The CNN Washington Bureau’s morning speed read of the top stories making news from around the country and the world. Click on the headlines for more.
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CNN: Divided Democrats look ahead through 2012
One week removed from the great "shellacking" of 2010, Democrats at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are still picking through the ashes of their lost House majority and debating the best way forward. Rumors of their demise are, of course, exaggerated. Republicans survived midterm massacres in 1974 and 2006; Democrats lived to tell the tale of 1994. Election night exit polls showed the GOP is no more popular among voters than the Democrats. But any time a party loses at least 60 seats in the House and six in the Senate, recriminations are bound to fly. Angry liberals accuse the White House of selling them out on a range of issues - public option anyone? - and demoralizing the base. Diminished Blue Dogs point the finger at Speaker Nancy Pelosi's dismal approval ratings and complain about being saddled with unpopular stimulus and cap-and-trade plans, among other things.
CNN: Democrats want leadership elections delayed
Two House Democrats are circulating a letter asking Democratic leaders to push their party's leadership elections for the next Congress until December. Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D- Ohio) and Peter Defazio (D-Oregon) say in the letter that the "historic results" of the Democrat's 60-seat loss in the House is one reason to push back leadership selection. The letter comes as the soon-to-be former House Democratic majority leaders are embroiled in a controversy over who will lead the Democrats when the House changes to Republican hands in January.
CNN: Pelosi weighs in on Hoyer/Clyburn
Multiple senior Democratic sources say House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has stepped into the battle between Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, for the number two Democratic leadership post, and is personally trying to negotiate a compromise. The sources say her goal is to avoid forcing the caucus to cast what many fear could be divisive votes. "The speaker and everyone else think it's good to settle this quickly." said one of the senior Democratic sources with knowledge of the private conversations.
CNN: House Black Caucus invites 2 new GOP African-Americans; one balks
The chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus said Tuesday that two African-American Republicans elected to Congress last week were welcome to join the group, but one of the new members-elect – Tim Scott of South Carolina – indicated he would decline. "I grew up in an environment where we were just very much integrated, and life worked out really well," Scott told reporters Tuesday. "I think the best for America is finding a way to fuse all of our communities together and erase all those lines that separate us."
Chicago Tribune: Congressmen pay wives from campaign funds
Two Illinois congressmen have paid their wives hundreds of thousands of dollars out of their campaign funds in the last decade, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission. The campaign to re-elect Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has given wife Sandi Jackson's company at least $315,000 for her work. Rep. Bobby Rush's campaign has paid his wife, Carolyn Rush, more than $240,000 to serve as a consultant. Two other Chicago-area congressmen, Danny Davis and Luis Gutierrez, have given their wives smaller amounts for doing campaign work. The four lawmakers, all Democrats, were re-elected last week.
Wall Street Journal: Extending Tax Cuts, but With a Catch
Two top Senate Democrats floated the idea Tuesday of extending the Bush-era income-tax rates for a limited time only, and tying that move to an overhaul of the U.S. tax code or passage of policies to address the budget deficit. The idea injects a new element into the ongoing political discussion about the tax breaks, which expire Dec. 31 unless they are extended, at a time of growing concerns about government deficits. The new proposals could lay the groundwork for a multi-year debate many experts say would be needed to overhaul the bulky tax code.
Politico: Extreme divide on terror issues
The intense focus on the differences between President Barack Obama and House Republicans on government spending and tax cuts has eclipsed the yawning gulf that separates Obama and the incoming House leadership on counterterrorism policy, Guantanamo and the use of civilian courts to try accused Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other terrorism suspects. At the moment, neither Obama nor the Republican congressional leadership seems eager to be diverted from a discussion about the economy to a national-security debate. But while the budget-related issues seem readily susceptible to a meet-in-the-middle compromise, the gap between the two sides over the war on terror can’t be bridged as easily.
CNN: DeMint to force GOP vote on earmarks
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, said Tuesday that he and several newly elected Tea Party-backed Republican senators will try to force GOP senators to give up earmarks altogether. The move is a direct challenge to Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and other senior GOP senators who support earmarking funds for home state projects. A vote on the proposal is expected next Tuesday when the Senate Republican Conference meets in the Capitol to formally elect its leaders and adopt GOP rules for the upcoming session of Congress.
CNN: Paul pushes back on earmarks
Newly-minted Kentucky Republican Senator-elect Rand Paul is fighting a Wall Street Journal article that he says misquoted him as supporting the use of earmarks. "I never, ever said I would earmark and I will not use the earmark," Paul said in an interview with CNN lead political anchor Wolf Blitzer on the Situation Room. "No matter what the Republican Caucus says or what anybody does, I will not put earmarks on bill."
Politics Daily: Joe Manchin Is Not Switching Parties, Democrat's Spokeman Says
It's not happening. That's the message from Sen.-elect Joe Manchin's team in the face of rumors that West Virginia's Democratic governor is being wooed by Republicans to switch parties before he's sworn into the Senate next week. "Joe Manchin is a life-long Democrat and he is not switching parties," said Melvin Smith, Manchin's communications director in West Virginia. "He wants to work with all sides - Democrats and Republicans - to move our state and nation forward. He is looking forward to going to Washington to do his part to help rebuild America."
USA Today: More federal workers' pay tops $150,000
The number of federal workers earning $150,000 or more a year has soared tenfold in the past five years and doubled since President Obama took office, a USA TODAY analysis finds. The fast-growing pay of federal employees has captured the attention of fiscally conservative Republicans who won control of the U.S. House of Representatives in last week's elections. Already, some lawmakers are planning to use the lame-duck session that starts Monday to challenge the president's plan to give a 1.4% across-the-board pay raise to 2.1 million federal workers.
McClatchy DC: Obama officials moving away from 2011 Afghan date
The Obama administration has decided to begin publicly walking away from what it once touted as key deadlines in the war in Afghanistan in an effort to de-emphasize President Barack Obama's pledge that he'd begin withdrawing U.S. forces in July 2011, administration and military officials have told McClatchy. The new policy will be on display next week during a conference of NATO countries in Lisbon, Portugal, where the administration hopes to introduce a timeline that calls for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan by 2014, the year when Afghan President Hamid Karzai once said Afghan troops could provide their own security, three senior officials told McClatchy, along with others speakin
CNN: Obama lauds Indonesia as a model of religious tolerance
Indonesia and the United States share principles of unity and tolerance and both can benefit from strengthened ties that will bolster trade and combat terrorism, President Obama said in a highly anticipated speech Wednesday. The address at the University of Indonesia was considered a highlight of Obama's two-day stop in the southeast Asian nation where he spent four years of his childhood. As the nation with the largest Muslim population in the world, Indonesia was chosen as the site for Obama to further address U.S. relations with the Islamic world following his speech on the topic last year in Cairo, Egypt.
CNN: Obama heads towards South Korea and G-20 economic challenges
President Obama left Indonesia for South Korea on Wednesday, where the leaders of top global economies will convene at the G-20 summit to try to stabilize the world's financial markets. Obama left for South Korea hours early, because volcanic ash from Indonesia's Mount Merapi could have grounded Air Force One, administration officials said. The president's visit to Seoul, South Korea, will include a meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Der Spiegel: Ex-Chancellor Schröder Says Bush 'Is Not Telling the Truth'
In his memoirs, called "Decision Points" and released on Tuesday, Bush writes that Schröder told him in January 2002 that the US president had his full support when it came to his aggressive Iraq policy. Bush wrote that Schröder indicated he would even stand behind Bush should the US go to war against the country. On Tuesday evening in Berlin, Schröder denied that he ever made such a promise. "The former American president is not telling the truth," he said. He said the meeting in question focused on the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and whether those responsible were supported by the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. "Just as I did during my subsequent meetings with the American president, I made it clear that, should Iraq ... prove to have provided protection and hospitality to al-Qaida fighters, Germany would reliably stand beside the US," Shröder said. "This connection, however, as it became clear during 2002, was false and constructed."
CNN: Emmer will pursue recount in Minnesota gubernatorial race
Republican Tom Emmer said he plans to move forward with a vote recount in the undecided Minnesota gubernatorial race. Emmer trails Democrat Mark Dayton by just over 8,700 votes, but says he intends to "see the process through." "The Minnesota voters have spoken, we just don't know what they've said yet," Emmer told reporters at a news conference in St. Paul on Tuesday. "There is a process in place that is moving forward, and we should know shortly what the outcome is. At least we're hopeful for that."
Roll Call: Democratic Losses Hit State Farm Teams Hard
While the GOP celebrates historic gains in the House, Republicans in state capitals across the country are cheering massive pickups that wiped out key Democratic bench players — a shift that they say may shape elections for years to come. From Minnesota to Montana, Democrats lost state Speakers, Senate Majority Leaders, lieutenant governors and other up-and-comers whose political futures are now uncertain at best.
CNN: LaHood to states: Proceed with rail projects or give up stimulus funds
In some post-election hardball between the Obama administration and newly-elected Republicans, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is threatening to take back stimulus funds from states if they do not follow through on proposed rail projects. CNN obtained copies of letters LaHood sent to incoming Republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin who have stated their opposition to rail projects already underway in their states. In the letters, LaHood said a rail link between Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati in Ohio, and a high-speed rail connection between Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, are vital to economic growth in both regions.
Newark Star Ledger: NJEA president calls Christie 'irresponsible' after he blamed teachers for lack of school supplies
The public battle between the state’s chief executive and its largest teachers union rolled on Tuesday with New Jersey Education President Barbara Keshishian labeling Gov. Chris Christie “irresponsible and out of control” following his comments about the union to students in Trenton last Friday. Speaking at the Boys & Girls Club of Trenton and Mercer County, Christie told students their schools were short on needed supplies because of greedy teachers and union officials — not because of state aid cuts.
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USA Today: Case against Blue Cross shows difficulty of cutting health costs
As health care costs soared nationally, a small Michigan firm gave Ford Motor Co. a proposal to cut its physical therapy costs. The automaker signed up for an in-state pilot program, which was so successful Ford expanded it last year to cover about 390,000 employees, retirees and their families nationwide. Yet the cost-saving program created by Pontiac-based TheraMatrix has come under attack from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Court records allege Blue Cross used its position as the state's dominant insurer to try to crush TheraMatrix as it worked to also sign up Chrysler and General Motors.
Charleston Post and Courier: South Carolina health plan in trouble
The 820,000 residents on Medicaid in South Carolina are breaking the bank and state officials are now facing a big decision: allow the program to run $228 million in the red or cut off coverage for everyone. The state Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday that it is facing a budget crisis. The agency, which oversees government-run health insurance for poor people and children, will have to ask the state Budget and Control Board on Dec. 14 to run a deficit, a move that is expected to ignite a firestorm among politicians over what South Carolina should be expected to pay for in the face of federal health care reform.
Denver Post: Regulators: Health reform not behind steep hikes
Colorado regulators have done the math on health insurance premium hikes and are warning insurers and consumers that blaming steep increases on health care reforms is a convenient myth. While insurers and politicians said new benefits and consumer protections were helping drive premium hikes of 10 percent to 30 percent for 2011, the actual requests for such new items in mandatory rate filings often required no increase at all. The impact of the new benefits amounted to a 5 percent increase for some small-group new policies but topped out at 1.2 percent in large-group renewals, the state insurance division said.
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CNN: Jury to begin deliberations in terror trial
The jury is expected to begin deliberations Wednesday in the trial of a man accused of conspiring to bomb U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani faces charges of conspiracy and murder in the attacks in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The bombings killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans, and wounded thousands of others. His defense attorney told the jury Tuesday that Ghailani was used by al Qaeda, which claimed responsibility.
New York Times: Congo Republic Declares a Polio Emergency
An explosive outbreak of polio is taking place in the Congo Republic, with 201 cases of paralysis found in two weeks and 104 deaths, the World Health Organization said Tuesday. The government in Brazzaville, the nation’s capital, has declared an emergency and announced plans to vaccinate the entire population with oral drops three times with help from the W.H.O., Unicef and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CNN: Volcano ash forces flight cancellations in Indonesia
Volcanic ash spewing from Indonesia's Mount Merapi has forced some airlines to cancel flights out of Jakarta's international airport, airport officials said Wednesday. Cathay Pacific Airways and Qantas Airways had canceled flights at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, airport spokesman Andang Santoso said. Singapore Airlines said it was continuing to fly. Large clouds of gas and dust from Merapi's recent eruptions also have forced some flight cancellations into and out of the Yogyakarta airport. Travelers were asked to check with their airlines for schedule changes.
Japan Times: Israelis destroying a symbol of peace and life
During the last few years, Palestinian olive trees — a universal symbol of life and peace — have been systematically destroyed by Israeli settlers. "It has reached a crescendo. What might look like ad hoc violence is actually a tool the settlers are using to push back Palestinian farmers from their own land," stated a spokeswoman for Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization monitoring incidents in the West Bank. The tree and its oil have a special significance throughout the Middle East. It is an essential aspect of Palestinian culture, heritage and identity, and has been mentioned in the Bible, the Quran and the Torah. Many families depend on the olive trees for their livelihood.
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Bloomberg: Job Openings in U.S. Decreased 163,000 in September
Job openings in the U.S. dropped in September for a second month, signaling a sustained labor market rebound will take time to develop, a government report showed. Openings decreased by 163,000 to 2.93 million, the Labor Department said Tuesday in Washington. The number of people hired rose from the prior month and separations declined. The unemployment rate was 9.6 percent for a third month in October even as payrolls increased 151,000, Labor Department figures showed last week. Growth in the world’s largest economy may need to quicken before enough jobs are created to make up for the recession-driven loss of more than 8 million positions.
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