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: 'Mr. Smith' filibuster change introduced in the Senate
Senate Democrats on Wednesday introduced legislation that would tighten rules on the use of the filibuster in the legislative chamber. In a nod to the classic movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, reintroduced his "Mr. Smith Bill," which would require those who want to filibuster a nomination or a bill to appear on the floor and actually speak. The filibuster - a parliamentary procedure that allows a single senator to block a vote on a bill - has been a long-standing tradition in the Senate but came under heavy criticism in the last Congress. Republican senators, who are in the minority, repeatedly use the tactic to stall Democrats' legislative items, such as the health care reform bill.
The Hill: Reid and McConnell: ‘As close as two people with limited social skills can be’
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) will enjoy more leverage in his dealings with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in the 112th Congress, but aides say that the fundamental relationship between the two men hasn’t changed. “They are as close as two people with limited social skills can be,” said a Senate Democratic aide. A senior Republican aide put it less bluntly, saying Reid and McConnell “have always had a good working relationship.” But when the new Congress begins on Wednesday, McConnell's conference will be six members stronger, meaning he will have a greater say in the Senate schedule. That doesn’t sound like a lot of power for the GOP leader but, given the complex rules regarding Senate debate, it means McConnell will have more influence in determining which legislation comes to the Senate floor.
Roll Call: GOPers With Gavels Not Likely to Seek Senate Seats
They have seized committee gavels and newfound political clout, but the flurry of promotions within the new Republican House majority could complicate the GOP’s plans to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats in 2012. From New York to Ohio to Wisconsin, would-be Republican Senate candidates might prefer to hold on to new leadership posts rather than run for statewide office in the next cycle, a process that has already begun in some states.
CNN: Pauls agree to disagree
The 112th Congress is a family affair for GOP Congressman Ron Paul and his son, Republican Senator Rand Paul. But that doesn't mean they always agree. Speaking with CNN's Chief National Correspondent John King, the two Pauls diverge on whether the House Republican pledge to cut $100 billion dollars from the federal budget in the first year is realistic. In an interview for CNN's "John King, USA," Congressman Paul commented on an apparent backtrack from the original GOP promise. The elder took a conservative tack, explaining that instead of a failure, Republicans are now "facing up to reality."
CNN: Cabinet members urge GOP not to repeal health care law
Three Cabinet members from the Obama administration sent a letter to members of Congress on Wednesday defending the health care reform law, which Republicans are currently trying to repeal. The letter - signed by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner - laid out the consequences of the law being repealed. "If the Affordable Care Act were repealed as some have proposed, the individuals we have heard from plus the millions of families, seniors, other individuals, and small businesses already helped would lose this support and these protections," the letter said.
CNN: Obama spokesman Gibbs to leave White House
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says it's been a "remarkable privilege" to be President Barack Obama's top spokesman, "even when you wake up at 4 and pick up the paper and groan. I would not trade the worst days here for many of the best days at another job," Gibbs told reporters Wednesday, after announcing his departure from the White House. But he said he wants to "step back a little bit and recharge some" after four years of campaigning and a hard-fought first half of the Obama administration - "probably the busiest years that Washington and the White House have seen in a couple of decades." Gibbs said he will leave the podium after the upcoming State of the Union address - but will remain in the Washington area as a pundit, supporting White House positions on cable television and in speeches.
Politico: White House widens search for Robert Gibbs successor
The White House is widening its search to replace outgoing press secretary Robert Gibbs beyond three in-house candidates to include a growing list of outsiders said to include former Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Karen Finney, according to Democrats familiar with the search. In recent days, an informal West Wing selection team headed by Gibbs, communications director Dan Pfeiffer, senior adviser David Axelrod and incoming adviser David Plouffe, decided to move beyond the two high-profile administration spokesmen, Gibbs deputy Bill Burton and Joe Biden spokesman Jay Carney, originally considered to be the main candidates for the job, sources say.
CNN: POTUS talks to business community
In yet another sign of President Obama's outreach to the business community as he deals with the new balance of power on Capitol Hill, officials at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce confirmed Wednesday that Obama will address the organization in a major speech on Feb. 7. "He's going to come here and give a speech on jobs and the economy," Tom Collamore, senior vice president of communications at the Chamber of Commerce told CNN. "That a big priority for the President and it remains the top priority for the Chamber and the business community."
CNN: Daniels defends budget work under Bush
Appearing on CNN Wednesday, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was reluctant to blame himself or fellow Republicans for allowing the federal budget deficit to double during the eight years of the Bush administration. Daniels, who served as Bush's budget director from 2001 to 2003, said instead that "the nation went into a deficit then because the bubble burst and we had a recession. It wouldn't have mattered what policies you tried to implement, that we were going to have a great big reversal," Daniels said in an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "The Situation Room."
Boston Globe: Private firms fund Patrick inauguration
To pay for the inauguration festivities that will kick off his second term at the State House today, Governor Deval Patrick and his supporters have amassed a fund of more than $700,000, donated largely by insurance companies, large financial institutions, telecommunications firms, and labor unions. The list of contributors was released by Patrick’s inaugural committee yesterday after repeated inquiries from news organizations. Under state campaign finance laws, candidates and elected officials are prohibited from accepting donations from corporations. But political figures can create nonprofit committees to raise corporate donations for special events.
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CNNMoney: Americans spend 6.1 billion hours on their taxes
Filing taxes takes too long, costs too much money and is far too overwhelming a process for taxpayers. That's the message from national taxpayer advocate Nina Olson, the watchdog charged with monitoring the Internal Revenue Service. "There has been near universal agreement for years that the tax code is broken and needs to be fixed," Olson said in statement that accompanied her annual report to Congress released Wednesday." Yet no broad-based attempt to reform the tax code has been made."
USA Today: IRS tax liens jump by 60%, but how effective are they?
IRS liens filed against taxpayers jumped 60% since the start of the national recession, according to a new federal report that urges the tax agency to moderate the collection policy and study its effectiveness. The IRS filed more than 1 million liens in federal fiscal year 2010, the highest in nearly two decades and a spike from the nearly 684,000 filed in the year ahead of the recession's December 2007 start, according to the annual report to Congress issued Wednesday by the National Taxpayer Advocate.
Los Angeles Times: Blue Shield of California seeks rate hikes of as much as 59% for individuals
Another big California health insurer has stunned individual policyholders with huge rate increases — this time it's Blue Shield of California seeking cumulative hikes of as much as 59% for tens of thousands of customers March 1. Blue Shield's action comes less than a year after Anthem Blue Cross tried and failed to raise rates as much as 39% for about 700,000 California customers. San Francisco-based Blue Shield said the increases were the result of fast-rising healthcare costs and other expenses resulting from new healthcare laws.
Washington Post: U.S. health-care expenditures up only 4 percent in 2009, suggesting effects of recession
The nation's expenditures on health care in 2009 grew by 4 percent, the smallest increase in at least a half-century, according to new federal figures that suggest Americans stinted on medical services as they lost jobs and insurance in the recent recession. Although health insurance premiums rose slightly faster than they did a year earlier, overall spending on private health insurance decelerated as the number of people with such coverage fell by 6.3 million. And the out-of-pocket amount Americans spent on health care barely increased, the figures show. On the other hand, spending on Medicaid soared – by 9 percent, compared with less than 5 percent in 2008 – as more people qualified for the public insurance program for the poor.
CNN: New York City replaces emergency medical service chief after snowstorm
The New York City fire commissioner on Wednesday replaced the man who led the Emergency Medical Service for six years following sharp criticism of the department for its response to a blizzard that blanketed the city after Christmas. "Last week's blizzard presented tremendous challenges for the Department that are currently being addressed with an eye toward improving performance going forward," said Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano in announcing the change late Wednesday night. The EMS Chief John Peruggia will remain with the department in a new as-yet undetermined role, Cassano said in a statement.
CNN: Elizabeth Edwards' will leaves everything to her children
Elizabeth Edwards left everything to her children, with no mention of her estranged husband, John Edwards, in her will. "All of my furniture, furnishings, household goods, jewelry, china, silverware and personal effects and any automobiles ... to be divided among them ..." Edwards says in the document dated December 1. It names her daughter, 28-year-old Catharine, as the executor of the will. Elizabeth Edwards died on December 7 after a battle with breast cancer. She was 61.
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CNN: Retracted autism study an 'elaborate fraud,' British journal finds
A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an "elaborate fraud" that has done long-lasting damage to public health, a leading medical publication reported Wednesday. An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study's author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study - and that there was "no doubt" Wakefield was responsible. "It's one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors," Fiona Godlee, BMJ's editor-in-chief, told CNN. "But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data."
CNN: Ambassador to Libya may be replaced over leaked cables, official says
The United States might replace its ambassador to Libya after WikiLeaks published his colorful cables to Washington about the eccentricities of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, complicating relations with the notoriously sensitive regime. Ambassador Gene Cretz, a career diplomat named to the post in 2008, is back in Washington for consultations with the State Department. A senior U.S. official, speaking on background because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, said, "One of the issues that we are evaluating is his ability to serve our interests as ambassador in light of what's happened."
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Wall Street Journal: Goldman Flooded With Facebook Orders
Inundated with demand, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. plans to stop taking orders for shares of Facebook Inc. on Thursday, and has told some would-be investors to expect just a small fraction of the shares they requested, according to people familiar with the situation. The interest, amounting to several billion dollars in an equity offering likely to be no more than $1.5 billion, is a sign of investor fascination with the closely held social-networking company despite a dearth of available information about its operations and financial condition. Goldman has provided some potential investors with little more than a snapshot of Facebook's online traffic, advertisements and other basic measurements, with no disclosure of the Palo Alto, Calif., company's bottom line, people familiar with the matter said.
In Case You Missed It
There was no shortage of lighthearted moments as the 112th Congress convened in Washington.
Lawmakers are making greater use of social media, as Karin Caifa reports.
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