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AP-GfK Poll: Most Americans say they don’t believe Medicare has to be cut to balance the federal budget ditto …,


AP-GfK Poll: Medicare doesn’t have to be cut
May 23, 2011, 7:02 a.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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WASHINGTON (AP) — They’re not buying it. Most Americans say they don’t believe Medicare has to be cut to balance the federal budget, and ditto for Social Security, a new poll shows.

The Associated Press-GfK poll suggests that arguments for overhauling the massive benefit programs to pare government debt have failed to sway the public. The debate is unlikely to be resolved before next year’s elections for president and Congress.

Americans worry about the future of the retirement safety net, the poll found, and 3 out of 5 say the two programs are vital to their basic financial security as they age. That helps explain why the Republican Medicare privatization plan flopped, and why President Barack Obama’s Medicare cuts to finance his health care law contributed to Democrats losing control of the House in last year’s elections.

Medicare seems to be turning into the new third rail of politics.

“I’m pretty confident Medicare will be there, because there would be a rebellion among voters,” said Nicholas Read, 67, a retired teacher who lives near Buffalo, N.Y. “Republicans only got a hint of that this year. They got burned. They touched the hot stove.”

Combined, Social Security and Medicare account for about a third of government spending, a share that will only grow. Economic experts say the cost of retirement programs for an aging society is the most serious budget problem facing the nation. The trustees who oversee Social Security and Medicare recently warned the programs are “not sustainable” over the long run under current financing.

Nearly every solution for Social Security is politically toxic, because the choices involve cutting benefits or raising taxes. Medicare is even harder to fix because the cost of modern medicine is going up faster than the overall cost of living, outpacing economic growth as well as tax revenues.

“Medicare is an incredibly complex area,” said former Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who used to chair the Budget Committee. “It’s a matrix that is almost incomprehensible. Unlike Social Security, which has four or five moving parts, Medicare has hundreds of thousands. There is no single approach to Medicare, whereas with Social Security everyone knows where the problem is.”

That’s not what the public sees, however.

“It’s more a matter of bungling, and lack of oversight, and waste and fraud, and padding of the bureaucracy,” said Carolyn Rodgers, who lives near Memphis, Tenn., and is still working as a legal assistant at 74. “There is no reason why even Medicare, if it had been handled right, couldn’t have been solvent.”

In the poll, 54 percent said it’s possible to balance the budget without cutting spending for Medicare, and 59 percent said the same about Social Security.

Taking both programs together, 48 percent said the government could balance the budget without cutting either one. Democrats and political independents were far more likely than Republicans to say that neither program will have to be cut.

The recession cost millions their jobs and sent retirement savings accounts into a nosedive. It may also have underscored the value of government programs. Social Security kept sending monthly benefits to 55 million recipients, like clockwork; Medicare went on paying for everything from wheelchairs to heart operations.

Overall, 70 percent in the poll said Social Security is “extremely” or “very” important to their financial security in retirement, and 72 percent said so for Medicare. Sixty-two percent said that both programs are extremely or very important.

The sentiment was a lot stronger among the elderly. Eighty-four percent of those 65 or older said both programs are central to their financial security. Compare that to adults under 30, just starting out. Just under half, or 46 percent, said they believed both Social Security and Medicare would be extremely or very important to their financial security in retirement.

Old, middle-aged or just entering the workforce, most people are keenly aware of the cost of health care, and that may be helping to focus more attention on Medicare.

“Health insurance these days is very costly, and it’s not something that most people can afford to go out and buy on their own,” said Tim Messner, 38, a technology quality assurance analyst from Barberton, Ohio. “I don’t know that we could possibly plan ahead for medical insurance, but if you had to replace Social Security or investments, you at least have an idea of what you can live on.”

Numbers tell the story. As health care goes up, the value of Medicare benefits is catching up to Social Security’s. A two-earner couple with average wages retiring in 1980 would have expected to receive health care worth $132,000 through Medicare over their remaining lifetimes, and $446,000, or about three times more, in Social Security payments.

For a similar couple who retired last year, the Medicare benefit will be worth $343,000, compared to Social Security payments totaling $539,000, less than twice as much. The numbers, from economists at the nonpartisan Urban Institute, are adjusted for inflation to allow direct comparison. For low-income single retirees and some couples, the value of expected Medicare benefits already exceeds that of Social Security.

The poll found a deep current of pessimism about the future of Social Security and Medicare. As much as Americans say the programs are indispensable, only 35 percent say it’s extremely or very likely that Social Security will be there to pay benefits through their entire retirement. For Medicare, it was 36 percent.

Again, there’s a sharp difference between what the public believes and what experts say. Most experts say the programs will be there for generations to come. But they may look very different than they do today, and Americans should take note.

“Do they have a basis for worrying that these programs are going to pay them much less than they’re currently promising?” asked economist Charles Blahous. “Yes, absolutely. Do they have a basis for being concerned that the programs may have to be structurally changed in order to survive? The answer to that is yes, too.” A trustee of Social Security and Medicare, Blahous served as an economic adviser to President George W. Bush.

Republican lawmakers don’t inspire much confidence right now when it comes to dealing with retirement programs, the poll found. Democrats have the advantage as the party more trusted to do a better job handling Social Security by 52 percent to 34 percent, and Medicare by 54 percent to 33 percent. Often, but not always, major revisions have been accomplished through bipartisan compromise.

Sue DeSantis, 61, a store clerk from West Milton, Ohio, worries she won’t be able to rely on either program. Both are important to her well-being, but she thinks changes are inevitable. And she has little confidence in lawmakers.

“I don’t put my faith in politicians, and I don’t put my faith in the government,” said DeSantis. “I’m a Christian. I believe that God will take care of me. That doesn’t mean I should be foolish and not look at anything, but I don’t believe that the politicians are necessarily going to do the best for the common ordinary person like myself.”

The Associated Press-GfK poll was conducted May 5-9, 2011, by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

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Associated Press Polling Director Trevor Tompson, Deputy Director Jennifer Agiesta and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

Poll results: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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2 out of 5 Americans believe the economy will get better


Americans more upbeat about economy
May 12, 2011, 10:01 a.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

Owner and Founder of: http://www.LedSomeBioMetrics.com

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans are growing more optimistic about the U.S. economy, a sentiment that is benefiting President Barack Obama despite public disenchantment with his handling of rising gasoline prices and swollen government budget deficits.

An Associated Press-GfK poll shows that more than 2 out of 5 people believe the U.S. economy will get better, while a third think it will stay the same and nearly a fourth think it will get worse, a rebound from last month’s more pessimistic attitude. And, for the first time since the 100-day mark of his presidency, slightly more than half approve of Obama’s stewardship of the economy.

Both findings represent a boost for Obama, though he still must overcome ill will over government red ink and the price of gas at the pump, now hovering around $4 a gallon.

But the public’s brighter economic outlook also could signal a boost to the current recovery, which relies to a great degree on consumer behavior. A public that is confident about economic performance is more likely to spend more and accelerate the economy’s resurgence.

The poll was conducted May 5-9 in the aftermath of the U.S. commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The spike in public esteem for Obama as a result of that successful clandestine mission may have helped Obama’s standing on issues other than national security.

The poll coincides with renewed attention in Washington to the nation’s growing debt and the federal government’s long-term budget deficits, so any positive signs from the public could help Obama push his policy proposals. A bipartisan team of lawmakers is working with Vice President Joe Biden to identify spending cuts. Meanwhile, lawmakers also are discussing major structural changes to the tax system and to the government’s mammoth benefits programs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The results of the AP-GfK poll stood out because other surveys taken after bin Laden’s death, while showing a spike in support for the president, continued to indicate dissatisfaction by a majority for his handling of the economy. Still, like the AP-GfK poll, other surveys also found American attitudes about the state of the nation improving.

Forty-five percent of those polled in the AP-GfK survey said the country was now moving in the right direction, an increase of 10 percentage points from five weeks ago. And attitudes about life in general remained positive, with 4 out of 5 respondents saying they were happy or somewhat happy with their circumstances.

“Once you hit bottom the only one way to go is up,” said John Bair, 23, a photographer and filmmaker from Pittsburgh. “Everybody that I come in contact with seems to be on the upswing. I consider that a pretty good thing.”

But Bair, who describes himself as a moderate to conservative independent, doesn’t believe Obama deserves re-election. He strongly disapproves of the president’s handling of gasoline prices and says Obama should do more to increase domestic production of oil.

“When I’m paying $4 for a gallon of gas, it gets me wondering what’s going on,” he said.

Obama has tried to appear engaged on gas prices even though there is little presidents can do to alter market fluctuations. He has called for new renewable energy policies and for eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies, while conceding those steps will not address the current price increases. The efforts have not given the public much to cheer about, however. A total of 61 percent disapprove of Obama’s approach to the rising cost of gasoline.

Indeed, for all the long-term confidence that the economy will recover, the public is hardly upbeat about the current state of things. Only 21 percent describe the economy as good and 73 percent describe it as poor. About 1 in 5 thought the economy got better during the past month; an equal number thought it got worse.

A favorable jobs report last Friday showed that private companies had exceeded expectations by creating 268,000 jobs last month, the third month of at least 200,000 new jobs. And while unemployment has dropped from a high of 10.1 percent nationally in October 2009, it is now 9 percent, the same as in January.

“We haven’t done anything to create the jobs that (Obama) promised —that all of them promised,” said John Grezaffi, 60, a rancher from Pointe Coupee Parish, La.

Grezaffi, taking a short break from working to shore up his land against a rising Mississippi River on Wednesday, said he somewhat supports Obama but does not support his handling of the economy and believes the country is moving in the wrong direction.

Approaching retirement age, he said he wasn’t eager to see his upcoming benefits shortchanged.

“I’m willing to give up a little, but not everything when you see the waste that occurs in so many other areas,” he said.

Deana Floss, 39, a Springfield, Ohio, restaurant cook and owner of a cleaning business, voiced lukewarm approval for Obama even though she doesn’t care for the state of the economy or Obama’s handling of the nation’s budget deficits.

“I don’t think he has done a very bad job with the economy,” she said. “It was already going downhill when he took the reins.”

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

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Associated Press Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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Online:

http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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Calvin Ledsome Sr.,

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Republicans controlling the House announced plans Wednesday to cut $30 billion from the day-to-day budgets


House GOP: $30B in further agency spending cuts
May 11, 2011, 6:21 p.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

Owner and Founder of: http://www.LedSomeBioMetrics.com

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans controlling the House announced plans Wednesday to cut $30 billion from the day-to-day budgets of Cabinet agencies, doubling down on cuts to domestic programs just weeks after a split-the-differences bargain with President Barack Obama.

The moves by the powerful lawmakers atop the House Appropriations Committee are the first concrete steps to try to implement a tight-fisted 2012 budget plan approved by Republicans’ last month. It would build on $38 billion in savings enacted in a hard-fought agreement with Obama over the current year’s budget.

The $30 billion in savings from agency operating budgets that have to be annually approved by Congress seems small compared to deficits that could top $1.6 trillion this year. But they’re actually a key building block in eventually wrestling the deficit under control, assuming Congress can make the cuts now and stick with them year after year in the face of inflation.

That’s a big “if.”

Obama and his Democratic allies controlling the Senate are sure to battle hard against cuts of this size.

And since the Pentagon — which accounts for more than half of the budget that passes through the Appropriations panel each year — actually receives a $17 billion, 3 percent boost, the cuts to domestic programs like education, housing subsidies and infrastructure projects will feel much more severe. Domestic agencies and foreign aid accounts would have to absorb $47 billion in cuts, averaging about 9 percent.

“Brutal … brutal,” said Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington, the top Democrat on the Appropriations panel, who warned of cuts to food inspection, Pell Grants (college aid for low-income students), community development grants, food aid to low-income pregnant women and their children, and grants to community action agencies that serve the poor. “Those are all things that are going to hurt the lowest-income people in this country.”

A third of the entire budget passes through the Appropriations panel, once reviled in some GOP circles for its free-spending ways and addiction to home-state projects known as earmarks. The spending bills are likely to produce a long, angry summer of House floor fights, but the ultimate fate of the spending bill probably lie in broader budget talks with the White House involving must-do legislation to allow the government to continue to borrow to meet its obligations. The Senate has yet to pass a budget blueprint that’s a precursor to action on spending bills.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., released a broad outline of the panel’s plan to cut $30 billion from appropriated accounts. That’s on top of $38 billion carved from agency budgets in last month’s spending showdown legislation and it keeps a campaign promise to bring domestic agency budgets, on average, to levels in place before Obama took office. The slow, steady advance of the actual legislation begins in two Appropriations subpanels on Friday.

“There are going to be some cuts to agencies that people aren’t used to because they’ve seen double-digit increases,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. What are we going down to? 2008 levels? That wasn’t exactly austere times.”

The cuts are far larger, however, when measured against Obama’s budget request for the 2012 budget year that begins in October. The GOP plan whacks $122 billion from Obama’s request, with cuts falling particularly hardest on foreign aid, agricultural programs, and education, job training and health care accounts.

Veterans’ accounts would be spared and Congress’ own budget would face a 5 percent cut that’s well below the double-digit hits most domestic agencies would take. Homeland security spending would absorb a $1.1 billion decrease of 3 percent.

The plan also endorses Obama’s $119 billion request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and $7.6 billion in anti-terror foreign aid.

It may not sound like much measured against the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt, but the GOP’s broader budget plans are in fact largely anchored by promises to cut domestic agency budgets this year and then freeze them well into the future. These “caps” on the spending that Congress approves each year — if lawmakers can stick to them — would produce more than $1.6 trillion in savings when measured against official “baseline” estimates.

Other elements of the GOP’s budget plans are dead on arrival with the White House, including sweeping cuts to Medicaid and food stamps and a plan to transform Medicare into a voucher-like program in which future beneficiaries — those presently 54 years old and younger — would purchase health insurance instead of having the government pay doctor and hospital bills directly.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says he wants “trillions” in spending cuts attached to the so-called debt limit measure. “Caps” on the amount of money available for the appropriations bills are being eyed as a component of any deal between the White House and Republicans controlling the House.

The nuts-and-bolts work of the appropriators comes amid lots of motion — but little movement — on other deficit-reduction fronts:

—A bipartisan “Gang of Six” senators is struggling behind closed doors to reach agreement on a plan cutting $4 trillion from the deficit over the coming decade with a 3/1 mix of spending cuts to tax increases. House Republicans say that even if the group reaches agreement, its prescriptions are nonstarter.

—The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Kent Conrad, D-N.D., is preparing a draft plan with a 50/50 mix of spending cuts to tax increases. Even if moderate Democrats could stomach voting for $2 trillion in tax increases over 10 years to help pass the measure, the chances of Senate Democrats and tea party-backed House Republicans reaching agreement seem extremely unlikely.

Vice President Joe Biden is hosting talks with a bipartisan group of lawmakers aimed at producing deficit cuts to attach to the debt limit increase legislation. Even Biden admits it’s an open question as to whether the group will “get to the finish line.”

—Obama invited Senate Democrats to the White House for a Wednesday afternoon meeting, with Republicans heading down on Thursday. House Democrats and Republicans are getting audiences soon.

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China is using high-level meetings to urge the United States to allow more technology exports


China urges US to lift controls on hi-tech exports
May 10, 2011, 6:49 a.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

Owner and Founder of: http://www.LedSomeBioMetrics.com

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WASHINGTON (AP) — China is using high-level meetings to urge the United States to allow more technology exports into the booming Chinese economy as a way of balancing trade.

The United States, meanwhile, has criticized the communist-led nation’s latest crackdown on democracy advocates, arguing that long-term stability depends on respecting human rights.

Both sides issued familiar grievances at the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which began in Washington on Monday, but they took pains to stress a generally positive track in relations between the two economic superpowers.

State Councilor Dai Bingguo said common interests between the world’s two largest economies now make them “inseparable” and destined to grow more interdependent.

The annual two-day round of talks brings together leaders on economics, foreign policy and security. The meetings, involving scores of officials, wrap up Tuesday with news conferences.

President Barack Obama met Dai and Chinese delegation leader Vice Premier Wang Qishan after Monday’s deliberations. He encouraged China to implement policies to support “balanced global growth as well as a more balanced bilateral economic relationship.” On human rights, he underscored his support for freedom of expression and political participation, a White House statement said.

This year’s dialogue follows a January state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao that helped eased tensions over the U.S. arms sales to self-governing Taiwan, which Beijing regards as part of Chinese territory. The U.S. and China also have been at odds over China’s intervention in currency markets, which the U.S. says has kept the value of the yuan low against the dollar, giving an unfair advantage to Chinese exporters.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Monday softened the long-standing U.S. criticism of China’s economic policies, possibly in a belief that the outside pressure was proving counterproductive.

Geithner praised China’s efforts, which include a decision last June to resume allowing the yuan to rise in value against the dollar after freezing the currency’s value for two years during the height of the financial crisis. The yuan has risen by about 5 percent against the dollar since last summer. American manufacturers contend the yuan is still undervalued by as much as 40 percent.

The U.S. Treasury chief still urged China to allow its currency to appreciate at a faster rate and to allow Chinese consumer interest rates to rise. Both steps could help boost domestic demand and help lower America’s trade deficit, which hit an all-time high with China last year.

A Chinese official, however, blamed U.S. policies for the ballooning trade gap. Commerce Minister Chen Deming told a news conference that China’s currency appreciation was being carried out in a “very healthy manner.” He said the United States needed to change its own policies on high-tech sales and investment as a way to spur American manufacturing.

He took aim at the U.S. screening of Chinese foreign investment proposals, contending it was neither fair nor transparent. Most recently, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States rejected a takeover by private Chinese technology giant Huawei of a small U.S. computer company, 3Leaf, on national security grounds.

“We hope the United States can treat Chinese investment, including by state-owned enterprises, in a fair manner,” he said.

U.S. companies have their own long list of complaints: limited access to Chinese markets, theft of intellectual property, widespread use in China of counterfeit software and problems in seeking redress through China’s legal system.

At the ceremonial opening of the talks on Monday, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered blunt criticism of China’s human rights record, which Beijing regards as an internal matter. Clinton later had “very candid and honest” private discussions on the issue with Dai, U.S. officials said.

Since February, Chinese authorities have questioned or detained hundreds of lawyers, activists, journalists and bloggers after anonymous calls were made on the Internet for protests emulating those that have challenged and toppled authoritarian governments in the Middle East and North Africa. No such protests have taken place in China.

“We know over the long arc of history that societies that work toward respecting human rights are going to be more prosperous, stable and successful. That has certainly been proven time and time again, but most particularly in the last months,” Clinton said.

Dai said China had made progress in the area of human rights, but he did not mention the recent crackdown.

In Beijing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, “No country is perfect in its human rights record and there is no one-size-fits-all human rights policy.”

In unusually mild comments on a subject that Beijing is highly sensitive about, Jiang said, “China and the U.S. have different opinions in the area of human rights and we believe we can use dialogue to increase mutual understanding and mutual trust.”

This year’s talks for the first time included high-level military leaders from both nations, a move seen as a way to increase understanding between military commanders and reduce the risk of conflict. China’s military has expanded rapidly in the past 15 years, deploying missiles and naval assets that could challenge American supremacy in the region.

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China is facing threats of U.S. economic sanctions on goods shipped to the U.S.


US, China to talk trade, currency, human rights
May 9, 2011, 8:38 a.m. EDT

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

Owner and Founder of: http://www.LedSomeBioMetrics.com

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WASHINGTON (AP) — America’s massive trade deficit with China, currency rates and human rights concerns will all be on the agenda when top officials from the United States and China sit down for high-level talks this week.

The annual meetings will bring together top officials from both countries representing dozens of government agencies in the areas of trade and finance, and foreign policy.

While no major breakthroughs are expected, both sides hope to build on the progress made during a state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Washington in January.

That visit helped smooth relations that had been strained in 2010 over such issues as U.S. military sales to Taiwan.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will lead the U.S. team.

Both countries will, for the first time, bring top military leaders to the discussions in an effort to defuse military tensions that were heightened last year by the U.S. arms sales.

The Chinese team will be led by Vice Premier Wang Qishan, China’s top economic policymaker, and State Counselor Dai Bingguo, a veteran diplomat.

The talks will begin with an opening session and then break into separate discussions on the economy and foreign policy. The U.S. and Chinese leaders are also scheduled to meet Monday with President Barack Obama. The talks wrap up on Tuesday.

China is facing threats of U.S. economic sanctions on goods shipped here to its largest foreign market unless it does more to end what U.S. manufacturers say are unfair trade practices, including currency manipulation, that have cost American jobs.

At the same time, China, America’s biggest foreign creditor, wants assurances that its $1.2 trillion in U.S. Treasury holdings are safe despite the impending congressional debate over raising the government’s $14.3 trillion borrowing limit.

“The Chinese are astounded that the U.S. government would let the debate get to the stage where there is even a remote possibility of a default,” said Eswar Prasad, a China expert at Cornell University.

The higher debt limit is needed to make sure America can keep paying the interest bill on the debt to China and other investors.

While Geithner said last week that the U.S. would press China to accelerate efforts to revalue its currency, the yuan, he also sounded a conciliatory tone. He noted that the yuan has risen in value by 5 percent since last June, and even faster once inflation was taken into account.

A softer approach on China’s currency will not please American manufacturers. They contend that China’s currency is undervalued by as much as 40 percent and they want Congress to approve economic penalties if Beijing doesn’t move faster.

The U.S. trade deficit with China last year was a record $273 billion, one-fifth more than in 2009. The administration is considering filing new trade cases against Chinese practices that U.S. companies contend are unfair.

U.S. officials say they want to see more progress on economic commitments made in January.

Those include closer monitoring of Chinese government purchases of software, a move intended to boost Beijing’s buying of legal U.S. software and reduce its use of pirated software. American companies say such theft is costing them billions in lost sales.

The Chinese also pledged to revamp a policy that limits the ability of U.S. companies to compete for Chinese government projects unless the products are designed in China. American businesses regard this as an effort to force them to turn over their technology to China or be locked out of its government market.

On foreign policy, officials said Clinton will renew efforts to gain China’s support in confronting nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, and she will raise the issue of human rights.

China recently undertook the biggest security crackdown in years, apparently prompted by the communist leadership’s fear of Middle East-inspired unrest migrating to China.

The high-level talks began in 2006 in the Bush administration and focused on economic issues. The Obama administration expanded the focus in 2009 to include foreign policy as well as economic concerns.

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Associated Press writers Matthew Pennington in Washington and Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.

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Vice President Joe Biden, congressional group begin budget talks


Biden, congressional group begin budget talks
May 5, 2011, 4:57 a.m. EDT

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden and top lawmakers are beginning their quest to tame the spiraling U.S. debt with small steps aimed at finding what common ground might exist in vastly different approaches toward restructuring government spending.

Biden and a bipartisan team of congressional negotiators were to meet Thursday at Blair House, the government guesthouse across the street from the White House.

With a deficit that could reach $1.6 trillion this year, both sides set modest expectations. But they said the meeting offers a chance to identify even small spending cuts that can build toward a broader agreement.

“There will be no announcement after that meeting that a deal has been reached, because this is a process,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Neither side seems to have any preconceptions that the talks would lead to a far-reaching restructuring of major benefit programs like Medicare or Medicaid or to an overhaul that makes the tax system simpler but yields more revenue.

The talks come as Congress begins to consider raising the debt ceiling above its current $14.3 trillion limit. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has effectively taken some pressure off the talks by informing Congress this week that the government could continue to meet its obligations through Aug. 2.

Still, all sides — the White House and Democrats and Republicans in Congress — agree that spending cuts need to be approved in conjunction with must-pass legislation increasing the government’s ability to borrow to pay its bills. Treasury said Wednesday that the government is borrowing an average of $125 billion a month.

The meeting will unfold with Obama enjoying a new boost in public approval following the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. commandos in Pakistan. But government spending and the condition of the economy were the dominant public issues before Sunday’s assault on the al-Qaida leader and will return to the forefront in time.

The meeting is designed to have all sides place their plans on the table, narrow the focus to areas of common ground and begin setting up a framework for discussions. Republicans will come bearing a detailed House budget proposal that aims to cut spending by more than $5 trillion over the next decade. Biden will flesh out a broad budget proposal that President Barack Obama outlined last month that would reduce deficits by $4 trillion over 12 years.

“We staked out our position in a very definite way. They haven’t,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, who will represent House Republicans. “So we need to understand where they’re coming from.”

In addition to Biden, the administration will be represented by Geithner, White House budget director Jacob Lew and Gene Sperling, the director of the White House National Economic Council.

“We’re at an important point here where Republicans and Democrats alike share, recognize the problem — that’s important,” Carney said. “They share the same end goal, which is $4 trillion in deficit reduction. And they share the same general idea of what the timeline should be, 10 to 12 years.”

But Obama’s plan calls for about $1 trillion in higher tax revenues, a nonstarter with House Republicans. At the same time, a GOP plan to slash Medicaid and turn Medicare into a program in which future beneficiaries receive subsidies to purchase private health insurance is dead with the White House and Democrats.

Six lawmakers planned to attend: Cantor; Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona; Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii; Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.; and senior House Democrats Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

Some Republicans hope to attach legislation sponsored by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., to the so-called debt limit bill. Their proposal would cap spending at about 21 percent of the size of the economy, backed up by automatic spending cuts if Congress is unable to enact legislation that brings spending in under the cap.

The White House strongly opposes the idea, saying it would force drastic, across-the-board cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid while doing nothing to force lawmakers to clean out a tax code laden with tax breaks.

“Arbitrary spending caps are nothing but a backdoor means of imposing immediate and deep cuts in Medicare and Social Security,” said Kenneth Baer, spokesman for the White House budget office.

Cantor wouldn’t dismiss the idea, but he said Republicans want something concrete immediately.

“All that is fine, but the history of Congress has been that anytime you put enforcement mechanisms in place like that, ultimately they’re waived,” he said. “We’re about trying to effect real cuts, real reforms this year.”

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World stocks rise after death of Osama bin Laden


World stocks rise after death of Osama bin Laden
May 2, 2011, 4:54 a.m. EDT
Posted by Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,
Owner and Founder of: http://www.LedSomeBioMetrics.com

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TOKYO (AP) — Major world stock markets rose, the dollar strengthened and oil prices were lower after news that U.S. forces killed terror mastermind Osama bin Laden following a near-decade-long manhunt.

President Barack Obama announced during holiday-thinned Asian trading hours that the man who inspired the deadly Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States was killed in Pakistan in a U.S.-led operation.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 gained 1.6 percent to 10,004.20 — the highest closing since an earthquake and tsunami on March 11 decimated the country’s northeastern coast.

South Korea’s Kospi index, meanwhile, advanced 1.7 percent to a new record high of 2,228.96, bringing the Seoul benchmark’s gain so far this year to 8.7 percent.

European markets opened higher. France’s CAC-40 rose 0.3 percent to 4,120.03 and Germany’s DAX gained 0.7 percent to 7,563.52. Britain’s FTSE 100 was closed for a holiday.

Wall Street, meanwhile, was set to open higher. Dow Jones industrial futures rose 0.6 percent to 12,837 and S&P futures gained 0.6 percent 1,367.80.

Ben Potter, market strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne, Australia, said that bin Laden’s death was an immediate boost for equity markets.

“However, like many euphoric bounces, they are often short lived, especially given the possibility for reprisal attacks from extremists,” he wrote in a report.

The greenback rose to 81.51 yen from 81.10 yen. The euro, meanwhile, was weaker at $1.4819 from $1.4839 late Friday in New York.

The dollar was bought on the belief that “terror risk will get smaller” for the United States, said Yuji Kameoka, chief currency strategist at Daiwa Securities Capital Markets in Tokyo. He said that yen weakness and a decline in the price of crude oil were boosting Japanese stock prices.

Oil prices eased off 2½-year highs to below $113 a barrel after Obama announced bin Laden’s had been killed.

Benchmark crude for June delivery was down $1.40 at $112.53 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract settled at $113.93 per barrel on the Nymex on Friday and reached $114.18 during in the session, the highest since September 2008.

Declining oil prices helped boost shares of airlines, which are sensitive to fuel prices. Korean Air Lines Co. Ltd., the country’s largest air carrier, soared 6.6 percent. Rival Asiana Airlines Inc. soared 12 percent. Japan’s All Nippon Airways Co. Ltd. jumped 2.5 percent.

Stock trading in Asia was thin amid a slew of holidays this week in the region. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index and mainland China’s Shanghai Composite Index were closed Monday as were stock markets in Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. The Nikkei, Asia’s largest market, will be closed Tuesday through Thursday for Japan’s annual Golden Week holiday.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200, meanwhile, recovered from early losses to rise less than 0.1 percent to 4,825.30. Markets in the Philippines and Indonesia also rose, but New Zealand and India were lower.

Markets in Japan and South Korea started in positive territory after the Dow Jones industrial average rose Friday on positive earnings news as construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar reported strong first-quarter profit.

The Dow rose 47.23 points Friday, or 0.4 percent, to close at 12,810.54, rounding out April 4 percent higher, its best month since December.

Caterpillar, the world’s largest maker of mining and construction equipment, rose 2.5 percent after its earnings increased more than fivefold. The company also raised its sales and profit forecast for the year.

Japan’s Komatsu Ltd., the world’s No. 2 equipment maker, rose 1.7 percent in Tokyo.

Broader indices in the U.S. also gained.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 3.13 points, or 0.2 percent, to close at 1,363.61. The index gained 2.8 percent in April. The Nasdaq composite added 1.01 point to 2,873.54. It rose 3.3 percent for the month.

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