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 passes tax deal to send it to President Obama
The House of Representatives gave final approval late Thursday night to the $858 billion tax deal negotiated by the White House and top Senate Republicans, sending it to President Barack Obama to be signed into law. After a day of legislative wrangling that delayed consideration of the measure for several hours, the final vote of 277-148 had almost equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans in support. The package includes a two-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts set to expire December 31. It also would extend unemployment benefits for 13 months, cut the payroll tax by 2 percentage points for a year, restore the estate tax at a lower level and continue a series of other tax breaks.
CNN: Senate Democrats give up bid to pass $1.1 trillion spending bill
In a dramatic twist played out on the floor of the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid conceded Thursday night he lacked the votes to bring up a $1.1 trillion spending bill designed to fund the federal government for the rest of the current fiscal year. Reid, D-Nevada, accused Republicans of withdrawing previously pledged support for the bill, and said he would work with the Senate Republican leader to draft a short-term spending measure that would keep the government running beyond Saturday, when the current spending authorization resolution expires. "A number of Republican senators told me they'd like to see this pass, but they can't support it," Reid said, adding that nine GOP senators who previously told him they backed the bill had changed their stance.
CNN: Reid defends earmarks, blasts some Republicans as hypocrites
Senate Majority Leader Harry gave a full-throated defense of earmarks Thursday and criticized some Republicans for seeking them in a pending government-funding bill despite a recent pledge to ban them. "Some people who speak out against congressionally directed spending or earmarks are people who have more earmarks than others. They're hoping, of course, it will pass and they can go home and do the press events as they've done with the stimulus money that we have gotten back to the states saying, 'Here I am, cut the ribbon, look what I did.' You can't have it both ways," Reid said at a news conference.
CNN: Senators debate nuclear weapons treaty; no vote slated yet
The Senate began formal debate Thursday on a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia, a top presidential priority that conservative Republicans had tried to block in the current lame-duck session of Congress. However, the chamber moved on to other issues on Thursday night, leaving open the question of when it would vote on ratifying the pact. With the current lame-duck session of Congress approaching conclusion, Senate Democrats were trying to make progress on considering the treaty despite a Republican threat to block any legislation brought up before the Senate acts on a measure authorizing continued government spending.
Politico: Democrats keep 'don't ask' on wish list
Senate Democrats on Thursday moved one step closer to repealing the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) scheduling a key vote Saturday on a bill to end the ban on openly gay service members. But Democrats are bracing for an enormous backlash from repeal advocates if they fall short again. As time runs out on the 111th Congress, top Democrats are pointing fingers at Republicans for stalling Senate action, saying if the buzzer sounds before Congress ends the policy, the GOP will be to blame. Still, there are at least four Republican senators on the record saying they’ll vote to repeal “don’t ask” under the right procedural circumstances.
Huffington Post: Federal Government Cuts Off Recession Relief Money To States
Despite soaring unemployment and the 19 million Americans currently living in "deep poverty," federal funds for the Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF) program have entirely dried up for the first time since 1996, leaving states with an average of 15 percent less federal funding for the coming year to help an ever-increasing number of needy families. TANF, the federal program that replaced welfare under the Clinton Administration, provides a lifeline for families and workers who have exhausted all of their unemployment benefits. According to a new report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, "more homeless families will go without shelter, fewer low-wage workers will receive help with child care expenses, and fewer families involved with the child welfare system will receive preventive services" now that Congress has passed legislation that will end funding for the TANF Contingency Fund in 2011.
CNN: Gingrich rallies opposition to spending bill, START treaty
Newt Gingrich rallied his supporters Thursday to oppose two major pieces of legislation that Democrats want to pass before the end of the lame-duck Congress. In an email to the 1.2 million members of his advocacy group American Solutions, Gingrich called the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill "outrageous" because it includes roughly $8 billion in earmarks. He accused Democrats of "blackmail" – threatening the American people "with a shutdown of the government if we don't accept their pork barrel spending." And the former House speaker said it would be "dangerous and irresponsible" to pass the New START Treaty in the lame duck before properly considering "whether the treaty limits further development of our missile defense systems."
CNN: Wyden to undergo surgery, may miss votes
Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden will undergo surgery for early-stage prostate cancer next week, according to a statement released by his office. The timing of this surgery will possibly cause Sen. Wyden to miss critical votes in the Senate. "After my annual physical in late November, I was diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer. After reviewing all the options with multiple physicians, I decided to take a proactive approach and have surgery, which will be performed December 20 at Johns Hopkins Hospital by Dr. Alan Partin. "Thanks to routine screening, this was diagnosed very early and I expect a full and speedy recovery.
CNN: Republican Rep.-elect picks a bone with a top leader in his party
Wasting no time taking on his own leadership, Congressman-elect Allen West is already picking a bone with House Majority Leader-elect Eric Cantor sending the message: lawmakers should have fewer days off. Cantor, who will be the second-most-powerful Republican in the House, sets the 2011 Congressional calendar which is then communicated to members. West is a Tea Party favorite who will represent Florida's 22nd District once sworn in on January 5. But he's already at work – writing a letter to his fellow Republican to complain there aren't enough days set aside for work in Washington. "I believe this schedule does not sufficiently reflect the concerns of the American people as expressed on November 2nd," West told Cantor in the letter.
Boston Globe: With era ending, Patrick Kennedy embraces new opportunities
Representative Patrick Kennedy stepped carefully around a clutter of half-packed cardboard boxes, overstuffed luggage, and several open bags of potato chips at his Capitol Hill apartment. It seemed more like a scene of a college student heading home than the end of a 64-year political legacy.But Kennedy’s upcoming retirement will break a bond between the nation’s capital and Camelot. When the new House is seated in January, it will mark the first time since 1947 — the year a 29-year-old John F. Kennedy was sworn in as a Massachusetts congressman — that no member of the Kennedy family will be serving in the House, Senate, or White House.
Chicago Sun-Times: The two mayors Daley: Son about to pass father for time in office
Richard J. Daley was Chicago’s beloved father figure, the most powerful big-city mayor this nation has known. He built O’Hare Airport, McCormick Place, expressways, public housing high-rises and a University of Illinois at Chicago he called his crowning achievement. His leadership of a vaunted Democratic Party machine made him a presidential kingmaker. His son, Richard M. Daley, has presided over the “softening” of Chicago — from a Rust Belt manufacturing center to a greener, international city with a burgeoning technology base. By mastering the art of coalition politics, he has transformed Chicago from the racially divided city once known as “Beirut on the Lake.” On Dec. 26, the younger Daley will surpass his father as Chicago’s longest-serving mayor, having served 7,917 days — 21 years and eight months.
Wall Street Journal: U.S. Seeks Web Privacy 'Bill of Rights'
Newark Star Ledger: Gov. Chris Christie to nominate ex-N.Y. schools official for N.J. education commissioner
Christopher Cerf, a former New York City deputy schools chancellor described as "one of the most talented and sophisticated people in education in America today," will be nominated as New Jersey’s next education commissioner, two people briefed on the nomination said tonight. ov. Chris Christie is expected to formally nominate Cerf, a 56-year-old Montclair resident, next week, according to one of the two people. Both asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. f confirmed by the state Senate, Cerf would take over an embattled department that has been without a commissioner since August, when Bret Schundler was fired after the state lost $400 million in federal education aid, and an education system has been under relentless attacks by Christie.
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CNN: FBI, Homeland Security issue holiday threat notice to law enforcement
U.S. officials say they have no specific and credible information about planned terror attacks on the United States, but they have issued an intelligence bulletin to state and local law enforcement warning terrorists could target large crowds at holiday gatherings. The Department of Homeland Security and FBI issued an intelligence bulletin Wednesday to encourage law enforcement agencies to be watchful. "Terrorists may seek to exploit the likely significant psychological impact of an attack targeting mass gatherings in large metropolitan areas during the 2010 holiday season which has symbolic importance to many in the United States," the bulletin says, a copy of which was obtained by CNN. "We continue to assess, however, the timing of a terrorist attack depends more on terrorists' readiness to execute an attack rather than a desire to attack on a specific date."
CNN: With failed test, questions about U.S. missile defense
America has invested billions of dollars to develop, test and deploy a group of missiles called "ground-based interceptors" whose sole purpose is to knock down an incoming ICBM. Dozens of missiles are ready to be fired if the worst should happen. But another failed test of the system Wednesday raises serious questions about whether the system is making the nation any safer. "It wasn't a good day, not at all," said Riki Ellison, founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a non-profit group that urges missile defense development. "If you're the American public, you've paid a lot for this system, you want to make sure that you are going to be protected. This doesn't give the confidence that you need."
CNN: Larry King ends his record-setting run on CNN
Larry King, America's interviewer-in-chief, ended his record-setting career as CNN's prime-time, talk-show host Thursday night with a serenade from Tony Bennett, a greeting from President Obama and a Larry King Day proclamation from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Those guests and others capped his 25-year run behind the microphone with CNN. "Welcome to the last Larry King Live. It's hard to say that," King said in his opening remarks to his last show.
Cleveland Plain Dealer: Look out - oil prices to hit $200 a barrel by 2035, projection shows
Americans who are upset about $3 gasoline won't like the latest long-term projection from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Over the next 25 years, even as the nation's thirst for oil lessens, global demand for petroleum will soar. And that means there will be significant price increases, the EIA predicted Thursday in the first draft of its yearly long-term energy outlook. The agency's annual December exercise in crystal ball gazing is based on current laws and regulations. It does not include unexpected developments in global politics. The final version is published in March.
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CNN: New Mexico governor says he is making progress in North Korea
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Friday that he had made some progress after wrapping up his first serious meeting with a North Korean government official. Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador, arrived in North Korea Thursday on a four-day visit that he said will help ease tensions in the region. Richardson met with a vice minister of North Korea's' Ministry of Foreign Affairs Friday. He will meet with North Korea's senior nuclear negotiator Kim Gye Gwan Saturday. Richardson has said he hopes to "to bring down the temperature in the Korean peninsula" during his trip.
Wall Street Journal: U.S. Revises Rules for Raids Touted in Review
The U.S. military command in Afghanistan has revised secret guidelines for nighttime raids, placing additional safeguards on kill-or-capture missions that are cited in a new White House strategic review as an effective tool in countering the Taliban. A senior U.S. official said the new directive by Gen. David Petraeus, commander of coalition forces, was done "out of necessity" to ease tensions with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The nighttime raids, which can imperil civilians, have been a sore point with Afghan leaders. The shift in tactics comes as the White House on Thursday released a review of Afghan strategy that singled out night raids' usefulness in recent months. In the review, the White House pointed more broadly to tentative progress in the war but said gains were fragile because of Pakistan's failure to eliminate militant havens on its territory and the difficulty of developing effective Afghan security forces.
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CNN Money: Stocks hit 2-year highs
Stocks closed at two-year highs Thursday, with two of the three major indexes hitting their highest levels since September 2008. Investors looked on the brighter side of mixed reports on housing and jobs that came out before the opening bell. The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) closed 41 points higher, or less than 0.4%, to end at 11,499.25 - the highest close since Sept. 8, 2008. The S&P 500 (SPX) gained 8 points, or 0.6%, to 1,242.87, its highest closing level since Sept. 19, 2008. The tech-heavy Nasdaq (COMP) rose 20 points, or 0.8%. Gains were broad-based in the Dow, with 25 of its 30 components closing higher.Despite Thursday's mixed reports, economic data have been relatively upbeat lately. Stocks have performed well in December so far, with the three major indexes up 2% to almost 4%.
In Case You Missed It
Sen. McCain gets candid with CNN on "don't ask, don't tell," the START treaty and his relationship with Pres. Obama.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer details restrictions he is facing while accompanying former governor Bill Richardson to North Korea.
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