Obama tours tornado scene, meets victims
JOPLIN, Mo., May 29 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama toured hard-hit Joplin, Mo., Sunday and viewed the tornado's devastation calling it "a national tragedy."
The death toll from the massive EF-5 twister a week ago has reached 142.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Obama joined local clergy and officials at an afternoon ceremony at the Missouri Southern State University, and the president spoke afterward.
"The main thing I just want to communicate to the people of Joplin is this is just not your tragedy. This is a national tragedy and that means there will be a national response," the president said.
A minute of silence was planned at 5:41 p.m. Central Time, the minute the catastrophic tornado struck the town a week ago and all but obliterated it.
Touring wrecked areas of the city and meeting survivors, Obama said he had heard "harrowing stories but also miraculous stories."
"Today is a day of remembrance, as we move here to the memorial service. It's going to take a higher power to keep the strength of this community resolved to get this done," he said. "And we're confident that it will happen."
Andrea Spillars, deputy director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety, Saturday said the confirmed death toll had risen by 10 to 142, while 100 people were still unaccounted for and being sought by some 2,500 volunteers and teams with tracking dogs.
Joplin Fire Chief Mitch Randles said the death toll was likely to climb further, as dogs had identified 16 potential victim sights in the debris field Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers said contracting would begin soon for debris removal, the newspaper said.
The Missouri-American Water Co. lifted its mandatory boil-water order Saturday and the Empire District Electric Co. said the number of customers without power was down to 8,000.
Cantor says disaster aid must be offset
WASHINGTON, May 29 (UPI) -- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor assured the people of Joplin, Mo., Sunday that Congress will help them recover, but said the funds must be offset elsewhere.
Speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," Cantor, R-Va., said: "If when a family is struck with tragedy like the family of Joplin … if they had $10,000 set aside … to buy a new car … and then they were struck with a sick member of the family … and needed to take that money to apply it to that, that's what they would do because families don't have unlimited money. And really, neither does the federal government."
Joplin was devastated by an EF-5 tornado a week ago and 100 people remained missing Sunday.
Cantor also said House Republicans "absolutely" stand by the Medicare plan of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., despite losing a special election in New York last week.
He said the proposal "reforms the program to ensure it's still there. And it is much like what most people have with their employer plans. ... It's an attempt to try and personalize the Medicare program to allow seniors to choose."
Cantor also said his meetings with Vice President Joe Biden on the debt ceiling have been "all positive" and "we can accomplish well over $1 trillion in cuts."
Pawlenty warns Medicare's 'going broke'
WASHINGTON, May 29 (UPI) -- Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Sunday Medicare "is going broke" and gave qualified support to Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare plan.
Speaking on ABC's "This Week", the newly declared Republican presidential candidate said: "If the only choices were doing nothing like President [Barack] Obama is doing and Paul Ryan's plan, I'd sign it."
Saying "it's time for the truth," Pawlenty declared: "As to Medicare, everybody knows it's sinking. It's going broke. The current program … only has about 50 percent of it paid for by either premiums or payroll taxes, and the rest is deficit spending."
He said his own proposal would differ somewhat from the one offered by House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan, R-Wis., and would address Social Security as well.
"We're not going to pay Medicare providers under my plan just for volumes of services provided," he said. "We're going to pay for better results and better health care outcome."
"And we're going to give people lots of choices" besides staying in the present system.
Pawlenty also opposed raising the federal debt ceiling unless "they get something really good for it … like a balanced budget amendment."
Vets urge overhaul of plodding VA
WASHINGTON, May 29 (UPI) -- Veterans advocates said Sunday the U.S. Veterans Administration needs an overhaul and the private sector also needs to do more to support former soldiers.
High unemployment and plodding VA procedures are placing stresses on veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who have or are about to move back into the civilian world.
"That's why you have the 14,000 calls to the hotline for suicides," said Tim Tetz, legislative director of the American Legion. "That's why you have these people who are just absolutely pulling their hair out."
Tetz said on CNN's "State of the Union" that Washington has basically given the VA all the resources they have asked for; which points to systemic problems.
"We need to basically start all over, stop with this one way of doing it -- the way we did it in the 1960s -- and revamp the whole process,"
Tetz and Paul Rieckhoff agreed the VA had good programs to offer, but red tape and large VA work loads make year-long waiting periods common.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., told CNN the VA had to be more open with Congress about what it needs to accomplish its mission and not worry so much about "sounding like they needed more money."
"Paying for our veterans is a cost of war and war is expensive," Murray said. "This country has to step up and pay for that. And in order to know what we need to do, our VA and the administration has to be honest with us about the costs."
McConnell says foes have no Medicare plan
WASHINGTON, May 29 (UPI) -- U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell warned Sunday "Medicare is going down" and his Democratic colleagues have no ideas to save it.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," McConnell, R-Ky., said the Obama administration and House Democrats agree "Medicare needs to be on the table," as does everyone "except the Democrats in the Senate, who have no plan at all."
"Medicare is going down," he said. "Doing nothing is not a plan."
But McConnell refused to be pinned down on whether he supports the overhaul proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., which failed in a Senate test vote last week.
The GOP leader also said "we're pretty unenthusiastic" about the new Consumer Financial Protection Board and especially "the possibility of Elizabeth Warren" leading it. He said the agency could pose "a serious threat to our financial system."
On the same program, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., declared: "The only way we're going to come to an agreement on the budget and the debt ceiling is if Senator McConnell and his Republican colleagues take the Ryan plan off the table, and take it off now."
He said Republicans are trying to end Medicare, while "we believe in preserving the current system."
Tense Nigeria inaugurates president
LAGOS, Nigeria, May 29 (UPI) -- Nigerian officials said Islamic terrorists were believed to be behind a spate of bombings ahead of Sunday's inauguration of President Goodluck Jonathan.
The militant group Boko Haram was strongly suspected of attacks that began after he was elected last month to his first full term as president of the major oil-producing African nation.
Goodluck Jonathan was vice president last May when he stepped in after the death of President Umaru Yar'Adua.
CNN said Sunday Jonathan hails from Nigeria's predominately Christian south, which hasn't set well with the Muslim north. There have been allegations of election fraud, and Jonathan last week had to warn Nigeria it was flirting with a repeat of its disastrous civil war if the post-election violence continued.