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: House, Senate Democrats: no tax cut extension over $250,000
With Republicans steadfast in supporting an indefinite extension of all Bush-era tax cuts, Democrats in the House and the Senate moved Thursday to limit the reductions, in full, only for families making $250,000 a year or less. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced on Thursday night that he was told a single unnamed Republican scuttled an agreement over a plan for several tax-related votes. Despite that, Democrats would go ahead and weigh in Saturday only on the two bills that many of their members supported. Earlier in the day, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure 234-188 to allow tax cuts instituted under President George W. Bush to expire this December 31 for Americans' incomes above a quarter-million dollars annually.
CNN: Vote set for controversial debt plan
A bipartisan commission will decide Friday whether to send Congress its controversial plan for slashing the federal deficit. The 18-member panel released a report Wednesday recommending spending cuts and tax changes that would cut $4 trillion in deficits over the next 10 years. Fourteen of the 18 commissioners need to vote in favor of the plan in order to send it on to Congress. The commission, established by President Obama early this year, is comprised of 12 current lawmakers - evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans - and six presidential appointees.
CNN: House censures Rangel
The House of Representatives censured veteran New York Rep. Charlie Rangel on Thursday - a stunning downfall for a man once considered one of the most powerful members of Congress. The 333-79 vote required Rangel to stand in the well of the House as a formal censure resolution was read aloud by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California. The House ethics committee recently found the 20-term Harlem Democrat guilty on 11 counts of violating House rules, including failing to pay taxes on a vacation home in the Dominican Republic and improperly using his office to raise money for an educational center bearing his name.
CNN: Top military brass to discuss 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal
Leaders of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and the Coast Guard are expected to speak Friday as the Senate Armed Services Committee holds its second day of hearings on the military's "don't ask don't tell" policy. Sen. John McCain said at the hearing Thursday that now is not the time to repeal the policy on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the U.S. armed forces. "At this time, we should be inherently cautious about making any changes that would affect our military, and what changes we do make should be the product of careful and deliberate consideration," the Arizona Republican said at the hearing.
CNN: Lieberman suggests McCain changing his standards for supporting repeal of DADT
A longtime personal friend and political ally of Sen. John McCain implied Thursday that the former GOP presidential nominee is moving the goalposts when it comes to his support for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” McCain’s past comments suggested he might support repeal of the federal law that prevents gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military if a repeal was supported by military leadership. But the Arizona Republican has recently taken issue with results of a Pentagon survey of troops that supports a repeal and with the positions of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, both of whom also support a repeal.
CNN: McCain presses for accountability in WikiLeaks breach
A senior Republican senator pressed Pentagon leadership Thursday as to why nobody - other than a very junior soldier - has been held responsible for the leak of thousands of secret national security documents to WikiLeaks. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, called the WikiLeaks episode "an incredible breach of national security." In a tense exchange, McCain asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates whether the Pentagon has identified or punished anyone else. "Have you held anyone responsible?" McCain asked. "Not yet," replied Gates, who earlier said the criminal investigation limits the Defense Department's ability to conduct an independent investigation.
CNN: Child nutrition bill passes in the House
The House of Representatives passed a sweeping child nutrition bill Thursday designed to promote better eating habits in part by giving the federal government more authority to set standards for food sold in vending machines and other venues on school grounds. Among other things, the $4.5 billion measure provides more money to poor areas to subsidize free meals and requires schools to abide by health guidelines drafted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To help offset the higher cost of including more fruits and vegetables, the bill increases the reimbursement rate for school lunches.
CNN: Jump START?
Facing the ticking time bomb of the Senate's lame-duck calendar, the New START arms control agreement now looks closer to being voted on before the end of the year. "We're counting votes but we're not counting chickens," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday. "We are encouraged that public comments by various senators on both sides of the aisle appear to leave open a strong possibility that this will come to a vote." On the Senate floor, Democrat John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was trying to strike an optimistic tone, praising some Republicans for negotiating "in good faith." "It's my hope that these conversations that we're having and the process that is in place is going to produce, hopefully, a positive outcome and we're certainly going to work in good faith to try to make that happen in the next days, hours," he said. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said there was still a ways to go.
CNN: Date set for Alaska Senate court arguments
An Alaska state court judge has set a date for arguments in the case to resolve the dispute over the Alaska Senate race between incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who ran as a write-in candidate, and Tea-Party backed Republican candidate Joe Miller. The arguments are scheduled to take place on Wednesday, December 8th, at 9 am Alaska time– 1 pm ET. Miller is challenging the Division of Election's decision to ensure the state law which calls for write-in votes to match the name of the candidate is followed.
McClatchy DC: In governor's meeting, Haley asks Obama to scrap health law
South Carolina Republican Gov.-elect Nikki Haley challenged President Barack Obama over his landmark health care overhaul Thursday in a candid, personal exchange in front of Cabinet members and newly elected governors from across the country. In an exchange that White House aides didn't dispute, Obama rejected Haley's request to repeal the health care bill — but said he'd consider letting states opt out of its mandates if they ran exchange programs, banned insurance firms from denying coverage of pre-existing conditions and enabled people to pool together for better rates.
CNN: DNC raises record amount in midterm cycle
The Democratic National Committee brought in nearly $200 million dollars during the just concluded 2010 midterm election campaign cycle, out-raising the Republican National Committee by around $30 million. According to filings Thursday night with the Federal Election Commission, the DNC raised $15.9 million from October 13 through mid-November, bringing to $195.6 million the amount raised for the entire cycle. That is the DNC's highest total in the years since the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which put restrictions on the political party committees fund-raising abilities. The DNC ends the cycle with $9.7 million cash on hand and $15.5 million in debt.
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New York Times: Unemployed, and Likely to Stay That Way
The longer people stay out of work, the more trouble they have finding new work. That is a fact of life that much of Europe, with its underclass of permanently idle workers, knows all too well. But it is a lesson that the United States seems to be just learning. This country has some of the highest levels of long-term unemployment — out of work longer than six months — it has ever recorded. Meanwhile, job growth has been, and looks to remain, disappointingly slow, indicating that those out of work for a while are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Even if the government report on Friday shows the expected improvement in hiring by business, it will not be enough to make a real dent in those totals.
Wall Street Journal: Inspectors Adrift in Rig-Safety Push
Seven months after the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, the troubled federal agency that oversees offshore drilling has been revamped, renamed and given a new leader with a mandate to turn what critics called an industry lapdog into an effective watchdog. But there's at least one big change the agency hasn't made: fixing its deeply flawed inspection program. As it has for four decades, that program sends inspectors armed with little more than checklists and pencils into the Gulf to ensure the safety of more than 3,500 oil platforms and drilling rigs. A Wall Street Journal examination finds that these inspectors have been overruled by industry, undermined by their own managers and outmatched by the sheer number of offshore installations they oversee. Inspectors come into the job with little or no hands-on experience in deep-water drilling, learning as they go.
USA Today: Army launches new Arlington National Cemetery probe
Army investigators launched a criminal probe after eight urns were found in a single grave marked "unknown" at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. "When there's eight sets of human remains in one grave, it's most likely not a mistake, so we have to look into whether there is any criminality involved," Chris Grey of the Army's Criminal Investigation Command said of the latest controversy at the nation's renowned military burial ground. Three sets of remains have been identified, and the cemetery has notified family members, cemetery spokeswoman Kaitlin Horst said. One of the sets has been reburied.
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CNN: WikiLeaks cables on Afghanistan show monumental corruption
Hundreds of U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks paint a picture of corruption in Afghanistan at every level of government and society. Cables from the U.S. ambassador in Kabul portray Afghan President Hamid Karzai as paranoid, with an "inability to grasp the most rudimentary principles of state-building." Many of the cables were sent from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul over the last two years. The New York Times, which had advance access to the estimated 250,000 documents leaked to WikiLeaks, reported the documents showed corruption's "pervasive nature, its overwhelming scale, and the dispiriting challenge it poses to American officials."
CNN: Israeli forest fire kills dozens
At least 40 people have been killed in a massive wildfire blazing its way through northern Israel, Israeli authorities said Friday. The Israeli Cabinet was meeting Friday in Tel Aviv to formulate a response. The fire, bolstered by strong winds, blanketed Haifa, Israeli's second-largest city, in smoke. It was not clear how the fire started, but police were investigating if the blaze started in an illegal dumping ground.
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Detroit News: Analysts predict auto upswing
U.S. car and truck sales are projected to grow by as much as 2 million units annually during the next few years as the industry rebounds from the recession, according to automotive forecasters. IHS Automotive offered one of the more optimistic outlooks among three prominent forecasters, projecting sales will grow to 12.8 million vehicles next year from 11.5 million this year. Sales will grow to 14.8 million in 2012, 16 million in 2013 and reach 17.2 million in 2016, said Michael Robinet, director of global production forecasts for IHS in Northville. That is encouraging news for an industry that last saw 17 million vehicles sold in the United States in 2000 and has been in decline since.
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