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White House under assault over Obamacare, NSA, Benghazi

Posted by Rattana_S On October - 30 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

(CNN) — In a place accustomed to tough stretches, this has been a particularly tough few days at the White House.

After emerging from the showdown over the Republican-led government shutdown relatively unscathed, the Obama administration finds itself under assault on three fronts: problems surrounding Obamacare, the revelations of the U.S. spying on allies, and the 2012 attack on the U.S diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, the latter for which a senator has threatened to hold up all of the Obama administration’s nominations.

The controversies are sure to fuel continued Republican attacks on President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies as the nation gears up for midterm elections next year, and the White House has portrayed the attacks as so much partisan chatter.

But to CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, they reflect the relative inexperience of the Obama White House.

“This is an administration that has been very, very good at its politics, but has never been very good at execution of policies from Day One,” he said Monday.

“It’s an administration which has some really smart people in it, and a lot of younger people. It doesn’t have very many heavyweights.”

The worst part for Obama may be figuring out what to do about it all — not just the various individual fires, but more generally how to “take control of his own government,” CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger said.

If you’re the President, how do you make sure that subordinates aren’t withholding information you should know? How do you strike the right balance, and explain it clearly, on things such as gathering intelligence versus maximizing privacy and protecting key relationships? And how do you make sure those tied to your administration avoid big missteps that could come back to bite you?

“Four out of five Americans have little or no trust in their government to do anything right,” Borger writes in an analysis. “And now Obama probably feels the same way.”

Here are the latest details on the issues causing the administration the most heartache today:

Obamacare

Another week, another congressional hearing on the problem-plagued rollout of Obama’s health insurance program.

This time, Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — which is in charge of the Obamacare website — became the first administration official to formally apologize to Americans for the troublesome start.

She offered the apology Tuesday in an appearance before the House Ways and Means Committee.

“We know that consumers are eager to purchase this coverage, and to the millions of Americans who have attempted to use Healthcare.gov to shop and enroll in health care coverage, I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should,” she told lawmakers.

The website, which would-be applicants have found difficult to use, at best, embarrassingly crashed over the weekend, leaving consumers completely locked out.

Then, the White House found itself on the defensive over revelations that, despite claims to the contrary by the Obama administration, some who have purchased insurance on the open market will lose their coverage and have to buy new policies.

An insurance industry source told CNN Monday that the vast majority of Americans who have purchased coverage on the individual market will find their policies changed or even canceled under Obamacare rules.

It’s been known for some time that some of the policies would have to change — the Department of Health and Human Services said in 2010 as part of a federal regulation that up to two thirds of individual policies wouldn’t meet regulations allowing them to continue under what’s called “grandfathered” status.

That refers to plans allowed to continue even though they don’t provide all the rights and protections of those offered under Obamacare.

White House spokesman Jay Carney argued Monday the administration has always said some health care plans would not meet new Obamacare requirements.

“There are existing health care plans on the individual market that don’t meet those minimum standards and therefore do not qualify for the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “There are some that can be grandfathered if people want to keep insurance that’s substandard.”

And those who lose coverage will be able to buy more comprehensive coverage on the health insurance exchanges — some of them at a subsidized price, he said.

But the reality that so many plans will disappear or have to change seems to fly in the face of what Obama said so often in selling the plan to voters.

“If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan,” the president said in 2009, and frequently since.

It also offered Republicans ammunition to renew their attacks on the plan.

“The larger problem is how Obamacare is hurting people out there,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday. “It is about college graduates and middle-class families getting hit with massive premium increases they can’t afford.”

NSA spying

After months of seemingly endless leaks about U.S. surveillance programs, the pressure on the administration rose to new levels in recent days with revelations published by the German news magazine Der Spiegel that the United States was collecting the communications of allied leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

German leaders respond angrily to the news, with Merkel demanding a stop to the practice and proclaiming that her country’s confidence in the United States had been “shaken.”

But it was comments by the administration claiming that Obama did not know of the practice until recently that drew the sharpest criticism — from both the right and the left.

Rep. Peter King, the Republican chairman of the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, was incredulous that the president didn’t know what was going on.

“He certainly should have known, if he didn’t,” the former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.” “I think that’s almost more of a serious issue that something like that at that level would be conducted without him knowing it.”

And Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said not knowing about the program was a “big problem” for both Obama and the Senate Intelligence Committee, which she chairs.

“As far as I’m concerned, Congress needs to know exactly what our intelligence community is doing,” her statement said. “To that end, the committee will initiate a major review into all intelligence collection programs.”

Benghazi

Longstanding Republican criticism of the administration’s handling of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, which left the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans dead, resurfaced this week with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, threatening to hold up administration nominations over the issue.

Senators are expected soon to review Obama’s nominations for several high-profile judicial appointments and other nominations.

Senate rules allow a single senator to at least temporarily hold up presidential nominations, and Graham says he will do so until the administration makes survivors of the attack available for congressional testimony.

“I’m going to block every appointment in the United States Senate until the survivors are being made available to Congress,” he said. “I’m tired of hearing from people on TV and reading about stuff in books. We need to get to the bottom of this.”

The White House said Monday that Graham and other Republicans are using Benghazi for political purposes, “and we find that unfortunate.”

White House debt meeting postponed

Posted by Nuttapon_S On October - 15 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

White House talks on raising the US debt limit before it expires this week have been delayed to allow lawmakers more time to hammer out a deal.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers are also at loggerheads over a partial government shutdown, which is now in its third week.

But congressional leaders say there has been progress in their negotiations to find a way out of the impasse.

The IMF says a US debt default would trigger global economic turbulence.

On Thursday, the US must raise its $16.7tn (£10.5tn) borrowing limit so that the nation can pay its bills.

In a statement, the White House said talks scheduled for Monday afternoon had been postponed to “allow leaders in the Senate time to continue making important progress towards a solution that raises the debt limit and reopens the government”.

The meeting was not immediately rescheduled.

‘Potentially devastating’

According to US media, congressional leaders are discussing a deal to fund the government until 15 January and raise the debt ceiling until around mid-February.

President Barack Obama sounded his own warning as he toured a soup kitchen for the poor in Washington DC earlier on Monday.

“This week if we don’t start making some real progress, both the House and the Senate – and if Republicans aren’t willing to set aside their partisan concerns in order to do what’s right for the country – we stand a good chance of defaulting,” he said.

“And defaulting would have a potentially devastating effect on our economy.”

Expected to meet President Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden at the White House were Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican House Speaker John Boehner and House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

On Monday evening, Sen Reid said on the floor of the upper chamber that he and Sen McConnell had made “tremendous progress” towards a deal to raise the debt limit and reopen the government.

He added: “We hope with good fortune, and the support of all of you, recognising how hard this is for everybody, that perhaps tomorrow will be a bright day. We’re not there yet.”

Earlier, Sen McConnell also expressed optimism, following what he described as “a couple of very useful discussions” with the Democratic leader.

A separate bipartisan group led by Republican Senator Susan Collins also met for several hours earlier in the day to discuss possible solutions, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Congressional Democrats were said to be using the looming debt ceiling deadline as leverage to target previously enacted cuts to the US government budget.

Those deep military and domestic spending cuts, known as the “sequester”, went into effect in January 2013 after Democrats and Republicans failed to reach a budget compromise.

Analysts say the Senate talks represent the last best hope for a debt deal before Thursday, after talks between the White House and the Republican-led House of Representatives collapsed last week.

Government and private sector analysts have warned for weeks of the dire consequences should Congress fail to reach an agreement on raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

The US treasury department has been using what are called “extraordinary measures” to pay the nation’s bills since the nation reached its current debt limit in May.

Those extraordinary measures will be exhausted by 17 October, US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said.

A swathe of government services remain closed for business after Congress missed a 1 October deadline to pass a budget, with Congress unable to agree to a law to keep the government funded.

Hundreds of thousands of federal employees were sent home and government offices closed.

Republicans would not approve a new budget unless President Obama agreed to delay or eliminate the funding of the Affordable Care Act, his signature healthcare reform law of 2010.

Mr Obama has refused to budge on the matter, accusing Republicans of “extortion” in using the shutdown and the nation’s debt limit as leverage in negotiations.

Editor’s note: Geoff Hiscock is a former Asia Business Editor of CNN.com and the author of “Earth Wars: The Battle for Global Resources,” published by Wiley.

(CNN) — Courtesy of the U.S. government shutdown, Chinese President Xi Jinping finds himself in the box seat at his first Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum as leader of the world’s second largest economy.

Usually the United States makes the running at the annual APEC get-together of China, the U.S., Russia, Japan and 17 other Asia-Pacific economies that between them account for half the world’s output, 45% of its trade and 3 billion of its inhabitants.

But U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to pull out of the APEC forum and leaders’ retreat in Bali, Indonesia this week because of a domestic political brawl leaves Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin as the two most powerful men in attendance.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry now leads the U.S. delegation to Indonesia for APEC and to the East Asia summit and U.S.-ASEAN meetings that follow in Brunei starting Wednesday.

Obama’s cancellation was no surprise. He had already trimmed Malaysia and the Philippines from his Asia itinerary because of the failure of the U.S. Congress to pass a new budget. The possibility that the U.S. government shutdown could escalate into the almost-unthinkable disaster of a debt default later this month prompted him to drop the visit entirely.

As Obama warned the world in remarks in Rockville, Maryland Thursday, “As reckless as a government shutdown is, … an economic shutdown that results from default would be dramatically worse.”

Obama’s comments have been dismissed by his Republican opponents as scare tactics, but the world economy can do without this sort of drama. As Putin said after the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, last month, the global economy is doing better than it was five years ago, “but the risks are still very high.”

Obama was scheduled to speak today, the last day of the APEC forum before the leaders’ retreat on Tuesday, on a theme that now seems particularly pertinent — “America’s leadership and priorities: What they mean for the world.”

Obama’s 2010 “pivot to Asia” policy was supposed to enmesh the U.S. ever more deeply into the region, as a counterweight to the rapidly growing influence of China. But he cancelled trips to Asia in 2010 because of domestic pressures, and in 2012 declined an invitation to attend the APEC forum in Vladivostok because of the timing of the Democratic convention. His cancellation statement on Thursday showed his frustration at another domestic issue getting in the way of his Asia-Pacific aspirations: “This completely avoidable shutdown is setting back our ability to create jobs through promotion of U.S. exports and advance U.S. leadership and interests in the largest emerging region in the world.”

Obama’s withdrawal is a gift for Putin and Xi. Putin, who was scheduled to follow Obama on the APEC speaking agenda, has as his conversation theme the evocative “Taking another look at the Asia Pacific: Where are the new opportunities for growth?”

Xi is APEC’s final speaker and will deliver a keynote address entitled “China in transition: What can the Asia Pacific expect?” China’s economy may have slowed a little in 2013 and its structural employment, environmental and social issues present big challenges ahead, but it remains very much the regional engine of growth and its Asian neighbors know their prosperity is intimately linked to what happens in China.

The U.S., of course, has enormous commercial advantages as a consequence of its recent shale gas energy revolution, but the current political impasse is putting stress on its reputation, and a debt default — however unlikely it may be — would be an enormous setback.

With Obama out of the APEC picture, Kerry is doing the heavy lifting in discussions with Xi, Putin and other key leaders such as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indonesian host President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

In particular, Kerry is pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations that have the ultimate objective of creating a free trade pact for Asia-Pacific nations. Twelve countries are in the TPP talks — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan (which entered in July this year), Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

Although some observers see the TPP as an U.S.-promoted exclusionary device aimed at China, Xi has already welcomed the “mushrooming” of regional free trade agreements (FTAs) as a “positive sign.” In remarks released by his office last week, Xi referred to a Chinese saying, “the ocean is vast because it admits hundreds of rivers,” and said China supported the process of Asia-Pacific economic integration with an “open attitude.” But, he said, “at the same time, we believe that in developing FTAs, the parties should cherish the principles of openness, inclusiveness and transparency and, in particular, demonstrate flexibility for economies at different development stages, so as to offer more options for integration.”

There is an expectation on the Chinese side that it will be a TPP member within three or four years, though issues such as restrictions on internet access remain a potential stumbling block.

When Xi and Obama met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg last month, the focus was on Syria, greenhouse gases, global economic growth, job creation and investment. In part, it was a continuation of their informal discussions in California in June this year, when Xi made it clear that he wanted to work with Obama on building what he called a “new model of a major country relationship.”

For Xi, APEC would have been another opportunity to talk to Obama about rebalancing the U.S.-China relationship, to give due weight to what Xi regards as China’s role as a world power not just economically, but in strategic terms as well.

Instead, he has more time this week to talk with Putin about the growing Sino-Russia relationship and with other Asia-Pacific leaders on regional free trade agreements, economic integration, expanded investment co-operation and sustainable long-term growth.

How G20 keeps world away from economic brink

Posted by Rattana_S On September - 7 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Editor’s note: Thomas Wright is a fellow with the Managing Global Order project at the Brookings Institution

(CNN) — All eyes at the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, will be on Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama, two men who are barely on speaking terms. Undoubtedly there will be drama. Putin brought his pet Labrador, Koni, to his first meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has a well-known fear of dogs, to intimidate her. Given Putin’s track record, one could be forgiven for thinking that Edward Snowden might make an appearance in the Russian delegation.

The true cost of the U.S.-Russian dispute will only become apparent in a few months. As the leaders focus on Syria, the purpose of the summit — managing the global economy — will get short shrift. As concern grows about economic troubles in emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil, we are unlikely to see a coordinated response from St. Petersburg. Official agenda items such as energy subsidies and food security will be completely overshadowed.

The G20 leaders’ summit was created in 2008 after the fall of Lehman Brothers as the world economy stood on the brink of collapse. The West’s leaders recognized they could not fix the global economy by themselves in the old Group of Eight club. Emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil, South Korea and South Africa had to be brought into the mix and could no longer be treated as second-class citizens.

The G20’s great contribution to world affairs was its success in managing the global financial crisis and restoring stability to the financial system. The Washington summit in 2008 and the London summit in 2009 did much to avert a new great depression. Unprecedented cooperation between the world’s largest economies provided liquidity that limited the contagion of the banking crisis, kept markets open and prevented countries from resorting to protectionism, and provided a stimulus that cushioned the drop in growth.

In the years since, it has become fashionable to say that the G20 failed to follow up on its initial success. There is some truth to that. Member states have been unable to agree on a common fiscal policy — the United States and several emerging powers favored more stimulus, while Germany and the United Kingdom led a coalition for austerity.

Much still needs to be done to fix international finance, which remains crisis-prone. And the G20 has been unable to assist in managing the euro crisis. The reason is simple. Once it stepped back from the edge of the precipice, each government began fighting from its own corner.

Now, as emerging economies slow down and developed economies show new signs of growth, some may ask whether the G20 still has a role to play. Is it just another talking shop? This view is understandable but wrongheaded. It could do better, but the G20 still matters for the global economy. In a globalized world, no country can pursue a unilateral international economic policy. Instability in a major economy will inevitably destabilize all other economies. We can’t go back to the G8, which would leave out the world’s second (China), seventh (Brazil) and 10th (India) largest economies.

Governments will disagree on the best way to achieve growth, on the right level of regulation, on currency manipulation and much else. But all of these divisions would grow and threaten economic stability if leaders did not formally meet to discuss them. Even if progress is slow, we live with the ever-present risk of a new economic crisis. If one were to occur, a functioning G20 is indispensable.

The real problem with the St. Petersburg summit, which contrary to expectations was relatively well-organized by Russia, is that the G20’s global economy agenda has being taken over by the Syrian crisis. It is not surprising, but there is a real cost.

The world still needs an effective steering committee for the global economy. If there were the remotest possibility of G20 agreement on Syria, it might be worth it, but there isn’t. It will be up to Australia, which hosts the next summit in 2014, to get the G20 back on track.

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