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WASHINGTON (AP) — The government limped into a third day of partial shutdown Thursday with no sign of a way out after a White House conversation between President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders seemed only to harden the stances of Democrats and Republicans.

The dearth of progress deepened worries about a bigger problem rumbling ever closer — a mid-October deadline for raising the government's borrowing limit before it runs out of money to pay creditors. The U.S. Treasury warned on Thursday that failure to raise that debt ceiling could spark a new recession even worse than the one Americans are still recovering from.

"The president remains hopeful that common sense will prevail," the White House said in a written statement after the unproductive meeting about the political standoff that has idled 800,000 federal workers and halted an array of services Americans expect from their government.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, complained to reporters that Obama used the meeting simply to declare anew that he won't negotiate over his health care law.

House Republicans, pushed by a core of tea party conservatives, are insisting that Obama accept changes to the health care law he pushed through three years ago as part of the price for reopening all of government. Obama refuses to consider any deal linking the health care law to routine legislation needed to extend government funding or to raise the nation's debt limit.

"We're probably through negotiating with ourselves," Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said Thursday on MSNBC.

Republicans who initially sought to defund the health care law in exchange for funding the rest of government have gradually scaled back their demands but say they need some sort of offer from Obama.

Expressing frustration after Tuesday night's White House meeting, Boehner said: "All we're asking for here is a discussion and fairness for the American people under Obamacare."

The White House said Obama would be happy to talk about health care — but only after Congress moves to reopen the government "and stop the harm this shutdown is causing to the economy and families across the country."

If the shutdown dispute persists it could become entangled with the even more consequential battle over the debt limit. The Obama administration has said Congress must renew the government's authority to borrow money by Oct. 17 or risk a first-ever federal default, which many economists say would dangerously jangle the world economy.

Treasury's report Thursday said defaulting on the nation's debts could cause the nation's credit markets to freeze, the value of the dollar to plummet and U.S. interest rates to skyrocket.

The shutdown stalemate is already rattling investors. Stock markets in the U.S. and overseas faded Wednesday, and Europe's top central banker, Mario Draghi, called the shutdown "a risk if protracted." Leading financial executives met with Obama, and one, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, said politicians should not use a potential default "as a cudgel."

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill said the House could easily defuse the worsening situation.

"Get us through this six weeks and then let's sit down and figure out how we pay our debts and bring down federal spending," McCaskill of Missouri, said on MSNBC Thursday.

Republicans planned to continue pursuing their latest strategy: muscling bills through the House that would restart some popular programs.

Votes were on tap for restoring funds for veterans and paying members of the National Guard and Reserves. On Wednesday, the chamber voted to finance the national parks and biomedical research and let the District of Columbia's municipal government spend federally controlled dollars.

Democrats demanded that the entire government be reopened, and the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., made clear that the GOP's narrower bills have no chance of survival. They said the strategy showed that Republicans were buckling under public pressure, with Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., saying groups like veterans were being "used as a pawn in this cynical political game."

Republicans countered that Democrats were being inflexible and were to blame for the continued closure of programs the GOP was trying to reopen. A favorite target was Reid, who has made clear that the Senate will be a graveyard for the Republican effort.

"The Senate's refusal to work with the House is an all-time low," Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., said.

Reid told reporters that Obama and Democrats are "locked in tight" on not diluting the health care law.

In an interview afterward, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., scoffed at the president's stance.

"He can't get his way exactly the way he wants it because he doesn't control the entire government," McConnell said on CNBC's "The Kudlow Report."

Democrats continued lambasting Boehner and freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the tea party hero who has helped sell fellow conservatives in both chambers on keeping the government shuttered until Obama retreats on his coveted health care law.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and other House conservatives said they met with Cruz and other Senate conservatives Wednesday to update each other on what was happening.

"We think we just have to keep talking about our message, which is real simple: 'Treat people fairly,'" Jordan said.

Republican leaders and many rank-and-file GOP lawmakers, especially in the Senate, had been reluctant to link demands for curbing the health care law to legislation keeping government open, concerned that voters would blame Republicans for any shutdown.

But Wednesday, Republicans solidly opposed an unsuccessful Democratic move to force the House to vote on a Senate-passed bill keeping government open until Nov. 15 without any strings on the health care law.

"Now that we've jumped off the cliff, lit ourselves on fire, we've entered the valley of death," said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who has criticized the conservatives' strategy. "So now we've got to keep running and we have to hold together."

The House has approved legislation keeping the entire government funded through Dec. 15. It also would impose a one-year delay in the health care law's requirement that individuals buy health insurance, which would threaten to cripple the program, and block federal subsidies for health coverage bought by lawmakers and their staff.

As the politicians battled, mail continued to be delivered, air traffic controllers remained at work and payments were being made to recipients of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment benefits.

Taxes were still due, but lines at IRS call centers went unanswered.

Halted were most routine food inspections by the Food and Drug Administration and some loan approvals for many low- and middle-income borrowers were thrust into low gear by the Housing and Urban Development Department. National parks were closed.

Workers were furloughed based on how essential their jobs were to the nation: Only 3 percent of NASA employees were kept on, while 86 percent at the Homeland Security Department were working.
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Area transportation officials are trying to make it as easy as possible for fans to travel into downtown St. Louis for the Cardinals and Blues games today. The Redbirds open postseason play at Busch Stadium with a 4:07 first pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Blues open their regular season against the Nashville Predators with a 7:30 faceoff at Scottrade Center.

The Missouri Department of Transportation reminds drivers heading eastbound on Interstate 70 they now have the option of taking the new Tucker Boulevard exit ramp and following the new section of Tucker into downtown.  The Pine Street entrance to westbound Interstate 64/40 opened on Wednesday. MODOT also says it will not have any work zones in the city of St. Louis prior to the games.

The Illinois Department of Transportation will postpone westbound lane restrictions on Interstate 64 and Interstate 55/70 in the Metro East until 8 p.m. 

And Metro transit spokeswoman Patti Beck says the agency will have extra staff on duty today and will be prepared to add MetroLink trains should there be signs of crowding.

Thursday, 03 October 2013 08:12
Published in Local News
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Extra MetroLink staff will be on hand today and tomorrow (Thurs/Fri) to assist with baseball crowds. Additional service will be added as necessary, according to a representative from the Bi-State Development Agency.  

 

"With the Cards game potentially ending around the same time as the Blues home opener game is scheduled to begin tomorrow night, we will be watching the situation very closely and adjusting MetroLink service as necessary," Bi-State Development Agency Spokeswoman Patti Beck wrote in an email.

 

The only additional bus service will be the St. Clair County Redbird Express, which brings fans from Illinois to Thursday and Friday's games.

Thursday, 03 October 2013 07:06
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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama brought congressional leaders to the White House on Wednesday for the first time since a partial government shutdown began, but there was no sign of progress toward ending an impasse that has idled 800,000 federal workers and curbed services around the country.

The standoff continued after a White House summit with chief executives as financial leaders and Wall street urged a resolution before serious damage is done to the U.S. and world economy.

Obama "refuses to negotiate," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio., told reporters after private talks that lasted more than an hour. "All we're asking for here is a discussion and fairness for the American people under Obamacare."

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said moments later, "We're locked in tight on Obamacare" and neither the president nor Democrats will accept changes in the nation's 3-year-old health care law as the price for spending legislation needed to end the two-day partial shutdown.

With the nation's ability to borrow money soon to lapse, Republicans and Democrats alike said the shutdown could last for two weeks or more, and soon oblige a divided government to grapple with both economy-threatening issues at the same time.

The White House said in a statement after the meeting that Obama had made it clear "he is not going to negotiate over the need for Congress to act to reopen the government or to raise the debt limit to pay the bills Congress has already incurred."

It added, "The president remains hopeful that common sense will prevail."

The high-level bickering at microphones set up outside the White House reflected the day's proceedings in the Capitol.

The Republican-controlled House approved legislation to reopen the nation's parks and the National Institutes of Health, even though many Democrats criticized them as part of a piecemeal approach that fell far short of what was needed. The bills face dim prospects in the Senate, and the White House threatened to veto both in the unlikely event they make it to Obama's desk.

"What we're trying to do is to get the government open as quickly as possible," said the House majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia. "And all that it would take is us realizing we have a lot in agreement."

Earlier, an attempt by Democrats to force shutdown-ending legislation to the House floor failed on a 227-197 vote, with all Republicans in opposition. That left intact the tea party-driven strategy of demanding changes to the nation's health care overhaul as the price for essential federal financing, despite grumbling from Republican moderates.

The stock market ended lower as Wall Street CEOs, Europe's central banker and traders pressed for a solution. Chief executives from the nation's biggest financial firms met Obama for more than an hour Wednesday, some of them plainly frustrated with the tactics at play in Congress and with the potential showdown coming over the debt limit.

"You can re-litigate these policy issues in a political forum, but we shouldn't use threats of causing the U.S. to fail on its obligations to repay its debt as a cudgel," Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, said after the meeting.

Democrats were scathing in their criticism.

"The American people would get better government out of Monkey Island at the local zoo than we're giving them today," said Rep. John Dingell of Michigan.

The Republican National Committee announced it would pay for personnel needed to reopen the World War II Memorial, a draw for aging veterans from around the country that is among the sites shuttered. In a statement, party chairman Reince Priebus challenged Democrats "to join with us in keeping this memorial open."

Democrats labeled that a stunt. "We've already been working on a plan to open the Memorial — and the entire government — after the GOP caused them to close," said party spokesman Mo Elleithee. "It's called a clean" spending bill.

As it turned out, more than 125 World War II veterans from Mississippi and Iowa who were initially kept out of the memorial Tuesday were escorted to the site with the help of members of Congress. Officials made further arrangements to allow veterans groups into the memorial during the shutdown.

A sampling of federal agencies showed how unevenly the shutdown was felt across the government.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Housing and Urban Development listed only six percent of their employees as essential, and therefore permitted to work during the impasse. James R. Clapper, director of national intelligence, said about 70 percent of civilian employees in agencies under his control had been sent home.

By contrast, about 86 percent of employees of the Department of Homeland Security remained on the job, and 95 percent at the Veterans Affairs Department.

One furloughed employee, meteorologist Amy Fritz, said, "I want to get back to work." At a news conference arranged by congressional Democrats, the 38-year-old National Weather Service employee said she has more than $100,000 in student loan debt and is looking at ways to cut her budget.

In an interview with CNBC before meeting with lawmakers, Obama said he would not negotiate with Republicans until the government is reopened and Congress votes to raise the debt limit.

"If we get in the habit where a few folks, an extremist wing of one party, whether it's Democrat or Republican, are allowed to extort concessions based on a threat (to) undermine the full faith and credit of the United States, then any president who comes after me, not just me, will find themselves unable to govern effectively," he said.

"The White House said Obama would have to truncate a long-planned trip to Asia, calling off the final two stops in Malaysia and the Philippines.

The shutdown also intruded into the race for governor of Virginia.

Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat, said he supported legislation to guarantee retroactive pay for furloughed federal employees. The Republican contender, Ken Cuccinelli, called on members of Congress to decline their pay as long as the shutdown lasts.

The House sidetracked legislation Tuesday night to reopen some veterans programs, the national parks and a portion of the Washington, D.C., municipal government. All three bills fell short of the two-thirds majority needed when Democrats voted overwhelmingly against this.

Republicans tried again, this time under rules requiring only a simple majority. The parks measure was approved on a vote of 252-173, with 23 Democrats breaking ranks and voting in favor. The vote to reopen NIH was 254-171. The House also voted to allow the Washington, D.C., government to use the taxes it collects to operate programs.

Votes were deferred on more bills, one to assure pay for members of the National Guard and Reserves and another to allow some veterans programs to resume.

The NIH bill was added to the day's agenda after Democrats had said seriously ill patients would be turned away from the facility's hospital of last resort, and no new enrollment permitted in experimental treatments.

Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York said the Republican response was a ploy. "Every time they see a bad headline they're going to bring a bill to the floor and make it go away," she said.

Some Republicans took obvious pleasure in the rough rollout Tuesday of new health insurance markets created under Obama's health care law. Widespread online glitches prevented many people from signing up for coverage that begins in January.

Rep. Trey Radel of Florida said a 14-year-old could build a better website "in an afternoon in his basement."

At issue is the need to pass a temporary funding bill to keep the government open since the start of the new budget year on Tuesday.

Congress has passed more than 100 temporary funding bills since the last shutdown in 1996, almost all of them without controversy. The streak was broken because conservative Republicans have held up the current measure in the longshot hope of derailing or delaying Obamacare, just as the health insurance markets at the heart of the law opened on Tuesday.

___ Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor, Donna Cassata, Henry Jackson, Julie Pace, Jessica Gresko, Darlene Superville and Seth Borenstein contributed to this story
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