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: Obama slams GOP, calls tax deal politically realistic
President Barack Obama vigorously defended his agreement with Republicans to extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts on Tuesday, arguing that it was a price that had to be paid to spare the middle class from crippling tax hikes. The president promised disheartened Democrats that the fight over the cuts for the highest-income Americans would continue over the next two years. He also urged them to take a long-term view of the bitter policy fights now taking place in Washington. My "number one priority is to do what's right for the American people," he said at a hastily scheduled news conference at the White House. "Because of this agreement, middle class Americans won't see their taxes go up on January 1."
CNN: House Democrats vent on tax plan, focus criticism on estate tax
House Democrats vented their frustrations with President Barack Obama's tax proposal at a closed-door meeting Tuesday night, with rank-and-file members slamming the White House for leaving House Democrats out of final negotiations, and agreeing too quickly to a GOP proposal on the estate tax. According to several Democratic members and aides, much of the discussion centered on the addition of the estate tax exemption to the package extending all the Bush-era tax cuts for two years.
CNN: Dems to push for passage of DREAM Act
The Obama administration and Congressional Democrats will hold a Wednesday news conference to push for passage of a bill that would grant eligibility for citizenship for thousands of young illegal immigrants if they go to college or serve in the military. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM, is expected to come up for a vote in both the House and Senate this week. Championing the bill for the White House is Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, and Rep. Howard Berman, D-California, are also scheduled to appear.
CNN Money: Senate bill would stave off rate cut for Medicare docs
The Senate on Tuesday introduced a bipartisan bill that would prevent a 25% cut in doctors' Medicare reimbursement rates in 2011. The bill, which would cost $19.3 billion over 10 years, would be paid for by changing a provision of the health reform act that provides tax credits for people who buy coverage. The credit is scaled to a person's income. The legislation would increase the amount people would have to repay if they underestimate their earnings. In a rare act of unanimity, the bill is being sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus of Montana, and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the committee.
CNN: Nation's last Senate battle enters a new arena
When will the nation's last, nasty Senate battle end? Based on one side's determination, there may actually be no end in sight. Over one month after Election Day, the bitter back-and-forth between Republicans Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent senator, and opponent Joe Miller enters a new arena on Wednesday: a state court. A judge will hear arguments in the legal challenge to the senate race. Referring to that process, Miller campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto told CNN, "I imagine we'll have a decision here within the next few days." But if that decision does not swing towards the Miller campaign, DeSoto said it will definitely appeal it to the Alaska Supreme Court. If they lose there, DeSoto tells CNN they are prepared to take their fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
CNN: Huckabee in no hurry to announce
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee may wait until the second half of 2011 to announce whether he will make another run for president. "That would be more likely. It certainly won't be the first three or four months," Huckabee said at a news conference following a book signing in Florida. Huckabee is the latest potential GOP contender to muse publicly about a later entry into the presidential race. Just this week, another possible candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum indicated he was awaiting a decision from party heavyweight Sarah Palin before taking the plunge.
Roll Call: Thune Quietly Gathers 2012 Advice
Sen. John Thune has quietly begun seeking the counsel of his closest Senate colleagues and an array of party operatives as he considers a bid for the White House in 2012. “I’m having a lot of discussions with people whose opinions I value. You try and have as many data points as you can to make a decision like that,” the South Dakota Republican said in a brief interview with Roll Call on Tuesday. “I continue to visit with potential contributors and to visit with people both in my state and around the country.”
Politico: Mark Sanford says his affair helped him govern
Reflecting on his final two years in office, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford says his affair with an Argentine woman that crippled him politically actually may have helped him better govern the state. Less than two years ago, Sanford, who is term limited, was a rising national star in the Republican Party, receiving widespread recognition for opposing President Barack Obama’s stimulus package and being mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2012. But after he admitted his affair in June 2009, Sanford, locked at the time in a contentious battle with Republican opponents in the state Legislature, saw his political stock crash. In the wake of his admission, though, the governor says his opponents recognized he was no longer much of a target and backed off, easing gridlock and freeing him up to govern more effectively.
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CNN: Elizabeth Edwards, 61, dies after long struggle with cancer
Elizabeth Edwards, the estranged wife of 2004 vice presidential candidate and former North Carolina senator John Edwards, died Tuesday after a lengthy battle with cancer. She was 61. She died at the family home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, according to a statement released by the family. "Today we have lost the comfort of Elizabeth's presence but she remains the heart of this family," the statement said. "We love her and will never know anyone more inspiring or full of life."
CNN: Mental evaluation of suspected Fort Hood shooter to continue
A mental evaluation of Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, is set to continue Wednesday. Hasan's lawyer John Galligan, confirmed that, despite his objections, the evaluation by a panel of military mental health experts began Tuesday. Galligan had argued that the psychiatric evaluation should have been delayed until he and Hasan received evidence that he says is still being kept secret by the Defense Department and the White House about what was known about Hasan prior to the November 5, 2009, massacre.
Roll Call: Hurting Gulf Seafood Industry Wants U.S. to Buy In
Gulf Coast officials were in Washington, D.C., this week, pitching the Pentagon on a plan to sell local seafood to the armed forces and other federal programs as a way to help their depressed region. “No one else is similarly situated as us,” Mobile, Ala., Mayor Samuel Jones told Roll Call on Monday. “No one else came right off [Hurricane] Katrina to the oil spill.”
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CNN: U.S. ends bid for renewed Israeli settlement freeze
The United States has abandoned efforts to convince Israel to renew a freeze on settlement construction as a precondition for renewing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, a State Department official said Tuesday. U.S.-Israeli talks over a possible settlement freeze have ended after what the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the diplomacy, called a "joint determination." A previous Israeli moratorium on new settlements in the occupied West Bank expired in September, and Palestinians have refused to return to stalled talks unless new construction stops. Washington will continue to work with both sides on core issues, with Palestinian negotiators set to visit Washington next week, the official said.
CNN: Washington ups pressure on China to act on North Korea
The head of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff on Wednesday joined a chorus of American officials calling for China to take a leading role in defusing tension on the Korean peninsula, specifically using its influence with North Korea. "The Chinese have enormous influence over the North, influence that no other nation on Earth enjoys," Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a news conference in Seoul, South Korea. "And yet, despite a shared interest in reducing tensions, they appear unwilling to use it." Mullen is in Seoul to meet with defense leaders and demonstrate the strength of the U.S.-South Korea alliance.
CNN: China to hand out its own peace prize
China is all set to give out its own first-ever peace prize Thursday, a move apparently to counter the Norwegian Nobel committee's choice of imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo as this year's laureate. Organizers told CNN they will present the Confucius Peace Prize - which comes with an award of $15,000 - in Beijing to promote the ancient sage's philosophy, a day before the Nobel committee honors Liu in Oslo. "China is a great nation that has been influenced by the Confucian concept of peace for a long time," said Tan Changliu, chairman of the awards committee. "We want to promote world peace from an Eastern perspective."
CNN: Death toll in China coal mine blast rises to 26
The death toll in a gas explosion at a coal mine in China's Henan province has risen to 26, state media said Wednesday. Forty-six miners were working underground when the blast occurred Tuesday at the Juyuan Coal Mine, state-run Xinhua news agency reported. Twenty of the men were lifted to safety shortly afterward. At the time of the blast, the mine was closed for upgrades. But the mine's owner ordered the men to return to work, Xinhua said, Li Guoqi, deputy chief engineer of Yi Ma Coal Industry Group.
CNN: Document: Up to 25% of freed Gitmo detainees return to terrorism
A declassified document made public Tuesday showed that up to 25% of all former detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, subsequently engaged in terrorism or insurgency, but the percentage is much lower for those transferred under the Obama administration. The summary issued by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that of the 66 detainees transferred to other countries since President Barack Obama took office, two were confirmed and three were suspected of "re-engaging in terrorist or insurgent activities." Overall, the summary said, a total of 598 detainees had been transferred from the Guantanamo facility, with 150 confirmed or suspected of later taking part in terrorist or insurgent activities.
CNN: New Taliban video shows captive U.S. soldier
New video from a production house associated with the Taliban includes scenes of a U.S. soldier captured in Afghanistan nearly 18 months ago, a family spokesman confirmed Tuesday night. Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl was reported captured in June 2009 and was last seen in a hostage video released by the Taliban in April. But he appears in footage released Tuesday by Manba al-Jihad, a video production group associated with the Islamic militia battling U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. There was no indication when the scenes were recorded. But Lt. Col. Timothy Marsano, a spokesman for the Bergdahl family, said they have seen images from the video and confirmed the thin Westerner seen in the video is the missing soldier.
CNN: Protest of Haiti election results: 'We will set the country on fire'
Protests erupted around the Haitian capital Tuesday night after an election council announced a runoff between a former first lady and a candidate allied with an increasingly unpopular government. Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady of Haiti, won the presidential election held over a week ago with 31.37 of the vote, the Provisional Electoral Council announced late Tuesday. Jude Celestin, the candidate backed by President Rene Preval, came in second with 22.48 percent while popular musician Michel Martelly was just behind Celestin with 21.84 percent. Fires erupted throughout the city late into the night, and protesters promised more violence.
CNN: Officials: French report about origin of cholera in Haiti inconclusive
A French doctor's report suggests that the strain of cholera ravaging Haiti may have originated with U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal, but U.N. officials and others cautioned that the report was inconclusive. The report by French epidemiologist Dr. Renaud Piarroux rules out a number of potential causes and points to the Nepalese soldiers as the most probable, said Vincenzo Pugliese, spokesman for the U.N. mission in Haiti, but it fails to deliver definitive proof.
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Bloomberg: U.S. Automakers, UAW Said to Explore Expanding Profit Sharing
General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC, in advance of next year’s labor contract negotiations, are exploring with the United Auto Workers changes that could give workers a bigger piece of growing profits. “We want to find the best possible bang for all of the employees, across the board, not a program that would pay some and not the others,” said General Holiefield, head of the UAW’s Chrysler department under President Bob King. While formal negotiations haven’t begun, union leaders and executives from the automakers have broached profit-sharing changes, said two people familiar with the efforts.
Washington Post: FCC's pay-as-you-go Internet plan raises video, access questions
As details emerge about the Federal Communications Commission's controversial proposal for regulating Internet providers, a provision that would allow companies to bill customers for how much they surf the Web is drawing special scrutiny. Analysts say pay-as-you-go Internet access could put the brakes on the burgeoning online video industry, handing a victory to cable and satellite TV providers. The practice is legal, but had been discouraged by the FCC and by protests from consumers and public interest groups. But wireless companies are moving rapidly in that direction – all major cellphone providers offer subscribers tiered data plans for Internet service. AT&T doesn't offer flat-rate wireless plans for new customers.
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