WASHINGTON (CNN) - Senate Democrats lost a key vote Wednesday on a controversial $247 billion measure designed to ensure that doctors experience no cut in Medicare reimbursement payments over the next 10 years.
The proposal was blocked in a 47-to-53 vote. Thirteen Democrats broke with their party's leadership to join a unanimous Republican opposition.
The measure, known as "doc fix," had been separated from broader proposals to overhaul the nation's health care system.
Under the bill proposed by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, Congress would have overriden a formula set more than a decade ago to prevent Medicare costs from rising faster than planned. The formula calls for cutting projected Medicare reimbursements to doctors.
Stabenow's bill would have reversed those cuts, just as Congress has done repeatedly since the formula was imposed in 1997.
(CNN) - The H1N1 virus commonly known as 'swine flu' has hit Capitol Hill.
Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican from Oregon, tweeted Monday evening a doctor diagnosed him with the virus and is heading off to "seclusion for a while."
Andrew Whelan, Walden's press secretary, confirmed to CNN the congressman has fallen victim to swine flu and is following his doctor's orders to "get some rest and take it easy."
Walden appears to be the first member of Congress to come down with H1N1, though other representatives have said their children have contracted the virus.
CNN's Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report
WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama could decide how many additional U.S. troops to send to Afghanistan before the country's scheduled November 7 runoff election, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday.
Gibbs said he did not know when Obama would make the decision, but left the door open for the president to move forward sooner rather than later.
The comment came as the administration is trying to demonstrate it willingness to work with any legitimate Afghan government regardless of the election outcome.
The upcoming runoff election presents a critical opportunity for Kabul "to reestablish the credibility of its governance," Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry said Wednesday.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed Wednesday that the White House remains open to diplomatic engagement with the Iranian government if Tehran is serious about negotiations regarding its controversial nuclear program.
"If Iran is serious about taking practical steps to address the international community's deep concerns about (the) program, we will continue to engage both multilaterally and bilaterally to discuss the full range of issues that have divided Iran and the United States for too long," she said.
"The door is open to a better future for Iran. But the process of engagement cannot be open-ended. We are not prepared to talk just for the sake of talking."
Clinton made her remarks during a wide-ranging speech on nuclear non-proliferation at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a non-partisan think tank.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - As small business lending continues to dry up, the federal government is readying two new initiatives aimed at reversing the trend. To unveil them, President Obama traveled Wednesday to Maryland, where he visited a family-owned company that used a government-backed loan to fund a recent expansion.
"There are still too many entrepreneurs who can't get the loan they need to open their doors and start hiring," Obama said from the headquarters of Metropolitan Archives, a Landover, Md., company that stores and delivers paper files. "There are still too many who are struggling to make payroll and stay open. And there are still too many successful small businesses that want to expand further and hire more but just don't have the capital to do it."
The new measures - a collaboration between the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration - aim to make capital cheaper for community banks and raise the funding limit for loans backed by the SBA.
Under the new plan, banks with less than $1 billion in assets will be able to borrow money from the government at a 3% dividend rate. That's a reduction from the 5% rate the Treasury currently offers borrowers through its Capital Purchase Program, a TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) initiative. To qualify, banks will need to submit a small business lending plan illustrating how they'll use the borrowed money to expand their small business lending.
A majority of gun owners think President Obama wants to ban gun sales.
A new Gallup poll shows 55 percent of those who own a gun, 53 percent who have a gun in the household, and 41 percent of all Americans believe he will attempt to ban the sale of guns while he is president.
This concern is greater among Republicans and people living in the South and Midwest than among Democrats or those living on either coast.
It also helps explain the sharp increases in sales of guns and ammunition. There are reports that U.S. bullet-makers are working around the clock and still can't keep up with the demand for ammunition. Shooting ranges and gun dealers say they've never seen such shortages.
However, President Obama has never said - as a candidate or as president - that he intends to push for a ban of gun sales. The president has said that he believes in the Second Amendment and that "lawful gun owners have nothing to fear." In May, he signed a law allowing people to carry loaded guns in national parks.
Nonetheless, gun rights advocates point to Mr. Obama's record as a state legislator and U.S. senator where he "voted for the most stringent forms of gun control."
To read more and contribute to the Cafferty File discussion, click here
(CNN) - Supporters of a public health care option are getting a helping hand from Austin Powers actress Heather Graham.
A new ad released Wednesday by MoveOn.org features Graham representing the public option in a foot race towards the finish line against big insurance companies CIGNA, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, United Health and Humana.
"Insurance companies have gotten lazy, bloated from the profits of raising our health care costs sky high while the health care crisis keeps getting worse," the announcer says in a 30-second version of the spot, which will air on national and cable television. A 60-second version of the ad is set to air on the Web.
The ad targeting insurers comes amid a new push by liberal groups against the industry. The fresh pressure follows the release last week of a report, funded by the industry's lobbying group and heavily criticized by Democrats, that suggested the president's health care plan would do little to stem surging insurance premiums.
Moveon.org is not releasing the size of the ad buy.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Carly Fiorina, a likely Republican candidate for Senate in California, made public on Tuesday what her GOP primary opponent Chuck DeVore has long claimed: that the national party is supporting her bid to take out Sen. Barbara Boxer next year.
"The chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee has encouraged me to enter the race, reaffirming my belief that Chuck DeVore can not beat Barbara Boxer," Fiorina said Tuesday, according to SanDiegoNewsRoom.com.
That remark elicited a swift I-told-you-so from DeVore, who for months has accused NRSC chairman John Cornyn of unfairly meddling in the Republican primary on behalf of Fiorina, the millionaire former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who was a frequent surrogate for John McCain during the 2008 presidential race.
"We know that the entire Fiorina campaign is predicated on a recruiting effort by the NRSC," DeVore told CNN. "They may have an official policy of neutrality, but I know why she's running. It's because she was recruited."
The location of the event in southeast Virginia, a heavily African-American part of the state, signals that Deeds advisers hope the president can boost turnout among supporters who rallied to his side in 2008 but have been largely disinterested in the governor's race so far.
The rally will take place on Tuesday at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, the second largest city in the commonwealth and home to the world's largest naval station. Almost half of Norfolk's residents are African-American; Obama trounced John McCain by a 71-28 margin there last November. During the Democratic gubernatorial primary earlier this year, all three of the men seeking their party's nomination targeted black voters with radio ads and endorsement from key leaders in the community.
But Norfolk in just one of several population centers in Hampton Roads, a broad swath of cities and counties in southeastern Virginia where military voters are also a key part of the electorate. Over the weekend, Republican candidate Bob McDonnell held a veterans rally in nearby Virginia Beach with McCain.
The president first campaigned for Deeds in August in northern Virginia.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Americans are split right down the middle over President Barack Obama's health care reform proposals, according to a new national poll.
But the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey indicates that a majority say it would be better to pass some sort of reform legislation than to leave the current health care system unchanged. And the poll, released Wednesday, is the second national survey this week to suggest growing support for the public option.
Forty-nine percent of people questioned in the poll say they favor the president's health care reform proposals, with an equal amount in opposition.
According to the survey, 61 percent favor a public health insurance option that would compete with private plans. That's a six-point increase in support since August.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll joins an ABC/Washington Post survey released Tuesday in indicating an increase in support for a government option.