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Obama Eyes The Purse Strings for
Lawmakers Now Win Friends at Home by Setting Payout Rates
By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
At the same time President Obama is asking members of Congress to take one of the most politically difficult votes of their careers, he is also pressing lawmakers to give up one of their most valued perks of office: boosting Medicare payments to benefit hometown providers.
Setting reimbursement rates for local hospitals, doctors, home health-care cen- ters and other providers is a legislative ritual that amounts to one of the most ef- fective and lucrative forms of constituent service. Delivering federal money through Medicare, the country’s largest insurance program, can be a powerful tool on the campaign trail, allowing lawmakers to ar- gue that they are creating jobs and improv- ing the quality of health care for voters. Longtime members of Congress have become masters at dominating the tug of war between keeping providers flush and trying to rein in the entitlement program’s dramatic growth. House Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) champions New York City’s teaching hos- pitals. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the Sen- ate Finance Committee’s ranking Repub- lican, makes sure rural health-care services are amply funded. Months before Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) left office, he secured a permanent 35 percent increase in Medi- care payments for Alaska physicians. Obama administration officials say they
See MEDICARE, Page A5
Health-Care Reform Bill
Clears a Senate Hurdle
President Obama’s drive to overhaul the nation’s health-care system cleared a key Senate committee yesterday on a party-line vote, the first time in 15 years a congressional panel has endorsed health coverage for all. Some industry players and moderate Democrats questioned the prospects of the bill.
K See health reform coverage at
BY MELINA MARA — THE WASHINGTON POST
Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor took no chances in her replies during her third day of confirmation hearings.
The ‘Perry Mason’ Test
Sotomayor handles most questions with aplomb, but the newest senator proves she didn’t study her
reruns. Washington Sketch, A2
Thursday, July 16, 2009
M1 M2 M3 M4 V1 V2 V3 V4
By Amy Goldstein, Paul Kane and Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Before nominating Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, President Obama did not ask her about abortion rights or any other “specific legal issue,” she testified yesterday as she sidestepped senators’ ef- forts to plumb her views on matters from campaign finance law to the workload of the court she is likely to join.
As she progressed through the third
day of her confirmation hearings, with no sign of a major mishap so far that would derail her approval by a heavily Demo-
Arlen Specter, current Democrat and former Republican, current senator and former prosecutor, gives the judge a grilling.
cratic Senate, Sotomayor relaxed — yet took no chances. She joked openly with members of the Judiciary Committee while increasingly avoiding their ques- tions.
By midafternoon, even two Democrats on the panel sounded frustrated by her long, elusive replies.
During his turn to question her, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) repeatedly cut her off midsentence as he sensed she was skirting topic after topic. “I think your record is exemplary, Judge Sotomayor, ex- emplary,” he said. “I’m not commenting about your answers.” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who was
Looking for a Label
The nominee of a Democratic president has defied Republican senators’ attempts to brand her as one kind of judge or another. A6
See SOTOMAYOR, Page A6
For stories and discussions about the Senate hearings,
go to washingtonpost.com/
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Sotomayor Avoids Pointed Queries
Supreme Court Nominee Is Elusive About Abortion and Other Issues
sworn in to the chamber last week, was more direct. “So that means you’re not go- ing to tell us?” he asked the nominee after struggling to elicit her position on a re- cent Supreme Court decision involving voting rights.
At the same time, several Democrats sought yesterday to protect Sotomayor from Republican efforts to dent her credi- bility and assertions of neutrality. The Democrats pointed out that two of the main pieces of political artillery the GOP has wielded against her — her public re- marks that a Latina might make the best
KIM JONG IL?
CIA Assassin Program Was Nearing
Panetta Pulled Plug After Training Was Proposed
By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
CIA officials were proposing to activate a plan to train anti-terrorist assassination teams overseas when agency managers brought the secret program to the attention of CIA Director Leon Panetta last month, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter.
The plan to kill top al-Qaeda leaders, which had been on the agency’s back burner for much of the past eight years, was sud- denly thrust into the spotlight because of proposals to initiate what one intelligence official called a “somewhat more opera- tional phase.” Shortly after learning of the plan, Panetta terminated the program and then went to Capitol Hill to brief law- makers, who had been kept in the dark since 2001.
Once-Trendy Crocs Could Be on Their Last Legs
By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Crocs were born of the economic
The colorful foam clogs appeared in 2002, just as the country was recovering from a recession. Brash and bright, they were a cheap investment (about $30) that felt good and promised to last forever. Former president George W. Bush wore them. Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler wore them. Your grandma wore them. They roared along with the economy, mocked by the fashion world but selling 100 million pairs in seven years. Then the boom times went bust, and Crocs went to the back of the closet. The company had expanded to meet demand, but financially pressed custom- ers cut back. Last year the company lost $185.1 million, slashed roughly 2,000 jobs and scrambled to find money to pay down millions in debt. Now it’s stuck with a surplus of shoes, and its auditors have wondered if it can stay afloat. It has until the end of September to pay off its debt.
“The company’s toast,” said Damon
Vickers, who manages an investment fund at Nine Points Capital Partners in Seattle. “They’re zombie-ish. They’re dead and they don’t know it.”
See CROCS, Page A18
The answer is of vital importance to
Washington, which has about 25,000 troops in South Korea, on guard against any resumption of a conflict frozen — but never formally ended — by a Korean War armistice accord in 1953. Who rules North Korea will de- cide whether Seoul, Tokyo and perhaps
even Hawaii risk attack from a nation that has tested two nuclear devices, the most recent in May, and built up an ar- senal of missiles and long-range artil- lery. The Pentagon has sent missile- defense systems to Hawaii just in case. North Korea marked July 4 this year by test-firing seven more rockets.
BY KCNA VIA REUTERS
Many say it will be Kim Jong Un, the leader’s third and youngest son. Recollections at a state school in Switzerland may hold clues to his character.
By Andrew Higgins | Washington Post Foreign Service
IEBEFELD, Switzerland — In August 1998, as famine reached a terrible climax in North Korea, the destitute Asian nation enrolled a shy teenager in a Swiss state school. He arrived with a fake name, a collection of gen-
uine, top-of-the-line Nike sneakers and a passion for American basketball. K “We only dreamed about having such shoes. He was wearing them,” recalled Nikola Kovacevic, a former school- mate of the curiously well-heeled North Korean. Each pair, esti- mates Kovacevic, cost more than $200 — at least four times the average monthly salary in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, where perhaps 1 million people died as a result of food shortages in the mid- and late 1990s. K Today, the student — who vanished from this sleepy Swiss district as mysteriously as he appeared — is a key figure in a puzzle that U.S. and Asian in- telligence services are scrambling to solve: Who will lead nu- clear-armed North Korea — and where to — once its gravely ill leader, Kim Jong Il, passes from the scene?
North Korea shrouds the biogra- phies of its rulers and their offspring in a fog of fiction and silence. “It is pretty amazing how very little real informa- tion we have,” said Victor Cha, who served as a Korea expert on the Nation- al Security Council in the Bush admin- istration. A rare insight into this sealed world is offered by Swiss recollections of the young North Korean who, from 1998 until late 2000, lived here in Liebefeld at No. 10 Kirchstrasse, a sedate sub- urban street with two pizza joints, a Credit Suisse bank and a Coop su- permarket. He was about 17 when he abruptly left in the middle of the school year, apparently to return to Pyong- yang.
There are many signs that he may
now be the next leader of North Korea —26-year-old Kim Jong Un, the third and youngest son of Kim Jong Il. Known as “Pak Un” to his teachers at Liebefeld-Steinhölzli Schule, a Ger- man-speaking state school, he was reg- istered with Swiss authorities as the son of an employee at North Korea’s embassy in the nearby city of Bern, Switzerland’s capital, according to Ueli Studer, director of education in the lo- cal administration. Throughout Pak Un’s time in Liebe- feld, however,
neither friends nor
See NORTH KOREA, Page A12
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The Obama administration’s top intelli- gence official, Director of National Intelli- gence Dennis C. Blair, yesterday defended Panetta’s decision to cancel the program, which he said had raised serious questions among intelligence officials about its “effec- tiveness, maturity and the level of control.” But Blair broke with some Democrats in Congress by asserting that the CIA did not violate the law when it failed to inform law- makers about the secret program until last month. Blair said agency officials may not have been required to notify Congress about the program, though he believes they should have done so. “It was a judgment call,” Blair said in an interview. “We believe in erring on the side of working with the Hill as a partner.” Democratic lawmakers have accused the CIA of deliberately misleading Congress by failing to disclose the program’s existence until the briefing by Panetta on June 24. House Democrats, citing an account given
See CIA, Page A10
ECONOMY & BUSINESS
More Job Losses Expected
The Federal Reserve warns that the economy may not fully recover for at least five years and that the unemployment rate could surpass 10 percent this year.
CIT Group’s Plea for Bailout Rejected
The government believes the economy can absorb the bankruptcy of the troubled lender that serves smaller companies. A17
Watergate Hotel Goes on Auction Block
One of Washington’s most famous buildings is in foreclosure.
South Africa’s Jobless Way of Life
The recession plus poverty and inequality — the legacy of apartheid — are causing 23 percent unemployment.
Buzz Aldrin: Forty years after Apollo 11, it’s time to set our sights on Mars.
Home Sweat Home: Recession forces
some people to do their own chores.
Contents © 2009 The Washington Post
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