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: Adviser: Debt ceiling must be raised
If Congress does not raise the debt ceiling, the result could be "catastrophic" for the American economy, Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the Council for Economic Advisers, said Sunday. Speaking on ABC's "This Week," Goolsbee said that the debt ceiling was not something to toy with for political ends. "If we hit the debt ceiling, that's essentially defaulting on our obligations, which is totally unprecedented in American history," he said. "The impact on the economy would be catastrophic. I mean, that would be a worse financial economic crisis than anything we saw in 2008." The debt ceiling is one of the biggest budget fights facing the new Congress that convenes this week.
CNN: Health care in the hot seat again
Republicans on Sunday demonstrated a united front against health care reform passed by the Obama administration, an issue that is sure to fan the flames on the left and right when a divided Congress returns Wednesday. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said members in the House and Senate will try to "defund the Obama care bill and start over." "I think this fight is going to continue to 2012 and it will move from Washington to the states," Graham said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "It will be one big fight over the role of health care and should Obama health care be in existence in 2012 the way it is today."
CNN: GOPer calls Obama administration 'corrupt'
The incoming House Oversight and Government Reform chairman on Sunday tried to clarify his recent remarks to Rush Limbaugh where he called President Obama "one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times." Rep. Darrell Issa said he meant to say the Obama administration instead of the president. "When you hand out $1 trillion in TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) just before this president came in, most of it unspent, $1 trillion nearly in stimulus, that this president asked for, plus this huge expansion in health care and government, it has a corrupting effect," Issa said on CNN's "State of the Union."
NPR: Justice Department Braces For GOP Rule In House
Later this week, the Obama administration will get its first taste of life under the new Republican-led House of Representatives, and few government agencies will make a more attractive target for GOP oversight than the Justice Department, which handles sensitive issues like civil rights and national security. Don't think senior department officials haven't noticed the change in the political atmosphere. The last time a Democrat lived in the White House and the Republicans controlled Congress, the result was nonstop fireworks for the Clinton Justice Department, where now-Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. served as a top deputy. Conservative lawmakers in the late 1990s issued a flurry of subpoenas to the department. They second-guessed decisions in federal corruption cases and highlighted mistakes by law enforcement agents at Waco and Ruby Ridge.
CNN: Obama signs 9/11 health bill
President Barack Obama signed the 9/11 health bill into law in Hawaii on Sunday, White House spokesman Bill Burton said. Obama signed the bill during his Hawaiian vacation, with no signing ceremony held. In a statement issued later, the president said he was "honored" to sign the bill, which pays for health care for responders believed to have been sickened by pollution at the ruins of the World Trade Center in New York. "We will never forget the selfless courage demonstrated by the firefighters, police officers, and first responders who risked their lives to save others," Obama said. "I believe this is a critical step for those who continue to bear the physical scars of those attacks."
CNN: GOP senator makes a 2012 pick
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has a pick for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination: Mitt Romney. The South Carolina Senator said Sunday in his mind, the leader of the pack is "the most electable conservative, whoever that is" but then said it's probably the former Massachusetts governor. "Mitt Romney has got his problems as a candidate, but so does everyone else," Graham said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "But it's a changing environment. And the one thing you got to prove to the people of South Carolina, not only that you're conservative, but you can carry the day."
CNN: DNC chair: Obama unlikely to face Democratic challenger
President Obama is not likely to face a primary challenge from within the Democratic Party in 2012, the chair of the Democratic National Committee said Sunday. "It's possible, but I think the likelihood of any challenge to the president is virtually nil, and I think the president's strong performance, and especially the three major accomplishments at the end of the year make it even smaller," DNC chair Tim Kaine said on CNN's "State of the Union." With the new session of Congress about to start, Kaine said the president will not be afraid to lead, but that he will continue to work with Republicans if they are willing to work with him.
The Hill: Steele critic exits RNC chairman race
Former Republican National Committee political director Gentry Collins dropped out of the race for RNC chairman late Sunday night. He was one of embattled Chairman Michael Steele's biggest critics. He announced his decision in an email to supporters. "It is after much consideration and thought that I announce my withdrawal from the race for chairman of the RNC. I believe that there are several qualified candidates in the race for chairman, each of whom would do a fine job leading the committee through the 2012 Election cycle," he said.
Cincinnati Enquirer: Busloads will watch John Boehner sworn in as Speaker of the House
John Boehner would have a sizeable crowd in Washington Wednesday to watch him be sworn in as the 61st Speaker of the House if it were only his blood relatives coming. Boehner is the second oldest of the 12 children of the late Earl and Mary Ann Boehner of Reading; and 10 of his siblings and their families are going to Washington for the swearing-in. But hundreds of others are coming as well, by plane, automobile and buses – cousins, family friends, campaign volunteers, Republican Party officials from all over Ohio, and tea party activists who supported the West Chester congressman's "Pledge to America" campaign that led to the GOP taking over the House in the November election.
Boston Globe: Patrick may trim legislators’ salaries
Governor Deval Patrick may give an unusual welcome to state lawmakers arriving back on Beacon Hill this week — by cutting their pay the day they are sworn in for a new two-year term. An amendment to the state Constitution gives the governor the authority to set legislators’ salaries every two years, based on what has happened to typical household incomes in Massachusetts. And while Patrick will not say what he plans to do, several signs, including official wage data from the state, point to at least a slight cut in legislators’ base salary of $61,440. That would be the first pay cut for the 200 members of the state House and Senate since at least 1998, when voters approved the amendment that took away lawmakers’ power to set their own salaries and handed the politically thorny issue to the governor.
Dallas News: Minority candidates scarce in Dallas mayor race
The uncertainty swirling around the 2011 Dallas mayor's race won't be cleared up until Tom Leppert decides whether to forgo another term to run for the U.S. Senate. But as would-be successors prepare campaigns for mayor, contenders from two segments of Dallas society are noticeably absent. In a city with a majority minority population, there are no serious black or Hispanic contenders in the mix to replace Leppert. The lack of minority candidates so far during this election cycle is a reversal of some recent campaigns for mayor, where either black or Hispanic candidates played significant roles.
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CNN: Arkansas game officials probe mystery of falling birds
Arkansas game officials hope testing scheduled to begin Monday will solve the mystery of why up to 5,000 birds fell from the sky just before midnight New Year's Eve. The birds - most of which were dead - were red-winged blackbirds and starlings, and they were found within a one-mile area of Beebe, about 40 miles northeast of Little Rock, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said. Birds fell over about a one-mile area, the commission said in a statement.
CNN: Massive fish kill blankets Arkansas River
Arkansas officials are investigating the death of an estimated 100,000 fish in the state's northwest, but suspect disease was to blame, a state spokesman said Sunday. Dead drum fish floated in the water and lined the banks of a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River near Ozark, about 125 miles northwest of Little Rock, said Keith Stephens of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. A tugboat operator discovered the fish kill Thursday night, and fisheries officials collected some of the dying animals to conduct tests. …Ozark is about 125 miles west of the town of Beebe, where game wardens are trying to find out why up to 5,000 blackbirds fell from the sky just before midnight New Year's Eve. Biologists believe the bird deaths were stress-related from either fireworks or weather and are unrelated to the fish kill near Ozark, Stephens said.
Denver Post: Group counting on baby boomers to help others navigate health care
For a long time, Andrea Jacobs wondered how to share the expertise that comes from 17 years of living both the medical and financial challenges of Type I diabetes. But it wasn't until she heard about a new effort to recruit baby boomers as volunteers in a health care initiative that her urge to help meshed perfectly with the means to do so. "It was just time," said the 59-year-old Denver journalist. "I didn't hesitate." She got in touch with Boomers Leading Change in Health, a nonprofit operating on a two-year grant, to sign on as a volunteer. The organization hopes to enlist 300 to 500 people age 50 and older to do everything from help others navigate evolving health care reform to perform educational outreach or advocate on health care issues.
CNN: Did 4 bosses shirk snow duty and buy beer? NYC officials checking
Investigators in New York said Sunday they are looking into a report that four sanitation supervisors assigned to clean up after last week's monster blizzard instead bought beer and sat in their car. "We urge all members of the public, most especially City employees, to call us with any information about this matter or with any provable information about deliberate inaction or wrongdoing relating to the snow storm," said Department of Investigation (DOI) Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn in a statement. Investigators responded to an article published by the New York Post on Sunday, which alleged that a group of on-duty sanitation supervisors bought beer and sat in their department car for hours Monday night. Citing an unnamed witness, the paper said the four supervisors in Brooklyn later told their bosses they ran out of gas.
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CNN: Iran claims it shot down 'Western spy planes'
Iran said Sunday it had shot down what it described as two Western spy planes over the Persian Gulf, according to Iranian media reports. Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, air force commander for Iran's Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, made the comments to Payam Engelab, or Message of the Revolution, an internal Islamic Revolution Guard Corps publication, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. He described the aircraft as a spy drone "which can take pictures," according to state-run Press TV, which cited Fars. However, he did not say when the incident occurred or give more specifics. A U.S. military official said Sunday that the United States is not aware of missing drones in the region.
CNN: Strong earthquake strikes central Chile
A 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck the central coastal area of Chile on Sunday, some 70 kilometers (45 miles) northwest of Temuco, the U.S. Geological Survey said. There were no immediate reports of major damage or injury. The quake, which stuck around 5:20 p.m. (3:20 p.m. ET), was felt as far away as Santiago, roughly 595 km (370 miles) north of where the USGS said the quake occurred. The epicenter was more than 10 miles underground, the USGS said. Loreto Henriquez, manager of the Holiday Inn Express in Temuco, felt the quake for about a minute, describing it as loud and strong. She said people ran into the streets, but did not report any major damage.
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Wall Street Journal: Drilling Is Stalled Even After Ban Is Lifted
More than two months after the Obama administration lifted its ban on drilling in the deep-water Gulf of Mexico, oil companies are still waiting for approval to drill the first new oil well there. Experts now expect the wait to continue until the second half of 2011, and perhaps into 2012. The administration says it is simply trying to enforce new safety rules adopted in the wake of the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which killed 11 workers and set off the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Environmental groups say the administration is right to take its time because the Gulf disaster exposed the risks of offshore drilling. But the delay is hurting big oil companies such as Chevron Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC, which have billions of dollars in investments tied up in Gulf projects that are on hold and are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars a day for rigs that aren't allowed to drill. Smaller operators such as ATP Oil & Gas Corp., which have less flexibility to focus on projects in other regions, have been even harder hit.
New York Times: Goldman Invests in Facebook at $50 Billion Valuation
Facebook, the popular social networking site, has raised $500 million from Goldman Sachs and a Russian investor in a deal that values the company at $50 billion, according to people involved in the transaction. The deal makes Facebook now worth more than companies like eBay, Yahoo and Time Warner.The stake by Goldman Sachs, considered one of Wall Street’s savviest investors, signals the increasing might of Facebook, which has already been bearing down on giants like Google. The new money will give Facebook more firepower to steal away valuable employees, develop new products and possibly pursue acquisitions — all without being a publicly traded company. The investment may also allow earlier shareholders, including Facebook employees, to cash out at least some of their stakes.
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