By Annika McGinnis, McClatchy Newspapers (Aug. 9, 2012)
WASHINGTON — Five years after the devastating collapse of an interstate bridge in Minneapolis, university researchers are developing new wireless technology that would warn of problems that could cause such disasters.
On Aug. 1, 2007, rush-hour traffic moved along the Interstate 35 West bridge in Minneapolis. Suddenly, most of the bridge broke off and fell into the Mississippi River, killing 13 people and injuring 145. It was one of the worst bridge disasters in U.S. history.
The bridge had passed federal inspections for years, the National Transportation Safety Board found.
As the nation’s bridges age, they’re becoming more dangerous, especially the “baby boomer bridges,” the large number built during the 1950s and ‘60s, according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. In 2010, the Federal Highway Administration labeled more than 11 percent of highway bridges – almost 70,000 – “structurally deficient,” meaning the bridges had significant defects requiring major improvements or replacement.
As part of the push for increased bridge safety stemming from the Minneapolis disaster, separate engineering teams at the University of Maryland and North Carolina State University are designing wireless sensors that can detect problems early and alert authorities in time to prevent similar tragedies.
“You go to a checkup, you find a condition of your body,” said Chung Fu, a University of Maryland engineering research professor who helps lead one of the teams. “So you put a sensor on the bridge and find the health of the bridges.”
For instance, the tiny sensors are placed on areas of the bridge where there are cracks or that are prone to cracks, Fu said. Then the bridge’s health can be monitored from computers at another site. In the event of an emergency, a text message or email alert would be sent to authorities, said Mehdi Kalantari, a University of Maryland research engineer who leads the other team.
One of the projects conducted by University of Maryland researchers has developed wireless sensors that can detect problems including strains, cracks, deformation, vibration, temperature and humidity – all aspects of bridge health, said Kalantari, who led the project and recently started a company to manufacture his systems. The project has been tested on an Interstate 495 bridge in Maryland for two years with great results, he said.
“We have detected certain changes on the bridge from time to time,” Kalantari said, saying the sensors recognized changes that had come about through repair jobs. “Our system detected each and every structural modification, which means if these changes were due to a structural problem, that would’ve been detected.”
In the future, Kalantari said, he hopes to gain official state and federal approval for the technology.
The other project, paid for by state and federal funding and conducted with North Carolina State University, is designing sensors that can detect bridge fatigue as part of “smart bridge” technology, said Fu, the project’s leader. Unlike Kalantari’s sensors, these aren’t yet wireless, but hopefully they will be by November, when the researchers plan to test the technology on bridges, probably in Maryland and North Carolina, Fu said.
The wireless aspect, which North Carolina State researchers are designing, makes the new system more affordable than systems that require the presence of crews to track possible problems, Fu said.
Monitoring bridge health often is very expensive, Fu said, especially in this economy. He said bridge maintenance was “on the list” for all state governments but that it often was neglected because of the high price tag.
According to Kalantari, bridge safety is a huge problem that cannot be ignored, however. And he said most bridges relied only on visual inspections for safety monitoring.
Problematic metal plates, called gusset plates, on the Minneapolis bridge most likely caused the disaster, the National Transportation Safety Board wrote in its report on the collapse. There was an “inadequate use of technologies for accurately assessing the condition of gusset plates on deck truss bridges,” the report said.
The new sensors are much more reliable, the researchers said. Fu said they might even have prevented the collapse of the Minneapolis bridge.
“You probably would have seen the sensors change, the signals become more intense, probably getting higher – and those are the signals we want to see, that’s all the warning message,” he said.
By Annika McGinnis, McClatchy Newspapers (July 20, 2012)
WASHINGTON — Legal experts say WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning’s lawyers might have lost a key element of their defense because of a military judge’s ruling this week that would prevent them from using evidence to contend that there was little “actual harm” from the enormous leak of secret government documents.
Manning, a U.S. soldier, is charged with “aiding the enemy” through leaking of hundreds of thousands of classified documents – the largest in U.S. history – to the secret-exposing website. Recent evidence from dozens of government reports showed the leaks caused little “actual harm” to national security, Manning’s defense says, arguing that it should be able to use that evidence.
“Two years after the alleged leaks, the conclusion is still merely that the information ‘could’ cause damage – not that it ‘did’ cause damage,” the defense wrote in a filing to the court, calling the speculation of possible damage without proof “far-fetched and fanciful.” Defense attorneys said they’d been given an opportunity to review some of the damage assessments.
On Thursday, however, a military judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, ruled in favor of the government’s argument, saying that evidence of harm caused after the leaks were released isn’t relevant to determining Manning’s guilt or innocence and that it might confuse jurors by shifting the trial’s focus, according to the Associated Press.
Kevin Gosztola, a writer for the left-leaning news website Firedoglake who attended the four-day hearing at Fort Meade, Md., and listened to a briefing from a military public affairs legal expert, said Lind thought Manning couldn’t have known what damage would occur after the documents were leaked, so the amount of damage shouldn’t affect his case.
“The government would like this to be a case solely about whether or not Manning violated the rules, not what the consequences of what such violations would be,” said Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy in the Federation of American Scientists, a nonpartisan research center for national security issues.
Other than two narrow exceptions to the restriction, the defense won’t be able to use evidence of actual harm during the trial, which was a key portion of its argument, legal experts said. Beth Hillman, the president of the nonprofit National Institute of Military Justice, said the defense would have a “very steep hill to climb.”
But because evidence of harm still can be used during sentencing, it could help lessen Manning’s sentence if he’s convicted, said Michael Navarre, special counsel at Steptoe & Johnson LLP. Manning could face life imprisonment.
Aftergood said he thought the question of harm would become much more relevant at sentencing.
“There’s a difference between running a red light and killing a pedestrian versus running a red light and nothing else happening,” he said. “If he disclosed information that caused identifiable harm, then he needs to answer for that. If his disclosures produced only vague discomfort, then he deserves a firm slap on the wrist.”
Jesselyn Radack, the director of national security and human rights at the Government Accountability Project, an advocacy group in Washington for whistleblowers, said she thought the defense still had a strong argument, even without the inclusion of actual harm.
“I don’t know if it’s that huge of a blow,” Radack said. She said that under the law, it must be shown that the defendant had the intent to harm the United States or a foreign nation. “While it would have also been nice to show that nothing happened, I think we’ll be able to show that he had no intent to harm the United States – that’s been the big hurdle.”
Without the actual-harm portion of their defense, Manning’s attorneys might focus on possible mental stress due to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military, potential mental-health issues stemming from a problematic childhood and a possible gender-identity disorder, according to Gosztola.
Gosztola also said the defense probably would argue that Manning knew whether damage would be caused by releasing the documents.
The debate over using evidence of harm ties to the larger issue of alleged overclassification and secrecy in government, experts said. The defense had hoped to use the reported lack of significant actual harm from the leaks to argue that many of the documents shouldn’t have been classified in the first place, Hillman said.
Another pretrial hearing in late August will include discussion of Manning’s treatment while in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va.
By Annika McGinnis, McClatchy Newspapers (July 18, 2012)
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Wednesday thanked the Baylor University women’s basketball team for helping him get it right – at least in the realm of NCAA basketball.
“I want to thank all the outstanding young women who are behind me, and the coach, for making my bracket look good – at least on the women’s side,” Obama joked. The president had correctly picked the Texas team to beat Notre Dame in the NCAA championship game.
“He’s the smartest president we’ve had,” said Lady Bears coach Kim Mulkey.
In the East Room of the White House, Obama congratulated the team for its 40-0 record as well as its academic and extracurricular successes. Some players had perfect GPAs, he said. They read for students at Waco elementary schools, worked at homeless shelters, built houses in Kenya and worked at an AIDS orphanage.
They are, he said, a “terrific example for girls everywhere.”
The Lady Bears broke the NCAA record – men’s and women’s – for the most wins in a single season. Their success comes 40 years after the passage of Title IX, which gave women and girls equal opportunities to play sports.
“As the father of two daughters who are tall and beautiful just like them, it is great to have role models who can show that women can be strong and athletic and competitive, but also play as a team,” Obama said.
Obama gave special recognition to the team’s star player, the Associated Press player of the year, 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner.
“This young woman is the new face of women’s basketball. She blocks shots, she rebounds, she’s got the jump hook, she’s got the dunk,” Obama said. Griner, along with the other team members, met the president individually before his speech.
“This means everything,” Griner said in an interview after the ceremony. “This is a once in a lifetime experience, to come to the White House, to meet the president, to shake his hand. It was amazing.”
Forward Destiny Williams agreed.
“He’s taller than I expected, though, unless his ears give him a couple inches,” Williams said.
Williams said the team achieved its success primarily through relentless hard work, although she said the players were having “so much fun” that they “weren’t really keeping up with the wins.”
Obama said Mulkey, AP’s coach of the year, is the first in the history of college basketball to win titles in three roles: player, assistant coach and head coach. Mulkey won two as a player and one as an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech, and now two as Baylor’s head coach.
“I heard she plans to win her next one as mascot,” Obama said to laughter.
The president has a long personal history with basketball. In “Barack Obama: The Story,” author David Maraniss wrote that basketball is “central to his self identity.” He’s played basketball recreationally throughout his life and now helps coach his daughter Sasha’s team.
Griner, a rising senior, said she definitely wants to come back to the White House next year. With her and the other four starters returning, Obama’s betting on them again.
“I suspect that they’re the odds-on favorite for my bracket next year as well,” he said.
By Annika McGinnis, McClatchy Newspapers (July 18, 2012)
AYALOMA, ECUADOR — Frosts aren’t on time for the 960 people living in this tiny, remote village, hidden on a chilly, windswept mountain ridge in South America.
A minor problem? Maybe for some. But in the Andean community, 8,800 feet above sea level, frosts – and their impact on crop cycles – are kind of a big deal.
In this agricultural community, crops are planted during the full moon, a tradition meant to help ensure a full harvest. But these days, the harvests aren’t as full.
Village residents say it’s the mark of climate change descending upon the Ayaloman people.
“In Ecuador, we’ve really experienced a sudden change in our climate,” said Ana Loja, a professor at the University of Cuenca, in the Andes of southern Ecuador. “We cannot say, ‘Maybe this is not happening,’ but I think everyone is aware it is a real problem.”
Ecuador isn’t alone. Since the early 20th century, global average temperature has increased by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The warming is caused by atmospheric heat-trapping emissions, primarily carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, development experts say climate change is slowly but surely showing its effects. By 2050, the world’s expected temperature rise of about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit will cost the region more than $100 billion annually, according to a recent report by the Inter-American Development Bank, which finances research and development efforts in the region.
Because of its location and dependence on natural resources, Latin America is especially vulnerable to climatic effects, the report said. By 2050, it predicted widespread flooding and coastal damage; the loss of Andean glaciers, Amazon rainforest and much of the Caribbean’s coral region; a $32 billion to $54 billion annual decrease in agricultural exports; and increased tropical diseases and severe weather.
Walter Vergara, chief of the Climate Change and Sustainability Division of the development bank, said climatic effects are very real to people in the region.
“We depend on agriculture for a lot of economic activity,” Vergara said. “We depend on forests and the services they provide. We’re very much aware of the role that corals and glaciers play in our daily lives.”
Loja, for instance, said she can see glaciers receding on the Chimborazo volcano, Ecuador’s tallest mountain.
“When I was a little girl, I lived in a city where it was very easy to see, every morning, a lot of the top of the mountain covered with ice,” she said. “But now, every time, there is less ice.” As glaciers melt, growing crops and generating electricity become more difficult, the World Bank reported.
In the past, Ayalomans would grow hard beans all year, said 60-year-old resident Rosa Aurora. Now the plant dries easily and dies. Corn, wheat and barley harvests have also shrunk, and Loja said that intense rains have eroded much of the Ayalomans’ land.
“Now some of those lands are sterile,” Loja said. “Some leave the field and go to the city and get a job, and even though it’s a low-paid job, at least they have a salary.”
In Ayaloma, small, adobe houses line the mountaintop ridge, bordered by rugged peaks and grassy, wildflower-lined valleys. Wild dogs, cats, chickens and children travel the dirt road, and oxen till a field nestled between two homes. A roadside stand sells fruit in a rainbow of colors and varieties; a papaya costs 25 cents.
Now, Loja said, instead of growing staple crops like potatoes and corn, community members often have to spend more to buy them from the market. She said they’ve had to change their diets, buying foods like rice and noodles instead of eating mostly homegrown vegetables.
Temperatures have become more variable, too. In Cuenca, it can be 32 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning, but up to 86 by noon, Loja said. So many crops freeze in the cold mornings or dry out in the hot afternoons.
“In the past years we had all rain in the coming months; we had rain and rain and rain,” Loja said. “And now June is different. We’ve had so much heat, so many sunny days, so now people are thinking, ‘How long is this going to last? When are we going to have rain again?’”
Latin America and the Caribbean contribute only 11 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, the development bank report said. But in some ways, the region is a leader in efforts to curb global warming.
Take Los Andes, a Guatemalan village on the slope of the Atitlan volcano, home to just 311 people. The town, and its coffee- and tea-growing businesses, is run completely on hydropower from a river flowing down the volcano.
The village illustrates a trend in Latin America: hidden pockets of sustainable development.
For instance, in some parts of the Andes experiencing dangerously low winter temperatures, the United Nations University reported indigenous groups’ construction of adobe houses for their natural insulation.
In a Bolivian Amazon region, poor farmers have resurrected a 3,000-year-old technique: planting crops on raised platforms to prevent them from being washed away in floods.
And Colombia’s Guajira region built electricity-generating windmills to boost the local economy.
About 95 percent of major Latin American cities are planning for climate change, according to a recent survey by the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the United States, only 59 percent of major cities are making similar efforts, the survey showed.
“The spotlight tends to shine on the bigger countries, but in our work, some of the best moments happen in unexpected places,” said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund, an international conservation organization.
But according to Vergara, the region needs to adapt to the problems caused by a changing climate and also help prevent further change. Prevention would include strict power, transport and land-use policies, with two goals to eliminate deforestation by 2020 and emissions from land use by 2030. Adaptive measures would only respond to problems as they occur.
Andrew Steer, the World Bank’s special envoy for climate change, urged preventative measures.
“You can do all the adaptation in the world – that’s not going to stop the glaciers from melting,” he said.
However, the more sustainable solution isn’t cheap. According to the Inter-American Development Bank report, by 2050, prevention would cost the region $110 billion and adaptive measures $14.5 billion to $21 billion. For a region dealing with widespread poverty and other severe development issues, that’s a huge difference.
“Climate impacts exacerbate the problems of the government, exacerbate the gap between good education, good health, good housing, good transport,” Vergara said.
“The intensity of the impacts are growing,” he added. “We need all the other countries to act as well, the countries that are very energy intensive.”
But he said global climate change discussions are “seriously impaired.” In May, during talks in Germany, developed and developing nations fought over who should do the most to combat climate change, said Tove Maria Ryding, Greenpeace International’s coordinator for climate policy. And she said June’s Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development was “a waste of time” and a “failure of global leadership.”
To Vergara, however, such arguments are wasting time.
“If your house is being flooded, if your house is in flames – even if the problem wasn’t caused by you – you have to respond to it, because you’re the one who’s going to suffer,” Vergara said.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Annika McGinnis is a McClatchy Washington Bureau intern and a student at the University of Maryland. Some of the reporting for this story came during a recent service trip to Ecuador with her university.
By Annika McGinnis, McClatchy Newspapers (July 12, 2012)
WASHINGTON — Violently restraining and secluding problematic students in small, inescapable areas actually increases assaults and behavior problems, experts on Thursday told a Senate committee that is considering legislation to curtail the practice.
Many schools rely on seclusion and restraint to control students with behavior problems, especially minorities and those with disabilities, according to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
During the 2009-10 school year, there were almost 39,000 restraint incidents, Harkin said, citing Department of Education statistics. He singled out an incident in December when a 9-year-old autistic boy from Kentucky was restrained.
“(He) was stuffed in a duffel bag by school personnel and secluded from his classmates,” Harkin said. “He wasn’t discovered until his own mother came to school and found him in the bag.”
Daniel Crimmins, director of the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University, testified that these methods have no “educational or therapeutic value,” worsen behavioral problems and increase self-harm and suicides.
Cyndi Pitonyak, coordinator of positive behavioral interventions and supports in Montgomery County Public Schools in Virginia, agreed.
“We tell ourselves we have to engage in these restrictive things that hurt children because they are necessary for a positive result,” Pitonyak said. “But we are not getting a positive result.”
In April, Corey Foster, a 16-year-old boy from Yonkers, N.Y., who had learning disabilities, died as officials at his residential treatment center tried to get him off a basketball court.
“I was told Corey made his last shot and it accidentally hit the employee,” his mother, Sheila Foster, said after the hearing. She said her son was held face down and restrained. He died from cardiac arrest while being restrained, Harkin said.
“These schools are supposed to be there to equip them with the necessary means of coping and helping – not killing them,” Foster said.
Some schools are designing alternative methods to deal with problematic students. For instance, Centennial School in Bethlehem, Pa., redesigned its behavioral system more than a decade ago, closing its “time out” rooms as part of the change. As a result, truancy and suspensions both dropped dramatically, said Michael George, the school’s director.
Deborah Jackson, the mother of a child diagnosed with several behavioral disorders, said her son’s experience at Centennial School “changed his life.” She said some of the school’s most successful strategies include helping students develop problem-solving skills and using positive incentives for good behavior.
Pitonyak said the key is to form “individualized, positive behavior support plans” like those she’s developed in Montgomery County. These involve working with small support teams that focus on preventing problems before they occur.
Next year, Harkin said, he hopes to amend two existing laws and work with the Department of Education on the issue. He has introduced legislation into the Senate – a companion bill has also been introduced in the House – that would limit the use of seclusion and restraint and give states the means to develop positive, preventative behavioral supports.
By Annika McGinnis, McClatchy Newspapers (July 11, 2012)
WASHINGTON — In response to New York Times stories that relied on leaks of sensitive national-security information, a House of Representatives panel on Wednesday discussed legislation that could allow journalists to be prosecuted for disclosing such information.
Army Col. Ken Allard testified to a House Judiciary subcommittee that the extent of national security leaks is “unprecedented” in American history. Recent examples include the Times’ investigations of President Barack Obama’s terrorist “kill list” and American cyberattacks on Iran.
According to Allard, such investigations threaten national security and serve only to promote the news media’s self-interest. He charged that such investigations were carefully planned to help Obama’s re-election chances and to advance the media’s own agenda. An example, he said, was New York Times reporter David Sanger’s new book, “Confront and Conceal,” which details American cyberattacks on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Allard testified that Sanger was “systematically penetrating the Obama White House as effectively as any foreign agent,” which he said exposed vital secrets to Iran and put the U.S. in danger of retaliation.
“Far from advancing our rights as citizens – as a free press should – Mr. Sanger deliberately placed his country at significant risk for his own profit,” Allard charged.
Leaks of this nature expose details of crucial security operations, including the people involved in them, lawyer Kenneth L. Wainstein testified. He said they also informed the nation’s adversaries of U.S. methods, compromised the well-being of government personnel and U.S. alliances, and undermined the integrity of government services.
Nathan Sales, a law assistant professor at George Mason University, also stressed the importance of protecting national-security information.
“If it leaks, we can’t wiretap Osama bin Laden,” he said. “If it leaks, sources get caught, incriminated and killed.”
As the committee considers revising legislation that would prosecute leakers, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., also urged criminal prosecutions of reporters.
“Why not send a subpoena to the reporter?” Gowdy said. “Put them in front of a grand jury. You either answer a question or you’re going to be held in contempt and go to jail, which is what I thought all reporters aspire to anyway.”
Other committee members said the First Amendment protected the media’s right to publish such information. They also talked about the media’s watchdog role, helping to hold the government accountable for illegal actions.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the chairman of the subcommittee, said whistleblower laws enabled holding the government accountable without going to the media, however. Such laws allow citizens to go directly to the federal government about instances of government wrongdoing.
The committee won’t have time in this session of Congress to revise the laws that define actions that are subject to prosecution for those involved in disseminating leaked information, Sensenbrenner said. In the next session, however, he said, the committee aims to revamp the Espionage Act, a 1917 law that sets up methods for prosecuting people who divulge sensitive information.
Sensenbrenner said when the legislation was revamped it must address the over-classification of government information and create a standard of liability for those who leak classified information to someone without a security clearance. He said the potential to prosecute reporters also must be considered.
“We’ve got the constitutional issue about the First Amendment protecting the freedom of the press, but there has to be a balance,” he said. “I feel that there has to be some self-restraint on the part of the press, saying we have this information but it would be tremendously damaging to our nation if it was published.”
Lucy Dalglish, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said in an email after the hearing that reporters took care to consider national security concerns when they were writing stories.
“I’m not in a position to know what the threat might be from those particular stories,” she said of the stories discussed in the hearing. “I do know, however, that the Times and other experienced reporters do their best to minimize harm to the public.”
She added: “There is no need for a new law, and certainly not a new law that was rushed through Congress without careful consideration of the First Amendment interests of the media and other members of the public who share national security information.”
A representative for the Times couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
By Annika McGinnis, McClatchy Newspapers (June 28, 2012)
Alaska’s congressional delegation is at odds over Thursday’s pivotal Supreme Court decision on the Obama administration’s health care act, with Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Don Young already talking about pushing for the law’s repeal while Democrat Mark Begich said it was now time to move on.
Alaska was among the states that challenged the constitutionality of the health care law. Murkowski, the state’s senior senator, said Alaskans will see tax increases and individual rights violations because of the court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act.
The court upheld almost all portions of the act, despite questions about the constitutionality of a part that requires most individuals to purchase health insurance under the threat of financial penalties. In doing so, it found the so-called individual mandate was permitted because of Congress’ tax-levying powers.
“After the president very clearly stated that this bill is not a tax and those in Congress supporting this measure said this is not a tax, it has very clearly been labeled as such today,” Murkowski said in a conference call. “If there’s one thing Alaskans will agree on, it’s that they don’t like taxes.”
While the Democratic Begich said it’s time to move forward from the ruling, Murkowski, House member Young and Gov. Sean Parnell, also a Republican, said Congress must now repeal the law. Murkowski said the issue will come to define the November election.
Murkowski said many promises made about the bill haven’t been kept, including assurances that Americans would receive lower costs and premiums, taxes wouldn’t change and Medicare would be protected. She said many tax increases set to occur at the end of next year will be unpopular with Alaskans.
“I think many of us had forgotten about them because those deadlines were well off into the future,” Murkowski said. “Nobody’s been talking about these, because they’ve been out of sight, out of mind. Now that the Supreme Court has dared to use the ‘T word’ and say what it [the law] is – a tax on American public – I think they’re going to get a lot of attention.”
Alaskans will have to face taxes including a “wellness tax,” Medicare payroll taxes and a tax on medical devices like dental implants, Murkowski said.
Even so, Murkowski said she recognized some benefits that fellow senator Begich cited as the law’s successes. Among them are the provisions that allow young people to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26 and that guarantee coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
There’s been debate over where Murkowski stands on the health care law. Joe Miller, her opponent in the 2010 Republican primary, argued Murkowski really wasn’t against repeal because of a statement she’d earlier made to KTUU television in Anchorage that “repealing this is not the answer in my opinion because if you just repeal and do nothing, we will not have addressed health care reform.”
However, she voted against the bill and joined other Republicans in voting in favor of unsuccessful Senate attempts to repeal it, most recently in February of 2011.
The Democratic Begich said he was pleased by the court’s decision.
“While the law is not perfect, the status quo was not an option,” Begich said in a statement. “It is time to move past the politics and come together to make the law work for Alaskans.”
Begich referred to many of the same benefits as Murkowski and further praised the law’s creation of tax credits for small businesses and more services for the elderly and Alaska Natives. He said citizens could also possibly receive cash rebates if insurers don’t use their premiums for health care.
In Alaska, 18 percent of citizens have no insurance. Under Obama’s health care law, 9,000 young adults in Alaska will be able to keep the insurance they’ve recently gained through their parents’ plans and 40,000 Alaskan families will receive tax credits, Begich said.
Julie Hasquet, Begich’s press secretary, said the senator believes lawmakers must move on from the political squabbling.
“His view is that the court has upheld the law, it can continue to tweak it but the time has come to move forward,” she said.
Alaska does not have a health insurance exchange – a marketplace showing people in the state their health insurance options – and under the new law it will have to set one up. Parnell said in a statement that the state is reviewing the court’s decision on what had been a required state Medicaid expansion, but was ruled Thursday to be optional.
Begich said it’s a good idea to undertake the expansion of Medicaid, which funds health care for low-income people through a combination of federal and state dollars.
“In Alaska, more than 30,000 people are newly eligible,” Begich said in his statement. “Because the states will never pay more than 10 cents on the dollar for this coverage, it is a very good deal.”
But according to Murkowski, it’s time to “repeal and replace.” Murkowski said she thinks there will be congressional action to repeal the law in the coming weeks. However, because of Obama and the Democratically-controlled Senate, Young believes the chances of repeal this year are almost zero.
The next step in the repeal process will be a vote in the House of Representatives on July 11, according to Luke Miller, Young’s press secretary. But Young believes the law’s outcome will really be decided by the American people in November, Miller said.
Like Murkowski, Young emphasized the law’s comparison to a tax.
“The unfortunate irony today is that ObamaCare was saved because it is a new tax on the American people – which is something this president promised would not happen,” Young said in a statement.
Young does support certain aspects of the law, especially the Indian Health Care Improvement Reauthorization and Extension Act, which he designed. In January, Young introduced a bill in the House that would repeal all of Obama’s law except the Indian health care segment, according to Miller.