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: Next step is Senate vote after tax deal clears key hurdle
Final Senate approval could come as early as Tuesday on the hotly contested tax deal negotiated by President Barack Obama and Republican leaders. The deal cleared a key procedural hurdle Monday, with an 83-15 vote to end Senate debate on the measure, which includes a two-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts set to expire December 31. The plan would also extend unemployment benefits for 13 months, cut the payroll tax by 2 percentage points for a year and continue a series of other tax breaks. Anticipating final Senate approval of the measure, Obama Monday urged the House to pass it quickly, despite misgivings by some House Democrats about specific provisions in the package. "I recognize that folks on both sides of the political spectrum are unhappy" with parts of the deal, Obama said, calling it "the nature of compromise." Overall, he said, the measure will help bolster recovery from recession and provide taxpayers with certainty about what they will owe in 2011.
CNN: Congress and Obama likely to delay start of their holiday breaks
President Barack Obama will remain in Washington for as long as Congress stays in session, and that likely means later than the scheduled start of his Christmas break, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday. Saturday is supposed to be the start of the Senate's Christmas recess and the day Obama and the first family head for Hawaii. However, Gibbs told reporters that a Saturday departure appears unlikely. "I think the Senate is going to be in longer than this week," he said, adding that Obama will stay in Washington for "as long as the Congress is here."
USA Today: Obama vows to fight Republicans - next year
As fellow Democrats accuse him of caving in to Republicans on the tax cut deal, President Obama is repeatedly promising them that he will fight the GOP aggressively when it takes over the U.S. House and adds senators next month. "I will be happy to see the Republicans test whether or not I'm itching for a fight on a whole range of issues," Obama said last week. "I suspect they will find I am. And I think the American people will be on my side on a whole bunch of these fights." Obama has echoed this pledge repeatedly as House and Senate Democrats wrestle with the package that also includes items sought by Obama, including a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits and an array of middle class tax cuts. In a conference call with political supporters, Obama said: "We are going to go right back at Republicans in showing why the things that they wanted in this compromise don't make sense."
CNN: Steele admits stumbles, announces re-election bid
Michael Steele broke a weeks-long silence Monday night and announced that he will seek a second term as chairman of the Republican National Committee. Steele revealed his intentions in a lengthy private conference call with RNC members, several of whom relayed the news to CNN. Speaking for nearly 40 minutes, Steele touted Republican gains at the ballot box in November and said the RNC deserves a share of the credit. Under his watch, he said, the committee was re-shaped to empower grassroots activists and state party organizations in places where the GOP has traditionally not been competitive. "While we began this cycle bowed, we did not break," Steele said on the call. "We ended better and stronger."
CNN: Virginia judge rules health care mandate unconstitutional
A Virginia federal judge on Monday found a key part of President Barack Obama's sweeping health care reform law unconstitutional, setting the stage for a protracted legal struggle likely to wind up in the Supreme Court. U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson struck down the "individual mandate" requiring most Americans to purchase health insurance by 2014. The Justice Department is expected to challenge the judge's findings in a federal appeals court. Hudson's opinion contradicts other court rulings finding the mandate constitutionally permissible. "An individual's personal decision to purchase - or decline purchase - (of) health insurance from a private provider is beyond the historical reach of the U.S. Constitution," Hudson wrote, also stating that "no specifically articulated constitutional authority exists to mandate the purchase of health insurance."
Washington Post: Fate of health-care law likely to be decided by Supreme Court
Perhaps the only issue on which opponents and supporters of the health-care law can agree is that its fate will probably be decided by the Supreme Court. The two-dozen cases wending their way through the court system contest the law on a number of issues, but most center on whether Congress has the power to require virtually all Americans to obtain health insurance. The issue comes before a court evenly divided between liberals and conservatives, with moderate conservative Justice Anthony M. Kennedy often holding the deciding vote.
New York Times: As Electoral Ground Shifts, Bloomberg Could Skip the Party
On Sunday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg flatly ruled out an independent run for president in 2012. On Monday, he appeared at the national unveiling in New York of No Labels, a group that aspires to build a grass-roots movement for political independents and independent-minded voters in both parties, and talked again about loosening the grip of both parties on the political process. If Mr. Bloomberg’s denial is Shermanesque, then his behavior seems more Perot-like. It’s possible that Mr. Bloomberg is discouraging his supporters because he really has closed the door on a presidential run. It’s also possible, though, that he understands something about the modern political culture that many of those speculating about the purpose of No Labels do not — that an independent not only no longer needs to spend time encouraging the formation of a party organization to run for president, but he’s also probably better off without one.
Roll Call: Redistricting Reform Is Tough Task Every Time
Every 10 years, the Census Bureau takes a count of Americans, and like clockwork, good-government groups and politicians across the country try to reshape the redistricting process in their states before the bureau announces how their delegations may shrink or grow. In 2010 those efforts had mixed results, with Florida and California having the most success: Redistricting reform passed by ballot initiative in November. Other states, trying to pass changes through the normal legislative process, were not so fortunate. Regardless, the goals of redistricting reform cross state and party lines. Reformers hope to create districts that keep racially and economically similar groups together, have contiguous boundaries and won’t give incumbents undue advantages. For those reasons, lawmakers may be the wrong people to make over the system.
CNN: Angle eyes Tea Party prospects for 2012
Former Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle on Monday announced plans to form a new political action committee (PAC) called "The Patriot Caucus." Angle, a Tea Party- backed candidate who lost to Democrat and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the 2010 election, said in a statement posted on her Facebook page, "The tea party movement stood with me through a hard fought race against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid." "It's time for me to give back and help our movement take the fight against big government to a new level."
Roll Call: Tea Partyers Struggle to Unite Against Snowe
The conservative push to oust moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe may be over before it ever really began. Developments in recent weeks have exposed a fractured and disappointed tea party movement, even as one of Maine’s loudest tea party voices has emerged as a likely Snowe challenger. The fissure became more pronounced after Gov.-elect Paul LePage (R) declared he would back Snowe regardless of whether a more conservative candidate surfaces. The announcement knocked the wind out of local tea party groups that had helped propel LePage to victory less than six weeks ago.
Dallas News: GOP nearing supermajority in Texas House
Republicans in the Texas House will have carte blanche to do pretty much whatever they want. A decision over the weekend by Democrat Allan Ritter to switch parties means the GOP should hold 100 of the House's 150 seats when lawmakers return to work next month. In last month's election, House Republicans posted huge gains in ousting 22 Democrats. They need only a victory in a pending special election – to replace a GOP member in a heavily Republican Hill Country district who died last month – to enjoy almost total sway in the chamber. "It's a psychological hurdle that's been overcome," Republican consultant Todd M. Smith said of the supermajority. "It truly gives the Republicans in the Texas House the tools they need to accomplish their legislative goals, and it doesn't matter what the opposition is from the Democrats."
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CNN: Richard Holbrooke, noted diplomat, is dead at 69
Richard C. Holbrooke, the high-octane diplomat who spearheaded the end of the Bosnian war and most recently served as the Obama administration's point man in the volatile Afghan-Pakistani war zone, has died, officials said. The 69-year-old diplomat died Monday at George Washington University Hospital in Washington. He was admitted last Friday after feeling ill. Doctors performed surgery Saturday to repair a tear in his aorta. One of the world's most recognizable diplomats, Holbrooke's career spanned from the Vietnam War era to the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, coinciding with presidencies of the past five decades from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama.
CNN Money: BP claims: Get paid 'quick' if you don't sue
People and businesses impacted by the BP Gulf Coast oil spill will now be able to receive a check almost immediately, so long as they give up their right to sue. Gulf Coast Claims Facility Administrator Kenneth R. Feinberg announced the new "quick pay" program on Monday. Individuals can get $5,000 and businesses can get $25,000 without submitting any further documentation. However, a full release to waive the right to sue is required. The "quick pay" program is available to the 166,000 individuals and businesses who have already received an emergency payment from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, the independent organization in charge of the claims process. Claimants who are submitting claims for the first time or who have been denied for emergency payments are not eligible.
Washington Post: Gun dealers often stay in business with new licenses after ATF shuts them down
About a hundred times a year, regulators strip gun dealers of their licenses for violations of federal law, an extreme step taken only when repeated infractions are deemed a threat to public safety. But a year-long Washington Post investigation documented about 60 cases since 2003 in which the businesses stayed open, often re-licensed through relatives, employees, associates or newly formed companies. "We'll just have to play musical licenses," the owner of the Highland Gun Barn in Michigan said when a federal inspector served him with a final notice to surrender his license.
CNN: Earthquake 'swarm' rattles Arkansas town and its residents
The Arkansas Geological Survey is trying to unravel a mystery: What is causing earthquakes in the town of Guy, Arkansas? Since September 20, the community of 549 residents north of Little Rock has experienced an almost constant shaking from 487 measurable earthquakes. "We've had 15 today including a 3.1 (magnitude) from this morning," Scott Ausbrooks, geohazards supervisor for the Geological Survey, said Monday. "These are shallow quakes between two and eight kilometers (between one-and-a-quarter and five miles) below the surface." While earthquakes aren't unusual in the Southeast state, the frequency is. "This time last year we had 39 quakes total for the entire state," said Ausbrooks.
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CNN: New Af-Pak intel report point to persistent problem: Pakistan
Despite aid and assistance from the United States, terrorist safe havens in Pakistan continue to be a major threat to security in Afghanistan, the latest intelligence community assessment concludes, according to a U.S. official. The intelligence community recently completed two assessments, one on Afghanistan and the other on Pakistan. Although the official would not discuss the particulars of the reports, known as National Intelligence Estimates, the source said the intelligence community agreed that security in Afghanistan depends on Pakistan eliminating the terrorist safe havens in its tribal areas along the Afghanistan border. The official said Pakistan is not doing enough to combat extremists who are launching cross-border attacks. A year ago, when President Barack Obama announced his new strategy in Afghanistan, he hammered home a key foreign policy principle: that success in Afghanistan is "inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan."
CNN: Ex-rebels, government troops face off in Ivory Coast
Government troops backing Ivory Coast's President Laurent Gbagbo clashed with ex-rebels supporting the internationally recognized winner of last month's presidential vote Monday, as the European Union announced "targeted measures" aimed at Gbagbo's rule. Alassane Ouattara's supporters attacked a checkpoint near the hotel that houses the former prime minister's office, surprising Gbagbo's forces and making off with a machine gun designed for mounting on a vehicle, witnesses reported. Gbagbo's troops responded to the raid by setting up a blockade of the hotel, barring all but a few diplomatic vehicles from passing. Ouattara, a former economist for the International Monetary Fund who served as prime minister, was named the winner of a November presidential runoff by Ivory Coast's Independent Electoral Commission. But the country's Constitutional Council promptly invalidated those results and declared Gbagbo the winner.
CNN: Search stopped for 17 missing men after ship sinks
The search has been suspended for 17 crewmen missing at sea after the sinking of a Korean fishing vessel in the frigid ocean waters around Antarctica, a New Zealand rescue agency said Tuesday. Twenty survivors and five dead were were recovered after the Korean-owned-and-operated No. 1 Insung sank Monday about 1,150 miles north of McMurdo Base, the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand said. "Unfortunately the Southern Ocean is an extremely unforgiving environment," mission coordinator Dave Wilson said, referring to waters also known as the Antarctic Ocean.
CNN: South Korean army chief resigns
The South Korean presidential office accepted the resignation of the chief of the Army Tuesday, the Yonhap news agency reported. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Hwang Eui-don had received criticism about a property investment before submitting his letter of resignation, Yonhap reported. Hwang was named to the position in June and was quickly accused of using insider information to make money off of a property investment, Yonhap reported. This resignation comes weeks after the country's defense minister resigned.
CNN: Italy's Berlusconi faces confidence vote
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is scheduled to face a confidence vote in Parliament on Tuesday, the latest in a series of votes on his leadership since a dispute with a former ally over the summer. The three-term prime minister survived the last one in September, when members of the lower house of Parliament voted 342-275 to back his plans. In a speech to lawmakers on Monday, he made a last-ditch bid to save is political life. "He who votes against us is betraying the mandate received from the electorate," Berlusconi said in his half-hour speech.
Jerusalem Post: New bill could keep terror suspects from lawyer for year
A bill that would allow terrorism suspects to be held for up to a year without access to a lawyer was approved for government support on Monday. The measure, sponsored by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Israel Beiteinu), would extend the amount of time during which prison officials can deny visits from a lawyer to someone suspected of terrorism, from three weeks to six months at a time, for a total of up to a year.Prison officials have had the ability to prevent such visits since 2005, if they can prove that there is “a grave suspicion that meetings with a specific lawyer would allow the implementation of a criminal offense that would endanger the security of a person, the security of the public, the security of the state, or the security of the prison.” The bill was slammed by civil rights organizations. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which filed a memorandum with the Public Security Ministry in opposition to the legislation, said it was in “clear contradiction to constitutional principles.”
CNN: Holiday in Chernobyl: Ukraine to lift restrictions on disaster site
Ukraine says it will lift restrictions on tourism in the zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 2011, formally opening the scene of the world's worst nuclear accident to visitors. A limited number of visitors already are allowed into the 30-kilometer (19-mile) exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which exploded and burned in 1986. The Ukrainian government will present a detailed plan for lifting the remaining restrictions on travel to the area December 21, said Viktor Baloga, the former Soviet republic's emergency situations minister. Background radiation in the accident zone is still well above normal. But far from being a wasteland, wildlife has rebounded in the exclusion zone and trees are reclaiming the ghost city of Pripyat, said Mary Mycio, author of "Wormwood Forest," a 2005 book on the area.
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Bloomberg: No New Normal for 2011 in Strategists Call for 11% S&P 500 Gain
Rising profits and cash balances will push the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to the biggest three- year advance since the 1990s, surpassing forecasts for below- average returns, strategists at Wall Street’s biggest banks say. The benchmark gauge for American equities will rise 11 percent from last week’s close to 1,379 in 2011, bringing the increase since 2008 to 53 percent, the best return since 1997 to 2000, according to the average of 11 strategists in a Bloomberg News survey. Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s David Kostin, the most accurate U.S. strategist this year, said sales growth will spur a 17 percent rally in the S&P 500 through the end of 2011.
USA Today: States, feds crack down on firms using 'contract workers'
State and federal authorities, as well as workers themselves, sharply increased crackdowns this year on companies that misclassify employees as independent contractors. The efforts threaten to curb the big growth of contractors and freelancers in the workforce. "We're going to have ongoing battles," says Barry Asin, president of Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA), a research group. …Meanwhile, the Department of Labor says it forced employers to pay $6.5 million in back wages to 5,261 employees in fiscal 2010, up sharply from $2.6 million owed to 2,190 employees a year earlier. States are also increasing enforcement, with about 20 passing laws the past two years that make it easier to force employers to reclassify contractors as employees and seek unpaid taxes, says Jack Finn, head of the Interstate Labor Standards Association.
In Case You Missed It
CNN's Nic Robertson reports from Kabul, Afghanistan, on the impact of the death of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.
Va. Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli talks about his position on an insurance mandate with CNN's John King.
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