Q&A: Whoever 'wins,' Supreme Court's decision on health care is unlikely to be the last word
WASHINGTON (AP) — It seems as if the entire nation is holding its breath for the Supreme Court's health care ruling — the presidential candidates, governors of virtually every state, insurers with billions at stake, companies large and small and countless millions of Americans concerned about their own medical care and how they'll pay for it.
Still, Thursday's expected ruling almost certainly will not be the last word on the nation's tangled efforts to address health care woes. The problems of high medical costs, widespread waste and tens of millions of people without insurance will require Congress and the president to keep looking for answers, whether or not President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act passes the test of constitutionality.
A look at potential outcomes:
Q: What if the Supreme Court, despite justices' blunt questions during public arguments, upholds the law and finds Congress was within its authority to require most people to have health insurance or pay a penalty?
Colorado wildfire doubles in size, destroys houses, chars land on Air Force Academy
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A raging wildfire destroyed dozens of houses overnight and charred land on the edges of the Air Force Academy on Wednesday, while thick smoke and intense, towering flames kept officials from learning the full scope of damage to Colorado's second-largest city.
The wildfire doubled in size overnight to about 24 square miles, and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents, Colorado Springs emergency management director Brett Waters said. Among those urgently evacuated Tuesday evening were residents at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
The fire burned about 10 acres of land along the southwest boundary of the academy's 28-square-mile boundary, but no injuries or damage to academy structures have been reported.
Steve Cox, an aide to Mayor Steve Bach, said Wednesday morning that the blaze has consumed dozens of houses elsewhere. A more precise figure wasn't available because of the intensity of the fire.
Heavy smoke and ash billowed from the mountain foothills west of the city. Bright yellow and orange flames flared in the night, often signaling another home lost to the Waldo Canyon Fire, which is the No. 1 priority for the nation's firefighters.
For Obama and Romney, health care ruling will start fundraising storm, fresh blizzard of ads
WASHINGTON (AP) — Barely four months before the nation votes, one of the biggest factors in the fight for the White House still is a mystery. That will change on Thursday.
The Supreme Court's expected ruling on President Barack Obama's sweeping federal health care law will shape the contours of the presidential campaign through the summer and fall. Both Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney are primed to use the ruling — whatever it is — for political gain.
Obama expresses confidence the court will uphold his signature legislative initiative. But he won't be shocked if a conservative majority overturns the most controversial provision, those familiar with his thinking say. Romney aides say the Republican candidate will get a political boost if the court strikes down the measure. But they don't want celebrations that could alienate voters who could lose health care benefits through the decision.
Neither candidate has any direct influence over the decision. The court may uphold the health care law, strike it down or deem the requirement that most Americans carry health insurance unconstitutional while keeping other aspects in place.
The ruling is expected to be followed almost immediately by a barrage of advertisements and fundraising appeals from Democrats and Republicans, with both sides trying to cast the decision in the most advantageous light for its candidate.
AP sources: Hill leaders have tentative deals on student loan, transportation bills
WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing weekend deadlines for action, congressional leaders have tentatively agreed to deals overhauling the nation's transportation programs without a Republican provision forcing approval of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, and avoiding a doubling of interest rates for new student loans, congressional officials said Wednesday.
The agreements underscored the pressures both parties face to avoid angering voters and embarrassing headlines in the run-up to this November's presidential and congressional elections. Letting road-building programs grind to a halt during an economic downturn would be a blow to the image of lawmakers, while Democrats and Republicans alike seemed eager to avoid enraging millions of students and their parents by boosting the costs of college loans.
Congressional leaders were hoping to combine the highway and student loan measures into a single bill to reduce potential procedural obstacles, and hope to vote final approval this week. Lawmakers would then leave Washington for a July 4 recess.
The two-year highway bill would prevent the government's authority to spend money on highways, bridges and transit systems from lapsing on Saturday, along with its ability to collect gasoline and diesel taxes. With both parties checkmating each other's top priorities this campaign season, Democrats and Republicans say the highway measure will be Congress' top job-creation initiative until the November elections.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chief Senate sponsor of the transportation bill, said the measure would save or create 3 million jobs.
Gunmen attack Syrian TV station as world powers seek diplomatic solution this weekend
BEIRUT (AP) — Gunmen attacked a pro-government TV station Wednesday near the Syrian capital, killing seven employees in the latest barrage of violence as world powers prepared for a high-level meeting that the U.S. hopes will be a turning point in the crisis.
Invitations to Saturday's gathering in Geneva were sent by special envoy Kofi Annan to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — including Syrian allies Russia and China — but not to major regional players Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The absence of those two countries, as well as the lack of any appetite for international military intervention, could make it difficult for the group to find the leverage to end the bloodshed in Syria. An effort by Annan to broker a peace plan failed earlier this year.
Diplomatic hopes have rested on Russia — Syria's most important ally and protector — agreeing on a transition plan that would end the Assad family dynasty, which has ruled Syria for more than four decades. But Moscow has rejected efforts by outside forces to end the conflict or any plan to force regime change in Damascus.
The United Nations said Wednesday that the conflict, which began in March 2011 as part of the Arab Spring that swept aside entrenched leaders across the region, is descending into sectarian warfare.
Texas man who argued he was standing his ground gets 40 years in prison for killing neighbor
HOUSTON (AP) — A man who claimed Texas' version of a stand-your-ground law allowed him to fatally shoot a neighbor after an argument about a noisy party was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years for murder.
Raul Rodriguez, 46, had faced up to life in prison for the 2010 killing of Kelly Danaher.
Rodriguez, a retired Houston-area firefighter, was angry about the noise coming from a birthday party at his neighbor's home. He went over and got into an argument with 36-year-old elementary school teacher Danaher and two other men at the party.
In a 22-minute video he recorded on the night of the shooting, Rodriguez can be heard telling a police dispatcher "my life is in danger now" and "these people are going to go try and kill me." He then said, "I'm standing my ground here," and fatally shot Danaher and wounded the other two men.
Rodriguez's reference to standing his ground is similar to the claim made by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who is citing Florida's stand-your-ground law in his defense in the fatal February shooting of an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin. Rodriguez's case, however, was decided under a different kind of self-defense doctrine.
Coast Guard suspects stowaways on cargo ship docked in NJ; ship had started voyage in UAE
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Dock workers rushed to unload stacked containers from a cargo ship that arrived in New Jersey from the Middle East on Wednesday after a Coast Guard inspection team heard knocking for about two hours that suggested stowaways might be inside one of the boxes.
More than a dozen ambulances and law enforcement officials met the 850-foot Ville D'Aquarius when it docked early Wednesday at Port Newark, one of the nation's busiest ports. Large mechanical cranes began unloading containers from the ship.
By midday Wednesday, all but one ambulance had quietly left the pier. Coast Guard spokesman Charles Rowe said officials have inspected 80 of the 200 containers authorities believe could be carrying people. The ship has 2,000 containers altogether.
The Coast Guard team had boarded the ship outside New York Harbor early Wednesday as the ship prepared to dock, Rowe said. The officers were knocking on a bulkhead, or partition, of the ship as a routine security check and heard knocks back, he said, but they couldn't pinpoint the source of the sound. The return knocks ended after about two hours, Rowe said.
The team followed protocol and didn't open the container at sea in order to control the situation, he said.
Medical examiner: Only marijuana found in system of Fla. Man in face-chewing attack
MIAMI (AP) — Only marijuana was found in the system of a Florida man shot while chewing another man's face, according to a medical examiner's report released Tuesday.
The active components of marijuana were identified in the system of Rudy Eugene, according to toxicology results released by the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner. The laboratory tested for but did not detect any other street drugs, alcohol or prescription drugs, or any adulterants found in street drugs in Eugene, the 31-year-old who friends said was religious and read both the Bible and Quran.
The department ruled out the most common components found in the street drugs known as bath salts. An outside forensic toxicology lab, which took a second look at the results, also confirmed the absence of bath salts, synthetic marijuana and LSD.
The results were released weeks after a Miami police union official had speculated that because Eugene's behavior had been so bizarre he was probably under the influence of bath salts.
Messages left with the medical examiner's office for comment were not immediately returned.
Arena's Belviq is first new prescription weight-loss pill to win US approval in over a decade
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Food and Drug Administration has approved Arena Pharmaceutical's anti-obesity pill Belviq, the first new prescription drug for long-term weight loss to enter the U.S. market in over a decade.
Despite only achieving modest weight loss in clinical studies, the drug appeared safe enough to win the FDA's endorsement, amid calls from doctors for new weight-loss treatments.
The agency cleared the pill Wednesday for adults who are obese or are overweight with at least one medical complication, such as diabetes or high cholesterol.
The FDA denied approval for Arena's drug in 2010 after scientists raised concerns about tumors that developed in animals studied with the drug. The company resubmitted the drug with additional data earlier this year, and the FDA said there was little risk of tumors in humans.
"The approval of this drug, used responsibly in combination with a healthy diet and lifestyle, provides a treatment option for Americans who are obese or are overweight and have at least one weight-related comorbid condition," said FDA's drug center director, Dr. Janet Woodcock, in a statement.
Spain advances to Euro 2012 final after 4-2 penalty shootout win over Portugal
DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Cesc Fabregas scored the deciding penalty Wednesday to give Spain a 4-2 shootout win over Portugal and a spot in the European Championship final.
Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos also scored for Spain.
Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas saved Portugal's opening penalty from Joao Moutinho and then Bruno Alves hit the crossbar, setting up Fabregas to score the decider.
Spain will face either Germany or Italy in the final on Sunday in Kiev.