Obama’s budget proposes cuts
WASHINGTON — Seeking an elusive middle ground, President Barack Obama is proposing a 2014 budget that embraces tax increases abhorred by Republicans as well as reductions, loathed by liberals, in the growth of Social Security and other benefit programs.
The plan, if ever enacted, could touch almost all Americans. The rich would see tax increases, the poor and the elderly would get smaller annual increases in their benefits, and middle income taxpayers would slip into higher tax brackets despite Obama’s repeated vows not to add to the tax burden of the middle class. His proposed changes, once phased in, would mean a cut in Social Security benefits of nearly $1,000 a year for an average 85-year-old, smaller cuts for younger retirees.
Obama proposed much the same without success to House Speaker John Boehner in December. The response Friday was dismissive from Republicans and hostile from liberals, labor and advocates for the elderly.
But the proposal aims to tackle worrisome deficits that are adding to the national debt and placing a long-term burden on the nation, prompting praise from independent deficit hawks. Obama’s budget also proposes new spending for public works projects, pre-school education and for job and benefit assistance for veterans.
“It’s not the president’s ideal approach to our budget challenges, but it is a serious compromise proposition that demonstrates that he wants to get things done,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
Kansas abortion measure goes to gov.
TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas legislators gave final passage to a sweeping anti-abortion measure Friday night, sending Gov. Sam Brownback a bill that declares life begins “at fertilization” while blocking tax breaks for abortion providers and banning abortions performed solely because of the baby’s sex.
The House voted 90-30 for a compromise version of the bill reconciling differences between the two chambers, only hours after the Senate approved it, 28-10. The Republican governor is a strong abortion opponent, and supporters of the measure expect him to sign it into law so that the new restrictions take effect July 1.
In addition to the bans on tax breaks and sex-selection abortions, the bill prohibits abortion providers from being involved in public school sex education classes and spells out in more detail what information doctors must provide to patients seeking abortions.
The measure’s language that life begins “at fertilization” had some abortion-rights supporters worrying that it could be used to legally harass providers. Abortion opponents call it a statement of principle and not an outright ban on terminating pregnancies.
“The human is a magnificent piece of work at all stages of development, wondrous in every regard, from the microscopic until full development,” said Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, a Leavenworth Republican who supported the bill.
Obama must decide whether to appeal ruling
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama supports requiring girls younger than 17 to see a doctor before buying the morning-after pill. But fighting that battle in court comes with its own set of risks.
A federal judge in New York on Friday ordered the Food and Drug Administration to lift age restrictions on the sale of emergency contraception — ending today’s requirement that buyers show proof they’re 17 or older if they want to buy it without a prescription. The ruling accused the Obama administration in no uncertain terms of letting the president’s pending re-election cloud its judgment when it set the age limits in 2011.
“The motivation for the secretary’s action was obviously political,” U.S. District Judge Edward Korman wrote in reference to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who made the 2011 decision. The FDA had been poised to allow over-the-counter sales with no age limits when Sebelius took the unprecedented step of overruling the agency.
If the Obama administration appeals Korman’s ruling, it could re-ignite a simmering cultural battle over women’s reproductive health — never far from the surface in American politics — sidetracking the president just as he’s trying to keep Congress and the public focused on gun control, immigration and resolving the nation’s budget woes.
“There’s no political advantage whatsoever,” said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “It’s a side issue he doesn’t need to deal with right now. The best idea is to leave it alone.”
Clinton generates buzz about 2016
NEW YORK — Young supporters hold signs outside Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speeches urging her to run for president. Audiences listen with rapt attention as she discusses the plight of women and girls in developing countries.
Even a long-expected book deal announcement generates lots of chatter.
Not long after Clinton stepped down as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state, the “will she or won’t she” question is already following her around like the activists who held dark blue “Ready for Hillary” signs outside speeches at the Kennedy Center in Washington and New York’s Lincoln Center.
This past week, Clinton came off a two-month break with a soft roll-out of sorts. She gave her first two public speeches since leaving the State Department, released details of a book scheduled for June 2014 and plans to join an advisory board of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.
The mere makings of a pubic schedule for the runner-up of the 2008 Democratic presidential race is enough to get political tongues wagging over what it all means for the 2016 campaign. The speeches and news coverage offered an early indication of some of what awaits her as she considers whether to seek the White House again in three years: adoring supporters young and old, former political advisers to her husband, Bill, begging her to run, and potential rivals sizing her up.
Top US officer arrives in Afghanistan
BAGRAM, Afghanistan — A weekend visit to Afghanistan by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is aimed at assessing the type and level of additional training that U.S. troops could provide to Afghan defense forces after 2014.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, who arrived at Bagram Air Field on Saturday after an overnight flight, said that assessment will inform U.S. decisions about how many American troops should remain after the U.S. and NATO combat role ends in December 2014.
The U.S. is expected to keep between 9,000 and 10,000 in a residual force, but no final decision has been made.
Dempsey was expected to meet with U.S. and allied commanders, including the new overall commander of coalition forces, Gen. Joseph Dunford. He also planned to meet with Afghan officials and talk with soldiers in the field.
Dempsey said Friday in Stuttgart, Germany, that he would like to see how Afghan forces perform this summer before determining the size of a residual U.S. force. There are now about 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, down from a 2010 peak of about 100,000.
White House focus on Asia bolstered
WASHINGTON — North Korea’s latest outburst of nuclear and military threats has given the U.S. a rare opportunity to build bridges with China — a potential silver lining to the simmering crisis that could revitalize the Obama administration’s flagging policy pivot to Asia.
The architect of the administration’s Asia policy described a subtle change in Chinese thinking as a result of Pyongyang’s recent nuclear tests, rocket launches and abandonment of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 war with South Korea.
Pyongyang has taken similar actions in the past, prompting Washington to step up military readiness in the region to soothe allies South Korea and Japan. But in an unusual rebuke this week, Beijing called North Korea’s moves “regrettable” — amounting to a slap from Pyongyang’s strongest economic and diplomatic supporter.
“They, I think, recognize that the actions that North Korea has taken in recent months and years are in fact antithetical to their own national security interests,” former Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told a panel Thursday at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
“There is a subtle shift in Chinese foreign policy” toward North Korea, said Campbell, who retired in February as the administration’s top diplomat in East Asia and the Pacific region. “I don’t think that provocative path can be lost on Pyongyang. ... I think that they have succeeded in undermining trust and confidence in Beijing.”
Obama apologizes to Calif. AG for remark
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has apologized to California Attorney General Kamala Harris for causing a stir when he called her “the best-looking attorney general” at a Democratic fundraiser they attended together this week.
A spokesman for Harris said she had a great conversation with Obama and strongly supports him but would not say whether she had accepted the president’s apology.
Obama apologized to Harris by telephone Thursday night after returning from two days of fundraising in California, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
At a fundraiser in Silicon Valley earlier that day, Obama raised eyebrows when he said Harris “happens to be, by far, the best-looking attorney general in the country. It’s true! C’mon.” He prefaced the remark by saying she is “brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law.”
Harris was present and had addressed the crowd before the president spoke.
Donors threaten to cut off funds at Rutgers
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — The burgeoning basketball scandal has cost Rutgers more than a popular, young athletic director, an interim general counsel, two coaches and a lot of embarrassment.
The state university of New Jersey is in danger of losing some of its biggest donors in tough economic times.
The school’s woes only mounted on a day that started with AD Tim Pernetti resigning over his failure to fire coach Mike Rice in December after reviewing video of the coach hitting, kicking and taunting players with anti-gay slurs at practice.
First-year Rutgers President Robert Barchi came under intense questioning at a news conference Friday over what he knew about the video months ago, but he got a nod of support from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the school’s board of governors.
— Associated Press
Eric Murdock, the former NBA player and Rice’s director of basketball development, filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the university for unspecified damages for wrongful termination.
White supremacist gang member’s arrest stems from probe into killing of Colorado prisons chief
DENVER (AP) — A white supremacist prison gang member was arrested and another was still being sought for questioning Friday in the death of Colorado’s prisons chief as authorities investigated whether the gang had any ties to the killing.
James Lohr, who has the words “Hard” and “Luck” tattooed where his eyebrows would be, was taken into custody early Friday in Colorado Springs. He was wanted for questioning in the slaying of Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements.
Authorities believe Lohr was in contact with gang associate Evan Ebel days before the killings of Clements and pizza delivery man Nate Leon. Police said they believe Ebel killed Leon and Clements less than a week before he died in a Texas shootout, but the motive is unclear.
Clements was shot to death March 19 in Monument, just north of Colorado Springs. Leon was killed two days earlier. His body was found in the Denver suburb of Golden.
Colorado Springs police arrested Lohr after a short foot chase that started when officers tried to stop the car he was driving, according to a statement. Lohr was booked on felony evading charges and also was held on three outstanding arrest warrants unrelated to the Clements case. He is scheduled to appear in court Monday.