congress.
In Italy, a global food summit ended Wednesday with no firm commitments to end world hunger. A vague declaration vowed to address famine “at the earliest possible date.” The meeting was hampered by a lack of high-level involvement from world leaders, including the United States.
Oxfam spokesperson Gawain Kripke: “It’s a big disappointment that the leaders from the biggest and richest countries didn’t come to the World Food Summit. We did have some heads of state come to the meeting and make statements, but there was a notable absence of the biggest and richest. And without them, it’s hard to imagine how the world will attack these challenges of hunger and increasing agricultural productivity.”
Back in the United States, Republican senators have blocked debate on a measure to freeze credit card interest rates. Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd had written a bill that would have prevented interest rate hikes before new regulations take effect next year. But on Wednesday, Republicans thwarted Dodd’s attempt to debate the measure on the Senate floor.
In California, a key panel in the governing body of the UC school system has approved a 32 percent tuition increase for undergraduate students. The UC Board of Regents is expected to approve to the fee hike at a meeting at UCLA later today. Students from across the state have converged on the UCLA campus for a major protest. On Wednesday, at least fourteen people were arrested in the protest’s opening day.
And in Puerto Rico, murder charges have been filed in the slaying a gay Puerto Rican teenager whose body was found burned, decapitated and dismembered. Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado was an openly gay nineteen-year-old who volunteered for groups advocating HIV prevention and gay rights. Authorities say they’re still mulling whether to press hate crimes charges against the suspect.
Meanwhile, in Baltimore a funeral was held Wednesday for a fifteen-year-old gay teenager killed last week. Fifteen-year-old Jason Mattison, Jr. was found dead in his aunt’s apartment. He had been raped, gagged, and stabbed multiple times in the head and throat. The suspect in the case is being held without bail.