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Obama outlines health care

UNITED States President Barack Obama took a first step toward national health care yesterday in his first budget - a document that also includes an additional US$750 billion, if needed, to rescue the country's troubled financial system.

The US$3.55 trillion spending blueprint faced close scrutiny for clues on how the new president plans to divide up taxpayer money in the midst of the most severe US economic slide in decades.

It was likely to come under heavy criticism from Republicans, who will object to its tax increases and the bid to dramatically overhaul the country's heath care system.

"This budget is an honest accounting of where we are and where we intend to go," the president said in a ceremony to present the spending plan, referring to the former Bush administration's exclusion of spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in its budget accounting.

While already gearing up to pump hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy through emergency spending, Obama also has vowed to slash the nation's US$1 trillion plus debt in half by 2013, the end of his term.

The new budget reflects a deficit that now is expected to hit US$1.75 trillion this year.

The spending plan foresees a need for US$634 billion over 10 years as a "down payment" on health care reform.

"We must make it a priority to give every single American quality, affordable health care," Obama said.

Of particular importance to American partners abroad, the plan contains a proposal to raise hundreds of billions of dollars by auctioning permits to exceed carbon emissions caps, which Obama wants to impose on users of fossil fuels.

Obama also promises to phase out direct payments to farming operations with revenues above US$500,000 a year. Farm subsidies have long annoyed US trading partners.


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