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 Republicans eye health care repeal
Democratic and Republican senators agreed Sunday that the Senate will vote to change elements of the health care legislation passed in the last Congress, most likely through amendments to other bills. With Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, saying he will not allow a full repeal bill on the Senate floor, Republicans said they will offer provisions that could include repealing the entire law or, if that fails, addressing concerns one by one. "If they don't want to have the vote, we'll have the vote," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said on "Fox News Sunday." "I can assure you we'll have a vote on repeal."
Los Angeles Times: GOP plans to watch State of the Union closely
Tuesday's State of the Union address will be the first test of whether President Obama's post-election shift to a more centrist course is more than symbolic, Republicans said Sunday. "We're going to find out beginning next week … how much of this he really means," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on "Fox News Sunday." "It is kind of a trust-but-verify moment. Let's see if he's really willing to do it, and if he is, I think he'll find a lot of help among Republicans in Congress." After his party was dealt an electoral blow in November, Obama embraced a compromise that extended the President George W. Bush-era tax cuts, retooled his West Wing to include more moderate voices — such as his new chief of staff, William Daley — and made new overtures to the business community.
CNN: Republicans, Democrats spell out spending strategies
Republican leaders called Sunday for immediate and significant cuts in government spending, while Democrats warned such a strategy could harm economic recovery. …Republicans hold a stronger stake in both chambers after the November elections, taking control of the House and narrowing the Democratic majority in the Senate. The split Congress raises the possibility of political gridlock despite pledges by all leaders including President Barack Obama to put the needs of the nation above partisan ideology.
CNN: Texas's love/hate relationship with Washington's money
Texas Gov. Rick Perry likes to tell Washington to stop meddling in state affairs. He vocally opposed the Obama administration's 2009 stimulus program to spur the economy and assist cash-strapped states. Perry also likes to trumpet that his state balanced its budget in 2009, while keeping billions in its rainy day fund. But he couldn't have done that without a lot of help from...guess where? Washington. Turns out Texas was the state that depended the most on those very stimulus funds to plug nearly 97% of its shortfall for fiscal 2010, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
CNN: Retiring senators: Time is ripe for bipartisanship
Three longtime senators who have decided not to seek re-election in 2012 said Sunday that they believe the country is ready for serious bipartisan cooperation on major issues - especially tackling the massive national debt. "When we begin to act in that way, working across party lines ... then it not only gets things done, but it increases the characteristic American optimism and confidence," independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, told ABC's "This Week." "To raise the GDP, I've been saying, we've got to raise the GDC, the gross domestic confidence." Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, joined Lieberman in rejecting suggestions that their departures indicate that taking some centrist or moderate positions or reaching across the aisle can be politically disastrous.
CNN: Legislators pairing off for bipartisan seating at Obama speech
Will Tuesday be "Date Night" in Congress for President Barack Obama's State of the Union address? Democratic and Republican legislators are pairing off to sit together for the annual speech in a symbolic gesture of bipartisanship, and some of the combinations so far are intriguing. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the epitome of East Coast liberalism, and Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a symbol of conservative intransigence, are putting aside their differences to cross the political aisle for a night, Schumer said Sunday.
The Hill: Republicans vow to restore clout of Ways and Means panel
House Republicans are vowing to restore the prominence of the Ways and Means Committee after its clout was diminished amid a protracted ethics investigation of former Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.). Under new Republican leadership, lawmakers expect the House Ways and Means Committee to get back on track and reestablish the panel's power by holding hearings, conducting oversight and crafting legislation on a broad range of issues, including a federal tax code overhaul, completing pending free trade agreements and repealing provisions of the healthcare law.
CNN: Scalia set to speak to Tea Party Caucus on Capitol Hill
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is scheduled to speak Monday in a closed-door meeting with the Tea Party Caucus - an informal group of conservative lawmakers. The conservative justice is a popular speaker and keeps a busy off-the-bench schedule, talking in various forums around the world. Monday's session with the 74-year-old Scalia is being billed as the first in a series of twice-monthly "conservative constitutional seminars," although all members of Congress are invited, according to organizers.
New York Times: Mortgage Giants Leave Legal Bills to the Taxpayers
Since the government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, taxpayers have spent more than $160 million defending the mortgage finance companies and their former top executives in civil lawsuits accusing them of fraud. The cost was a closely guarded secret until last week, when the companies and their regulator produced an accounting at the request of Congress. The bulk of those expenditures — $132 million — went to defend Fannie Mae and its officials in various securities suits and government investigations into accounting irregularities that occurred years before the subprime lending crisis erupted. The legal payments show no sign of abating.
CNN: Giffords still in ICU, but surprising doctors at new hospital
Doctors at the Houston hospital where U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was transferred said that while she remains in intensive care, she has surprised them with the progress she has already made. Giffords, 40, who was shot in the head at a public event in Arizona on January 8, was transferred Friday to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. It was thought the congresswoman would begin rehabilitation at The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) Memorial Hermann, but officials said she was taken instead to the hospital's trauma center for evaluation and treatment. "She's not quite ready for rehabilitation yet," Dr. Dong Kim of Memorial Hermann told CNN on Thursday. Kim would not elaborate, but on Friday, Dr. John Holcomb told reporters that Giffords has fluid on her brain.
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Washington Post: Great Plains oil pipeline plan sparks grass-roots activism, high-stakes lobbying
A massive feat of engineering by any measure, the Keystone pipeline expansion project would transport crude oil close to 1,700 miles from "oil sands" in the icy reaches of Hardisty, Alberta, down through the Great Plains to the refineries of Port Arthur, Tex. In doing so, the giant pipe also promises to allay some fears about U.S. energy security: The oil will come from a trusted ally, and its cross-continental path avoids visions of another deep-sea drilling disaster. But the decision on whether to issue a permit to the project, opposed by environmental groups, rests with the State Department, which has little expertise in engineering or environmental matters. And reflecting the chaos of U.S. energy and environmental policy, the proposed pipeline is pitting Montana landowners against pipe fitters in Nebraska and creating unlikely allies of Nebraska ranchers and chieftains from Alberta's indigenous communities.
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CNN: Clinton heads to Mexico for bilateral talks
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to meet with Mexico's foreign minister in bilateral talks Monday. Clinton and Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa are scheduled to discuss a range of issues, including the border between the two countries and working together to fight organized crime, the U.S. State Department said. "The secretary's been very clear that we need to do our part on this side of the border, both in terms of stemming the flow of weapons, stemming the flow of money, and dealing with the demand ... which is a core element of this challenge," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Friday. "I'm sure they will have the opportunity to assess where we are and continue to work on our common strategy."
CNN: Report: Israel rejected Palestinian concessions on East Jerusalem
Palestinian negotiators agreed to give up large swaths of East Jerusalem to Israel during negotiations dating back to 2008, the Al-Jazeera network said Sunday, suggesting Palestinians have been willing to offer much larger concessions in private than what was previously acknowledged in public. The report is based on a trove of nearly 1,700 internal documents the network said it had obtained. Al-Jazeera did not disclose the source of the material, nor did it say how the documents came into its possession. It said it will be releasing what it has between Sunday and Wednesday of this week. The papers, some of which were posted on the network's website, shed new light on the details of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from 1999 through last year. They could not be immediately verified by CNN.
CNN: Flotilla raid 'regrettable' but legal, Israeli commission finds
Israel's deadly raid on an aid flotilla that attempted to run the blockade of Gaza was "regrettable" but legal under international law, an independent Israeli commission reported Sunday. The commission, led by retired judge Yaakov Turkel, found that Israeli commandos "acted professionally and in a measured manner in the face of unanticipated violence" when they seized the Gaza-bound aid ship Mavi Marmara. Members of the Turkish relief group IHH "were direct participants in hostilities" who attacked the Israeli troops, the commission reported. "The actions carried out by Israel on May 31, 2010, to enforce the naval blockade had the regrettable consequences of the loss of human life and physical injuries," the report concludes. "Nonetheless, and despite the limited number of uses of force for which we could not reach a conclusion, the actions taken were found to be legal pursuant to the rules of international law."
CNN: Pakistanis protest drones as 12 die in strikes
Pakistani villagers protested Sunday in at least two locations against missile strikes that they believe come from unmanned U.S. aircraft, as at least 12 suspected militants were killed in three separate strikes. In the city of Peshawar, several thousand people turned out to protest the drone strikes and changes to the country's blasphemy laws. The protest was organized by Jamat-e-Islami, a religious political party with national influence.
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Wall Street Journal: US Companies To Hire More As Economic Optimism Grows -NABE Survey
U.S. companies plan to hire more workers in the coming months amid growing optimism over the economy, a quarterly survey released Monday showed, providing further evidence that the jobs market is turning around. In the fourth-quarter poll of 84 companies by the National Association for Business Economics found 42% of companies interviewed, ranging from manufacturing to finance, expect to boost jobs in the six months ahead. That's up from 29% in the first three months of 2010. Only 7% in the latest survey predict they will shed jobs in the coming six months, down from 23% at the start of last year.
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