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News Wrap: House Rejects Cuts to Medicare Payments

November 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: And, in other news today: The House voted to spare doctors from 20 percent cuts in Medicare payments. The move will add more than $200 billion to the federal deficit. Congress has voted to restore the doctor payment cuts on an annual basis for years, but the measure failed in the Senate last month.

Hamid Karzai was sworn in to a second term as president of Afghanistan today. He promised to clean up his government and take over more responsibility for fighting the war.

We have a report from Nick Paton Walsh of Independent Television News.

NICK PATON WALSH: It wasn’t really in doubt that Hamid Karzai would end up here being sworn in for a second term. And here, flanked by deputies that some have accused of war crimes, he nonetheless took the oath for another five years — first, a pledge against corruption.

HAMID KARZAI, president, Afghanistan: Ministers of Afghanistan should be honest and should be servants to the Afghan people.

NICK PATON WALSH: For America and Britain, where public opinion is souring against the war, Karzai was sure to suggest an end in sight.

HAMID KARZAI: By improving our army in the next three years, we will control the most troubled provinces through our own army’s leadership, and, gradually, the operations of international troops should be reduced.

NICK PATON WALSH: But he also offered broad negotiations to insurgents, a loya jirga or summit, of Afghan tribal leaders.

HAMID KARZAI: All the people not connected to international terrorism can come back to their families, and we will welcome them.

NICK PATON WALSH: In a city normally gridlocked with traffic, this should be one of its busiest roundabouts. But, today, the area is devoid of private vehicles, just a heavy police presence.

MAN: All this inauguration is a joke and a lie. Karzai doesn’t care about the poor. He’s nothing. The Taliban was better than now.

NICK PATON WALSH: Casual laborers loitering here yesterday have not seen much work since this electoral crisis began. They were scornful about the ceremony and nostalgic for a nasty past, where, for some, the Taliban is already a better option.

JIM LEHRER: U.S. Secretary of State Clinton was one of the dignitaries attending the inauguration. Later, she said Karzai’s address offered hope for change.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: The inaugural speech that President Karzai gave today set forth an agenda for change and reform. He was particularly strong on the steps that he intends to take regarding corruption. The idea that government officials will have to register their assets, so that any money or other influence can be more easily tracked, is a very bold proposal.

JIM LEHRER: As President Karzai was inaugurated, fresh violence broke out in Southern Afghanistan. Two U.S. soldiers were killed in a suicide car bombing near a NATO base. At least 10 Afghan civilians died in a separate bombing.

A suicide bomber in Northwest Pakistan killed at least 19 people. Scores more were wounded. The bomber blew himself up outside a courthouse. It was the seventh time militants have struck that same area in less than two weeks.

In U.S. economic news, Treasury Secretary Geithner told Congress he hopes to use part of the $700 billion rescue program to pay down the federal deficit. He said the fund has substantial resources left in it, but he did not give a figure.

At a separate hearing, a government-appointed watchdog criticized claims of jobs saved by the economic stimulus. The head of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board appeared at a House hearing. He said the Obama administration embraced faulty numbers in a rush to claim success. Last month, the administration cited a figure of 640,000 jobs tied to the stimulus so far, but there have been numerous problems reported in the data.

The falling dollar and new doubts about technology stocks drove Wall Street down today. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 93 points, to close at 10332. The Nasdaq fell 36 points, to close at 2156.

The federal government could now be exposed to billions of dollars in damage claims from victims of Hurricane Katrina. On Wednesday, a federal judge in New Orleans ruled, the Army Corps of Engineers failed to maintain a shipping channel, and it led to devastating floods in the city.

Today, a plaintiff’s attorney hailed the decision.

PIERCE O’DONNELL: We now have a message for the Army Corps of Engineers, who has threatened, as I said, to litigate us to death. You will not get away with it. The people of New Orleans and Saint Bernard Parish are determined to see that the Army Corps of Engineers is held accountable for the drowning of New Orleans.

JIM LEHRER: If the order stands, the Army Corps will have to pay $720,000 to five victims of the storm. The Justice Department said an appeal is under consideration.

A computer glitch delayed flights across the country today. The Federal Aviation Administration said a circuit board malfunctioned at a computer center in Salt Lake City, Utah. That, in turn, prevented air traffic control computers in different regions from talking to each other.

The problem lasted four hours this morning. It caused cancellations and delays for scores of flights throughout the day. This was the second time in 15 months a glitch in the FAA’s system has caused national delays.

A congressional advisory panel has issued a strong warning about Chinese spying. The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission made its report today. It said, China is aggressively stealing American military and economic secrets. The Chinese Embassy dismissed those allegations as baseless and irresponsible.