US House approves stop-gap budget

Updated 21 September 2013
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US House approves stop-gap budget

WASHINGTON: The House of Representatives approved a stop-gap budget measure Friday that would keep the US government operating into fiscal year 2014 but defund President Barack Obama's health care law.
Lawmakers voted along party lines 230-189 in support of the so-called continuing resolution that funds government operations at current levels up to Dec. 15, setting up a showdown with the Democratic-led Senate which will consider the measure next week.
Many federal agencies and programs will shutter on Oct. 1, day one of the coming fiscal year, if Congress and the president do not agree on a temporary budget measure.
But the Republican bill, in a nod to the party's more conservative wing, includes a provision that strips funding for the health care law, which its critics have nicknamed "Obamacare" and which the GOP has fought to repeal virtually since its passage more than three years ago.
"Let's defund this law now, and protect the American people from the calamity that we know this law will create," number two House Republican Eric Cantor told members in final debate before the vote.
Inclusion of the controversial provision, however, virtually assures that the bill will not become law, and sends the nation careening toward a possible shutdown.
Senate leader Harry Reid has promised defeat of the measure in the Democrat-run chamber.
"Republicans are simply postponing for a few days the inevitable choice they must face: Pass a clean bill to fund the government, or force a shutdown," Reid said in a statement after the House vote.
"The Affordable Care Act has been the law of the land for three years. Democrats stand ready to work with reasonable people who want to improve it, but Republican attempts to take an entire law hostage simply to appease the Tea Party anarchists are outrageous, irresponsible and futile."
House Speaker John Boehner, savaged by Democrats who accuse him of caving in to extremists in his caucus, including some who say a partial shutdown would be a better alternative than keeping Obamacare in place, struck a tone of pride after the vote, saying the ball was now in Reid's court.
"The House has acted, and today we urge the Senate to take action," he said, to applause from Republican members.
The Senate will likely approve an amended resolution with no Obamacare provision, however, putting the House leadership under intense pressure to do the same — or revisit the health care debate and risk a potentially devastating government shutdown after Sept. 30.
"Unfortunately, we'll be back here again next week, facing the same crisis," House Democrat Nita Lowey said in arguing against the House bill.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi warned that members ought to "get our House in order" and avoid risking another fiscal crisis.
"We are not here to expand government, but we are not here to eliminate government," she said.
"What is brought to the floor here today is, without a doubt, a measure designed to shut down government. It could have no other intent."
Shortly before the vote, the White House warned of the dangers of "playing politics with the economy" by refusing to pass a temporary budget or raise the country's debt ceiling, which will need to occur by mid-October if the US Treasury is to avoid default.
"The last thing we can afford right now is a decision by a minority of Republicans in Congress to throw our economy back into crisis by refusing to pay our country's bills or shutting down the government," a White House official said.


Infectious diseases are set to become as great a risk for global business as climate change

Updated 53 min 55 sec ago
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Infectious diseases are set to become as great a risk for global business as climate change

LONDON: The Global Risks Report 2019 jointly compiled by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Harvard Global Heath Institute describes a world that is woefully ill-prepared to detect and respond to disease outbreaks.
In fact, the world is becoming more vulnerable to pandemics, despite advances in medicine and public health.
Global GDP will fall by an average of 0.7 percent or $570 billion because of pandemics — a threat that is “in the same order of magnitude” to the losses estimated to be caused by climate change in the coming decades.
“Outbreaks are a top global economic risk and — like the case for climate change — large companies can no longer afford to stay on the sidelines,” said Vanessa Candeias, who heads the committee on future health and health care at the WEF.
Potential catastrophic outbreaks of disease occur only every few decades but regional and local epidemics are becoming more common. There have been nearly 200 a year in recent times and outbreaks of diseases such as influenza, Ebola, zika, yellow fever, SARS, and MERS have become more frequent over the last 30 years.
At the same time antibiotics have become less effective against bacteria.
The impact of influenza pandemics is estimated at $60 billion, according to a report by the Commission on a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future — more than double previous estimates.
The trend is expected to get worse as populations increase and become more mobile due to travel, trade or displacement. Deforestation and climate change are also factors.
Businesses need to bone up on the risk of infectious diseases and how to manage them if the overall economy is to remain resilient.
Peter Sands, research fellow at the Harvard Global Health Institute and executive director of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said, “When business leaders are more aware of what’s at stake, maybe there will be a different dialogue about global health, from being a topic that rarely touches the radar screen of business leaders to being a subject worthy of attention, investment and advocacy.”
Predicting where and when the next outbreak will come is an evolving science but it is possible to identify certain factors that would leave companies vulnerable to financial losses, such as the nature of the business, geographical location of the workforce, the customer base and supply chain.
Disease is not the only threat. There is also fear uninformed panic. Past epidemics have shown that misinformation spreads as fast as the infection itself and can undermine and disrupt medical response.
The report advises planning for such emergencies by “trusted public-private partnerships” so that “businesses can help mitigate the potentially devastating human and economic impacts of epidemics while protecting the interests of their employees and commercial operations.”
It is estimated that the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa in 2014-2016 cost $53 billion in lost commercial income and the 2015 MERS outbreak in South Korea cost $8.5 billion. According to the World Bank, disease accounts for only 30 percent of economic losses. The rest is largely down to healthy people changing their behavior as they seek to avoid becoming infected themselves.
The authors of the report will make recommendations next week at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos.