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Republicans assail health care bill, Democrats set Saturday night test vote on Senate measure

WASHINGTON (AP) - Digging in for a long struggle, Republican senators and governors assailed the Democrats' newly minted health care legislation Thursday as a collection of tax increases, Medicare cuts and heavy new burdens for deficit-ridden states.

Despite the criticism, there were growing indications Democrats would prevail on an initial Senate showdown set for Saturday night, and Majority Leader Harry Reid crisply rebutted the Republican charges. The bill "will save lives, save money and save Medicare," he said.

The legislation is designed to answer President Barack Obama's call to expand coverage, end industry practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions, and restrain the growth of health care spending.

Republicans saw little to like.

"It makes no sense nonsense at all and affronts common sense," said Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, one of several Republicans to criticize the measure. He added that a plan to expand Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor, was a "bait and switch" with states as the victims.


Tough decisions, showdown votes await Obama on health care, Afghanistan, jobs, banks

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama will have scant time to rest up from his eight-day Asia trip.

On Saturday, two days after his return to Washington, the Senate plans a make-or-break vote on his hard-fought plan to overhaul the nation's health care system. Obama also confronts a difficult choice on strategy and troop levels in Afghanistan, which will be criticized no matter what he decides.

His bid to re-regulate the financial industry faces stiff opposition in Congress. The decision to try high-profile terror suspects in federal courts has drawn withering Republican attacks. And he faces a problematic push by House Democrats for a new and costly jobs bill.

A president's job is always busy. But Obama's plate is piled so high that Thanksgiving seems to have come early at the White House.

His immediate concern is whether the Senate's 58 Democrats and two independents will stick together to block a Republican filibuster of the massive health care bill. No GOP senators are expected to help, and it's not clear that any Republicans will vote for the final bill itself later this year.


Pentagon launches quick hunt for more Hasans, longer look at possible lapses in Fort Hood case

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Pentagon said Thursday it will scour its procedures for identifying volatile soldiers hidden in the ranks following the Fort Hood shooting rampage and lapses that might allow others to slip through bureaucratic cracks.

"It is prudent to determine immediately whether there are internal weaknesses or procedural shortcomings in the department that could make us vulnerable in the future," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

A 45-day emergency investigation will examine personnel, medical, mental health, discharge and other policies in all corners of the vast Defense Department. It will also look at ways to improve security and emergency response at Defense Department facilities.

"The shootings at Fort Hood raise a number of troubling questions that demand complete but prompt answers," Gates told a Pentagon news conference.

The quick review will be led by two former Pentagon officials, former Army Secretary Togo West and former Navy chief Vernon Clark.


Flights delayed nationwide as glitch in FAA network cascades through air system

ATLANTA (AP) - For the second time in a little more than a year, a glitch at one of the two centers that handle flight plans for the nation's air travel system set off delays and cancellations for passengers around the country.

The snarl Thursday - traced to something as simple as a single circuit board - prompted calls for more money and manpower at the Federal Aviation Administration, which has struggled without success for years to overhaul the air traffic system.

The circuit board, at an FAA center in Salt Lake City, is part of a multibillion-dollar nationwide communications network that the agency has spent years installing as part of plans to modernize air traffic control.

A government watchdog said last year that the network was over budget and plagued by outages. On a single day in 2007 alone, the failure of parts of the network was responsible for 566 flight delays.

Aviation experts are unsure whether any system that relies on the interconnectedness of computers can prevent glitches from causing havoc unless there are sufficient backup systems to handle the thousands of flight plans filed each day in the U.S.


Republican advisers say Giuliani leaning toward Senate bid instead of governor's race

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has not decided whether to run for governor but is becoming more interested in running for U.S. Senate, two Republican advisers said Thursday.

"From staff, we have been hearing that he has been indicating quietly and privately recently that governor might not be the best fit for him now," one adviser said, "but the U.S. Senate could be a perfect fit for him."

The adviser noted that no one is saying Giuliani has made a decision, but that it "certainly sounds" like he is less interested in running for governor. Another adviser echoed that.

The advisers spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak for the state Republican Party or Giuliani.

Giuliani spokeswoman Maria Comella disputed a New York Times report Thursday that Giuliani wouldn't run for governor after months of considering it. The Times cited unidentified people told of the decision.


Landmark court ruling on Katrina could bring new deluge: billions in legal action

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A landmark court ruling blaming the Army Corps of Engineers' "monumental negligence" for some of the worst flooding from Hurricane Katrina could lead to a new deluge: billions of dollars in legal action from thousands of storm victims.

The federal judge's harshly worded decision also served as vindication for residents of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans who have long argued that Katrina was largely a man-made disaster, caused by the federal government's failure to maintain the levees protecting the city.

"Finally, somebody has said the truth," said Catherine Serpas, 67, whose family runs a bicycle and lawnmower store in Chalmette, La. She said the Army Corps' work on a 76-mile channel called the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet "destroyed the family life we knew. St. Bernard will never be what it used to be."

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin told CNN the ruling would "open the floodgates" for people in the Lower 9th Ward to seek "proper compensation."

"If this is allowed to stand, I think you will see a multitude of lawsuits, the City of New Orleans included," Nagin said.


First US county-level obesity rates show Alabama, Mississippi communities at top, CDC says

ATLANTA (AP) - The first county-by-county survey of obesity reflects past studies that show the rate of obesity is highest in the Southeast and Appalachia.

High rates of obesity and diabetes were reported in more than 80 percent of counties in the Appalachian region that includes Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, according to the new research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The same problem was seen in about 75 percent of counties in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina.

The five counties with the highest rates were Greene and Dallas counties in Alabama and Holmes, Humphreys and Jefferson counties in Mississippi. All are small, rural counties in the west central areas of each state, and each reported obesity rates of around 44 or 43 percent. The national adult obesity rate(AP) - is roughly 26 percent.

The statistics are estimates for the year 2007 - based on surveys, census figures and other information for that and other years - and include a margin of error. The obesity rates in many counties were about the same, so it's difficult to say any county or counties was clearly the single most obese county, CDC officials said.


Foreclosure crisis weighs on economy as more people with good credit risk losing homes

WASHINGTON (AP) - The foreclosure crisis likely will persist well into next year as high unemployment pushes more people out of homes, pulls down housing prices and raises concerns about the broader economic recovery.

The latest evidence was a report Thursday that a rising proportion of fixed-rate home loans made to people with good credit are sinking into foreclosure. That's a shift from last year, when riskier subprime loans drove the housing crisis.

The report from the Mortgage Bankers Association also found that 14 percent of homeowners with a mortgage were either behind on payments or in foreclosure at the end of September. It was a record-high figure for the ninth straight quarter.

The data suggest the housing market and the broader recovery will remain under pressure from the surge in home-loan defaults, especially as unemployment keeps rising. Lost jobs are the main reason homeowners are falling behind on their mortgages.

After three years of plunging prices, the housing market started to rebound this summer. That lifted hopes for the overall economy. But analysts say there are too many foreclosed homes that have yet to be dumped on the market and expect further price declines.


Army keeping media out of Palin book event in NC, fearing anti-Obama 'grandstanding'

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The U.S. Army plans to prevent media from covering Sarah Palin's appearance at Fort Bragg, fearing the event will turn into political grandstanding against President Barack Obama, officials said Thursday.

Fort Bragg spokesman Tom McCollum told The Associated Press that the military post's garrison commander and other Army officials had decided to keep media away from Palin's book signing, which will not include a speech.

The AP and The Fayetteville Observer were protesting the decision to ban media.

"The law couldn't be clearer about this," said AP Associate General Counsel Dave Tomlin. "The government can't admit the general public but keep journalists out."

McCollum said the Army did not want the Monday event to become a platform to express political opinions "directed against the commander in chief."


Giants ace Tim Lincecum wins second consecutive NL Cy Young in tight vote

NEW YORK (AP) - Talk about a freak - Tim Lincecum needed just 15 wins to bag another NL Cy Young Award.

Yup, throw out those old baseball cards. Wins and losses don't mean much anymore when it comes time for voters to pick baseball's best pitchers. It's all about WHIP, FIP, BABIP and other lines of alphabet soup.

"It's turned into a game of complete numbers and statistics and what people do with that," Lincecum said.

Lincecum won the Cy Young Award on Thursday for the second straight year, emerging from one of the tightest votes in the history of the honor to become the first repeat winner since Randy Johnson.

Only 10 points separated the top three vote-getters. Chris Carpenter was second and St. Louis teammate Adam Wainwright finished third despite getting the most first-place votes.

Lincecum, nicknamed "The Freak" for his giant stride, led the NL with 261 strikeouts and tied for the league lead with four complete games and two shutouts.


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