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: Senate set to pass tax package; House divided over estate tax deal
Senators made speeches into the evening Tuesday on the tax and benefits package negotiated by President Barack Obama and Republican leaders, while House Democrats argued about whether they will change the measure after expected Senate approval. The deal received strong bipartisan support in clearing a key Senate procedural hurdle Monday, with an 83-15 vote to end debate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, announced Tuesday night that the final vote would take place Wednesday. The package includes a two-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts set to expire December 31, and also would extend unemployment benefits for 13 months, cut the payroll tax by 2 percentage points for a year, lower a restored estate tax, and continue a series of other tax breaks.
CNN: Tea Party groups divided on tax cut deal
Democrats aren't the only ones divided over the tax cut package negotiated by President Obama and congressional Democrats. Two tea party groups are taking opposing positions on the issue, CNN learned Tuesday. The Tea Party Express objects to the tax cut compromise because "the piles of pork, deficit spending, and lack of any real confidence-booster for the economy makes this whole mess a bad deal for the American people," Levi Russell, a spokesman for the group, said. …On the other hand, FreedomWorks, a Tea Party-aligned group headed by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey, supports passage of the tax cut deal.
CNN: Senator takes veiled shot at potential 2012 rivals
Sen. John Thune. R-South Dakota, took to the Senate floor Tuesday to defend the agreement reached between Republicans and President Obama on extending Bush-era tax cuts. And Thune used his speech to take a veiled shot at potential rivals for the GOP presidential nomination who have criticized the deal. "It is easy to stand on the sidelines and criticize this deal," Thune said. "And it would perhaps be politically expedient to stand on the sideline and criticize this tax deal. But to advocate against this tax deal is to advocate for a tax increase." Thune, who is considering a run for president, emphasized that if no deal had been reached, then taxes for Americans would have increased next month.
CNN Money: Obama and CEOs: The great thaw
The CEOs are coming, and maybe just in time. Last week, the administration said that 20 CEOs will meet with President Obama on Wednesday for a discussion that will cover trade, clean energy, the deficit and tax code reform. The meeting is a highly visible example of the commitment President Obama made to improve relations with the business community after suffering a self-described "shellacking" in the midterm elections. "The working session is an opportunity for the president to continue building strong partnerships in the business community," said White House Deputy Communications Director Jen Psaki.
Washington Post: Senate spending bill contains thousands of earmarks
Weeks after swearing off earmarks, many senators stand to gain tens of millions of dollars for pet projects in a massive spending bill that could be their last chance at the money before a more conservative Congress begins next month. The $1.2 trillion bill, released on Tuesday, includes more than 6,000 earmarks totaling $8 billion, an amount that many lawmakers decried as an irresponsible binge following a midterm election in which many voters demanded that the government cut spending. "The American people said just 42 days ago, 'Enough!' . . . Are we tone deaf? Are we stricken with amnesia?" Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leading earmark critic, said on the Senate floor, flipping through the 1,924-page bill as he pounded his desk.
CNN: House Democrats push 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal
House Democrats renewed their push Tuesday to overturn the ban on gays and lesbian soldiers serving openly in the U.S. military, introducing legislation repealing the controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The House previously passed a repeal of the ban as part of a larger defense spending authorization bill, but the measure stalled last week in the Senate. The new measure is a so-called "standalone" bill - not tied to any other legislative items. It is set to come to a vote on Wednesday, according to a senior House Democratic aide.
CNN: Marine commandant repeats his opposition to scrapping DADT
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos is sticking to his guns in opposing gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, warning Tuesday that a change now in current policy could pose a deadly distraction on the Afghanistan battlefield. “I don't want to lose any Marines to a distraction," Amos said in a roundtable discussion with journalists at the Pentagon. "I don't want to have any Marines I'm visiting at Bethesda (Naval Hospital) with no legs as a result of any type of distraction. So that's where I come down on this." A recording of the Amos comments was provided to CNN by the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes.
CNN: Senate to take up START treaty as early as Wednesday
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has decided to begin debate on ratification of the START treaty as soon as Wednesday, after the Senate passes the tax cut package, according to his spokesman Jim Manley. Senate Democrats had already planned on staying in session through the weekend and possibly into next week in order to debate the treaty, but were waiting for a green light from the White House. That now appears to have happened. Another outstanding issue is funding the government. A resolution to keep the government running expires at week's end. Manley said the Senate will "juggle" that, along with the START treaty.
Roll Call: Hoyer Strengthens Cross-Aisle Ties
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer appears to be solidifying his position as the Democratic leader whom Republicans can deal with and trust next year. Over the past week, the Maryland lawmaker has made several public overtures to get in the good graces of Speaker-designate John Boehner: He mingled with GOP staff and allies at the Ohio Republican’s annual holiday bash, outlined a bipartisan governing agenda at a press event Monday and went out of his way Tuesday to praise how the GOP’s leadership has handled its transition to the majority. The role of chief emissary to Republicans is one that he has long held in the Democratic Caucus — although in his last stint in the minority, Hoyer worked most closely with his good friend and longtime GOP Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.), who is heading to the Senate. Hoyer does not have nearly as close a relationship with Boehner, Majority Leader-designate Eric Cantor (R-Va.) or Majority Whip-designate Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Not that he isn’t trying.
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CNN: Air Force cutting off access to WikiLeaks news
The U.S. Air Force is denying its personnel access to websites carrying documents released by WikiLeaks, including those of some news organizations, a spokeswoman said Tuesday. The White House Office of Management and Budget has already forbidden federal employees and contractors from accessing classified documents publicly available on WikiLeaks and other websites via computers or mobile devices. But Maj. Toni Tones said the Air Force has cut off access to over 25 sites, including WikiLeaks and three newspapers that have worked with the site to release a cache of U.S. diplomatic cables - The New York Times, The Guardian in Britain and Germany's Der Speigel. "This is consistent with the direction received in August 2010 that stated Air Force personnel should not access the WikiLeaks website to view or download the classified information," Tones told CNN.
Wall Street Journal: New Party to Suits in Gulf Spill: The U.S.
The Justice Department on Wednesday is expected to seek to join civil lawsuits stemming from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the first major federal legal action in the disaster, according to people familiar with the matter. By joining the private litigation, Justice Department lawyers are positioning themselves to play a major role in the coming litigation, including depositions of key witnesses. That could aid the government's continuing probe into the disaster aimed at building a civil and possibly a criminal case against the companies involved, these people said. The Justice Department declined to comment, as did BP PLC, which owned the blown out well.
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CNN: Juarez counts 3,000th homicide of 2010
Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, made its own history Tuesday as its homicide rate reached 3,000 deaths for the year - 10 times the number of killings annually that the border city counted just a few years ago. With two weeks left in the year, 2010 is now the deadliest year Juarez has ever seen, a spokesman for the Chihuahua state attorney general's office told CNN. "At 12:15 p.m. we hit 3,000 murders for the year. The state attorney general's office had the number at 2,998 as of Monday and with the two murders today that brings us to 3,000," spokesman Arturo Sandoval said in a phone interview with CNN late Tuesday.
CNN: Assange granted bail, but Sweden appeals
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was granted bail Tuesday after a hearing at Westminster Magistrate's Court in London, but a lawyer representing Swedish prosecutors immediately filed an appeal. That means Assange will remain in jail until the next hearing, which should be before the High Court within 48 hours, lawyers said. The 39-year-old Australian handed himself over to London police last week to answer a European arrest warrant over alleged sex crimes in Sweden. Assange is facing accusations of rape, sexual molestation and illegal use of force in separate incidents in August in Stockholm. He could be sentenced to two years in prison if convicted. His lawyers deny the allegations and have vowed to fight any attempts at extradition.
BBC: US envoy Bill Richardson hopes to calm North Korea
Bill Richardson, governor of the US state of New Mexico, is travelling to North Korea on an unofficial diplomatic mission to ease regional tensions. Mr Richardson, who has been to Pyongyang several times in recent years, said he hoped to persuade the North Koreans to "calm down a bit."Tensions have been especially high between the two Koreas since the North shelled a South Korean island. There are also renewed fears that the North has advanced its nuclear work. The US State Department has said North Korea has "at least one other" uranium enrichment site in addition to the one shown to US experts last month.
CNN: Haitian presidential candidate calls for entirely new vote, not runoff
A popular presidential candidate whose supporters took to the streets of Haiti to protest what they deemed a fraudulent election proposed Tuesday that a fresh round of voting take place. Musician Michel Martelly, known affectionately as "Tet Kale," or bald head, rejected a runoff and said the election should be repeated with the entire slate of 17 candidates. He also said the troubled nation's electoral council should be dumped. "We do not trust that process," he said in an interview with CNN. "We do not believe in going back to the same judge who has already condemned us. I believe everything has been done to ensure that we lose again when we never lost from day one."
Der Spiegel: Berlusconi Survives No-Confidence Vote
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi narrowly withstood a vote of no confidence Tuesday, with 314 representatives in the lower chamber of deputies voting against a motion to remove him and 311 voting to collapse his government. Two lawmakers abstained, and Berlusconi no longer holds an absolute majority in the 630-member house. But his center-right coalition - for now - can remain in place. "You, prime minister, are no longer in a position to govern," said opposition leader Luigi Bersani after the results were announced on Tuesday, and some members of Berlusconi's People of Liberty party (PdL) seemed to agree. They indicated that his coalition will have to compromise with opponents in parliament to shore up support, or else resign and call elections for 2011, two years ahead of schedule.
CNN: Australia trying to rescue people stranded near Christmas Island
About 50 asylum seekers are feared dead along the coast of Christmas Island after a boat carrying them crashed into cliffs along the shore, rescue and Customs and Border Protection officials said Wednesday. Most of the victims are believed to be women and children, according to Stephen Langford, medical director of Royal Flying Doctor Service in Australia. "There is an ongoing situation which involves a rescue of people off Christmas Island," a statement from Australian Customs and Border Protection said. "Our paramount priority is the safety of all involved." Thirty-three people have been rescued, but high seas are proving to be an obstacle, Langford said.
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New York Times: U.S. Called Vulnerable to Rare Earth Shortages
The United States is too reliant on China for minerals crucial to new clean energy technologies, making the American economy vulnerable to shortages of materials needed for a range of green products — from compact fluorescent light bulbs to electric cars to giant wind turbines. So warns a detailed report to be released on Wednesday morning by the United States Energy Department. The report, which predicts that it could take 15 years to break American dependence on Chinese supplies, calls for the nation to increase research and expand diplomatic contacts to find alternative sources, and to develop ways to recycle the minerals or replace them with other materials. At least 96 percent of the most crucial types of the so-called rare earth minerals are now produced in China, and Beijing has wielded various export controls to limit the minerals’ supply to other countries while favoring its own manufacturers that use them.
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