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 GOP to move this week on health care repeal
CNN has learned that Republicans plan to try to repeal the health care law almost immediately after taking control of the House, setting the stage for an early confrontation with President Obama. House GOP sources tell CNN that they will unveil repeal legislation Monday night, even before they claim the majority Wednesday. Then, on Friday, Republicans will hold a critical procedural vote – the first step towards passing the repeal. A final House vote will likely take place next Wednesday. Republicans have said for some time the House would take up repealing health care, a top GOP campaign issue, during the first month of the new Congress, but up to now have not revealed exactly when. Regardless, the repeal has little chance of passing the Senate.
CNN: Obama to sign food safety bill
President Barack Obama is expected to sign into law the most-sweeping overhaul of America's food safety system since 1938 after he returns to Washington on Tuesday from a family vacation in Hawaii. The bill allows for greater governmental regulation of the U.S. food system - recently in the national spotlight for numerous egg and produce recalls. Among its provisions, the bill gives the federal Food and Drug Administration the authority to issue direct recalls of foods that are suspected to be tainted, rather than relying on individual producers to issue recalls voluntarily.
New York Times: G.O.P. Sets Up Huge Target for Budget Ax
The incoming Republican majority in the House is moving to make good on its promise to cut $100 billion from domestic spending this year, a goal eagerly backed by conservatives but one carrying substantial political and economic risks. House Republican leaders are so far not specifying which programs would bear the brunt of budget cutting, only what would escape it: spending for the military, domestic security and veterans. The reductions that would be required in the remaining federal programs, including education and transportation, would be so deep — roughly 20 percent on average — that Senate Republicans have not joined the $100 billion pledge that House Republicans, led by the incoming speaker, Representative John A. Boehner, made to voters before November’s midterm elections.
CNN: Changing of the guard in the House
Nancy Pelosi, who made history as the first female Speaker of the House, ends her tenure this week as a new Republican majority prepares to take power Wednesday. Led by incoming speaker John Boehner, the GOP has pledged to roll back many of the reforms implemented by the Obama administration and Democrats, including healthcare reform, which were outlined in the Republican "Pledge to America." New members of the House will be sworn in Wednesday. Pelosi pledged to defend Democratic turf even as it is relegated to minority party status.
Roll Call: Shuler Plans Symbolic Challenge to Pelosi’s Leadership
Rep. Heath Shuler plans to vote for himself rather than Rep. Nancy Pelosi during Wednesday’s floor vote for Speaker, and he predicted Monday that Democratic colleagues who are similarly displeased with her past leadership as Speaker would back him as well. Shuler and some other House Democrats blame Pelosi for the drubbing their party took in the midterm elections, and they accuse the Californian of not being responsive to moderate Democrats, who suffered significant losses in the election. “I personally feel and I think others still feel like, even after what happened in the last election, we’re still not being heard,” the North Carolina Democrat said Monday. “The American people heard it. That’s for sure. … We think we represent the masses.”
Wall Street Journal: New Speaker Vows to Share Power—a Tricky Proposition
When John Boehner takes over one of the most powerful jobs in Washington this week, he says his first order of business is to make himself less powerful. On Wednesday the new speaker of the House of Representatives plans to offer a package of rule changes that, he says, will give minority-party members more of a say and decentralize power. In short, Ohio Republican Mr. Boehner is promising he'll be a different figure from many speakers throughout history—from Republican Joseph Cannon a century ago to his immediate predecessor, Democrat Nancy Pelosi—who kept a tighter leash. But there's a reason so many speakers try to keep close control: It works. "New speakers always say they want to have a more open process," says Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat. "Then the sheer demands of making the trains run on time and getting things passed requires that you change your mind."
CNN: Steele mounts defense under fire from debate opponents
Facing his rivals for the Republican National Committee chairmanship in public for the first time since announcing his re-election bid, Michael Steele on Monday defended himself in the face of criticism that he let the party's finances languish during a historic election cycle. Steele was appearing at a debate between RNC candidates sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform, the Susan B. Anthony List and The Daily Caller. His foes immediately launched into pointed criticisms of Steele's two-year term.
The Hill: Fundraising worries dominate the race for chairman of the RNC
Republicans' worries about fundraising, ahead of what is expected to be a billion-dollar presidential election, dominated the debate over who should be the party's next chairman. Reports that the Republican National Committee is starting the 2012 presidential cycle more than $20 million in debt has worried members, particularly given President Obama's fundraising prowess. The party will need to have some serious money in the bank to challenge the president, defend its control of the House and attempt to win control of the Senate.
CNN: Major endorsement in battle between GOP official and Tea Party organizer
It's not grabbing the national spotlight like the fight for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, but this month's battle to lead the New Hampshire Republican party is just as fascinating. The race is a showdown between a longtime party insider versus an organizer for the Tea Party movement in a state that plays an extremely important role in choosing the next GOP presidential nominee. Monday the outgoing party chairman John H. Sununu officially endorsed Juliana Bergeron to succeed him when he steps down at the end of the month.
CNN: Tea Party group hopes to hold new lawmakers' feet to the fire – in a "supportive" way
A prominent Tea Party group intends to send a message to those lawmakers it helped elect: we intend to hold your feet to the fire – in a "supportive way." That will be the intended message from the Tea Party Express as it holds an upcoming town-hall-style meeting in Washington. Details of the event are still being worked out. There is no firm date yet, though it could be held in the middle of January, a spokesman for the Express told CNN on Monday. One item the group is clear on is the event's goal. It's designed to "…make sure that the Tea Party members are on the same page with the people that are duly elected, you know, going forward for the next two years," Express spokesman Levi Russell said.
CNN: Daley considered for top White House post
Two senior administration officials confirm to CNN that there have been conversations about the possibility of asking former Commerce Secretary William Daley to join the Obama administration in a senior position, most likely as White House chief of staff. But it was difficult to determine from a handful of email exchanges and conversations Monday afternoon whether the idea had moved beyond the discussion phase. One of the senior officials, who does not work at the White House, told CNN that the possibility of Daley joining the administration was definitely being discussed and "felt somewhat real" before the holidays. But this official said associates inside the White House "insist it is not happening."
CNN: Recess appointee for deputy attorney general, James Cole, sworn in
Veteran Washington attorney James Cole whose nomination was blocked by the Republican Senate last year was sworn in as deputy attorney general Monday, less than a week after receiving a controversial recess appointment from President Obama. Cole was sworn in by Attorney General Eric Holder at a private event in the Attorney's General's office in the Justice Department. A few dozen guests including Cole's family and associates from Holder's staff and Cole's new office were present for the oath-taking. Holder issued a statement commending his new deputy, saying he would "ensure the fairness and integrity of our financial markets and restore the traditional missions of the Department.
CNN: Old face ushers in new era for governors
Former California Gov. Jerry Brown returned to his state's highest office Monday - restoring an old political dynasty while helping to usher in a new balance of power in statehouses across the country. Democrats took over from Republicans in California and Minnesota, while the GOP seized the reins in Wisconsin and Wyoming. One Republican handed over power to another in Nevada. Republican chief executives, meanwhile, kicked off their first full terms in Arizona and Utah. Another Republican began his second full term in Idaho.
Wall Street Journal: Path Clears for Deep-Water Drilling
Deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico could resume within weeks under a policy announced Monday by the Obama administration, which has come under increasing criticism from the oil industry and politicians in the region over the impact of the drilling halt. …On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the delay has hurt both the oil industry, which has seen billions of dollars in projects put on hold, and the Gulf Coast's economy, which has been hit hard by the slowdown. The administration said Monday that it would clear the path for 13 companies, including Chevron Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC, to resume work on a handful of wells that were already approved and under way when the moratorium took effect. The 16 projects must still comply with strict new safety rules announced after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but in most cases won't be subjected to new environmental reviews.
New York Times: Strained States Turning to Laws to Curb Labor Unions
Faced with growing budget deficits and restive taxpayers, elected officials from Maine to Alabama, Ohio to Arizona, are pushing new legislation to limit the power of labor unions, particularly those representing government workers, in collective bargaining and politics. State officials from both parties are wrestling with ways to curb the salaries and pensions of government employees, which typically make up a significant percentage of state budgets. On Wednesday, for example, New York’s new Democratic governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, is expected to call for a one-year salary freeze for state workers, a move that would save $200 million to $400 million and challenge labor’s traditional clout in Albany. But in some cases — mostly in states with Republican governors and Republican statehouse majorities — officials are seeking more far-reaching, structural changes that would weaken the bargaining power and political influence of unions, including private sector ones.
Huffington Post: Holly Petraeus To Be Elizabeth Warren's Pick For Top Post In New Consumer Protection Agency
Elizabeth Warren, the Obama administration appointee now establishing a consumer financial protection agency, plans to name the wife of General David Petraeus–the top American general in Afghanistan–to a new position tasked with protecting military families from predatory lenders, according to sources familiar with the planning. Holly Petraeus, a longtime advocate for military families, is expected to be named to the senior post sometime later this week, according to the sources, who spoke on condition they not be named. They characterized her selection as part of the administration's designs to crack down on unscrupulous lending operations that have thrived by focusing on vulnerable Americans–not least, military personnel and their families, who have been contending with a weak economy at home just as many breadwinners are serving overseas in the dangerous conflict zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.
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CNNMoney: Bankruptcies top 1.5 million in 2010
The number of Americans filing for bankruptcy in 2010 ticked up 9% over the previous year to more than 1.53 million, industry groups said Monday. The number of consumers filing for bankruptcy has increased each year since 2005, when bankruptcy laws were revamped, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute and the National Bankruptcy Research Center. The 2010 figure far outpaces the 1,407,788 total consumer filings that were recorded during 2009, a trend that the American Bankruptcy Institute attributes to high debt and a stagnant economy.
Reuters: U.S. to detail $100 billion in Pentagon savings, cuts: sources
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to announce as early as Thursday about $100 billion in savings for the Pentagon and cuts to some weapons programs, sources said on Monday. The announcement will detail a plan that military services have been hammering out for months. The Pentagon is under increasing pressure to cut its budget given huge federal deficits and a reduction of troops in Iraq.
CNN: Inspector: Millions in improper Katrina, Rita aid not yet recovered
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has not attempted to recoup some $643 million in payments that were improperly given to 160,000 individuals for housing and other aid following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, an independent government investigator says. In a letter to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Inspector General Richard Skinner wrote that a federal court in 2008 ordered FEMA to change its process for recovering the money. But Monday, three years after that court ruling, "These payments remain uncollected because your office has not given final approval of a new recoupment process," Skinner wrote.
CNN: Body of former Pentagon official found in landfill
Delaware authorities are investigating the circumstances surrounding the recent discovery of the body of a former Pentagon official in a landfill, according to a statement released Monday by the Newark, Delaware, Police Department. The Delaware medical examiner's office has ruled the death of 66-year-old John P. Wheeler a homicide. Wheeler was discovered at Wilmington's Cherry Island Landfill on December 31. Wheeler, who lived in New Castle, worked under three Republican presidents - Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. He served as a special assistant to the Air Force secretary from 2005 to 2008.
CNN: Falling birds likely died from massive trauma
The thousands of birds that fell from the sky just before midnight New Year's Eve in Arkansas likely died from massive trauma, according to a preliminary report released Monday. The birds, most of which were dead when they were found, were red-winged blackbirds and starlings. They were found within a one-mile area of Beebe, about 40 miles northeast of Little Rock, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said. Keith Stephens, a spokesman for the commission, said the birds showed evidence of trauma in the breast tissue, with blood clots in the body cavity and a lot of internal bleeding. All major organs were normal. …Karen Rowe, an ornithologist for the game and fish commission, said the incident is not that unusual and is often caused by a lightning strike or high-altitude hail.
Guardian: Bees in freefall as study shows sharp US decline
The abundance of four common species of bumblebees in the US has dropped by 96% in just the past few decades, according to the most comprehensive national census of the insects. Scientists said the alarming decline, which could have devastating implications for the pollination of both wild and farmed plants, was likely to be a result of disease and inbreeding. Bumble bees are important pollinators of wild plants and agricultural crops around the world including tomatoes and berries thanks to their large body size, long tongues, and high-frequency buzzing, which helps release pollen from flowers. Bees in general pollinate some 90% of the world's commercial plants, including most fruits, vegetables and nuts. Coffee, soya beans and cotton are all dependent on pollination by bees to increase yields. It is the start of a food chain that also sustains wild birds and animals.
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CNN: Crisis envoys meet with Gbagbo as pressure mounts
Three representatives of the Economic Community of West African States and an African Union representative met twice Monday with self-declared Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo in an attempt to persuade him to step down, but there was no indication late in the day that they were near their goal. "We had a very fruitful meeting between all parties and in a good spirit," Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma told reporters after meeting with Gbagbo for a second time Monday in his residence here. "But the discussions are still underway." He said a full statement would be issued Tuesday, though there was no indication that further meetings would be held Tuesday.
New York Times: Judges Set to Rule on Afghan Election Complaints Within 2 Weeks
A five-judge panel set up last week by Afghanistan’s Supreme Court said Monday that it would issue rulings within two weeks on hundreds of complaints of election abuse in September’s national vote, in time for President Hamid Karzai to keep his promise to seat a new Parliament by Jan. 20. The panel is the latest player in the tug of war, lasting months, over the vote, which was widely perceived as being seriously tainted by fraud and skewed by rampant insecurity, which kept large numbers of people from the polls. The outcome left Pashtuns — Mr. Karzai’s ethnic group, as well as the Taliban’s main base — largely underrepresented, and the Karzai government has mounted repeated efforts to alter the official results, pushing the country toward a constitutional crisis.
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Wall Street Journal: Fresh Signs of Life in Office Market
The amount of occupied U.S. office space increased for the first time in nearly three years during the fourth quarter of 2010 as more companies that had been postponing real-estate decisions got back into the leasing market. Average office rents also rose by 0.2%, to $22.09 per square foot, registering their first uptick since the second quarter of 2008, according to property-research firm Reis Inc. While the 79 metropolitan areas tracked by Reis vary greatly, the national trend means that in many regions the balance of power is shifting to landlords from tenants. The office market has been hard hit by job losses. From January 2008 to September 2010, businesses vacated 137.8 million square feet of office space—more than the inventory in Chicago's central business district. In the final three months of 2010, however, occupied office space in the U.S. grew by 2.5 million square feet.
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