Nation & World Briefly 9/5

Top health care negotiator says it's time for action

WASHINGTON (AP) - House liberals pleaded with President Barack Obama on Friday to push for creation of a government-run health care program as the Senate's chief negotiator said he won't wait much longer for Republicans to compromise amid dwindling chances for a bipartisan bill.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., held a nearly two-hour teleconference with his small group of negotiators, who call themselves the "Bipartisan Six." Afterward, Baucus was careful to leave the door open to a long-sought deal, but he clearly signaled the time has come for him to move ahead.

Obama, meanwhile, tried to placate disgruntled House liberals who fear he is too eager to compromise with Republicans and conservative Democrats to get a bill. In a phone call from the Camp David, Md., presidential retreat, Obama spoke to leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and other liberal-leaning House groups.

Caucus leader Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., said the lawmakers expressed their commitment to the creation of a government-run plan to compete with private health insurers.

Gibbs dismisses 'pointless furor' over Obama's speech

WASHINGTON (AP) - The White House on Friday dismissed as pointless the furor over President Barack Obama's plan to deliver a televised back-to-school speech to the nation's students.

"I think we've reached a little bit of the silly season when the president of the United States can't tell kids in school to study hard and stay in school," presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters. "I think both political parties agree that the dropout rate is something that threatens our long-term economic success."

Obama's planned address to students has prompted a surprising push-back from some quarters over what the White House sees as an important but innocuous topic.

Some conservative critics say Obama is trying to promote a political agenda and overstepping his bounds, taking the federal government too far into public school business.

U.S. poverty rate rises

WASHINGTON (AP) - The poverty rate among older Americans could be nearly twice as high as the traditional 10 percent level, according to a revision of a half-century-old formula for calculating medical costs and geographic variations in the cost of living.

The National Academy of Science's formula, which is gaining credibility with public officials including some in the Obama administration, would put the poverty rate for Americans 65 and over at 18.6 percent, or 6.8 million people, compared with 9.7 percent, or 3.6 million people, under the existing measure. The original government formula, created in 1955, doesn't take account of rising costs of medical care and other factors.

NATO jets bomb hijacked fuel tankers

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (AP) - A U.S. jet dropped 500-pound bombs on two tanker trucks hijacked by the Taliban before dawn Friday, triggering a huge explosion that Afghan officials said killed more than 70 people, including insurgents and some civilians who had swarmed around the vehicles to siphon off fuel.

Germany, whose troops called in the 2:30 a.m. strike in the northern province of Kunduz, said it feared the hijackers would use the trucks to carry out a suicide attack against its military base nearby.

The airstrike took place as the U.S. wrestles with the level of its troop commitment here and despite efforts by the top U.S. general to curb use of air power and reduce civilian casualties, which have strained relations between the NATO force and the Afghan government. Hours earlier, the top Pentagon officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, said civilian casualties had recently been greatly reduced in Afghanistan.

Germany said about 50 fighters were killed and no civilians were believed in the area at the time. NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, however, acknowledged some civilians may have died, and the U.S.-led coalition and the Afghan government announced a joint investigation.

Local government spokesman Mohammad Yawar said police found pieces of dozens of weapons scattered around the site. He estimated that more than 70 people were killed, at least 45 of them militants. Investigators were trying to account for the others, he said.

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