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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CNNMoney: Tax cut deal pushes deficit to $1.5 trillion
The federal deficit for 2011 will hit $1.5 trillion, driven higher by the "slow and tentative" economic recovery and the bipartisan tax cut deal passed late last year, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. The deficit forecast would equal to almost 10% of the economy. And if lawmakers extend many of today's current policies otherwise set to expire soon, the national debt would likely rise by $12 trillion over the decade from 2012 to 2021. That is about $5 trillion more than would be the case otherwise and would bring total debt to $23 trillion, the CBO said.
CNN: Obama to take YouTube questions on State of the Union speech
As part of a White House offensive in support of this week's State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama will hold a YouTube interview Thursday to answer questions submitted by viewers. The interview on YouTube at 2:30 p.m. ET is part of a series of events in which top administration officials are talking directly to Americans about administration policies set out in Tuesday's address to a joint session of Congress. Obama spent Wednesday visiting solar and wind energy companies in Wisconsin to tout his push for increased government investment in clean energy as a growth industry of the future, a major theme of his speech the night before.
Indianapolis Star: A jump-start
Vice President Joe Biden found a willing player in the White House's bid to accelerate the electric car industry: Central Indiana. Taking the stage at a high-tech battery plant Wednesday, Biden outlined an initiative to spur innovation and jobs nationwide. It calls for $7,500 rebates from the U.S. government to buyers of new electric and hybrid-style vehicles, as well as $10 million cash rewards to 30 communities that lead the country in embracing green cars. "We fully intend to apply and win one of those 30 awards," declared Paul Mitchell, president of Energy Systems Network.
ABC News: Sen. Harry Reid Says Earmarks Will Return, Despite Obama's State of the Union Vow
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told ABC News that earmarks will return to Capitol Hill despite President Obama's vow in last night's State of the Union to veto any spending bill that includes them. In an interview with ABC's Jonathan Karl, Reid launched a vigorous defense of pork, the pet projects that members of Congress insert into bills to benefit their home states. "I think it's taking power away from the legislative branch of government and giving it to the executive branch of government," Reid said of the president's plan. "The executive branch of government is powerful enough and I think that I know more about what Nevada needs than some bureaucrat down on K Street."
Politico: Sarah Palin on Barack Obama speech: 'WTF'
Former Alaska GOP Gov. Sarah Palin said Wednesday night that President Barack Obama’s call for “winning the future” during his State of the Union address is best framed by the acronym it shares with a much different phrase — “wtf.” “That was a tough speech to sit through and try to stomach,” Palin said during an interview with Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren. “His theme last night was wtf, winning the future,” she continued. “I thought, okay, that acronym – spot on. There were a lot of wtf moments throughout that speech.” Palin, seemingly pleased with her joke, repeated the line later in the interview while poking Obama for referencing Sputnik in another section of his address. “That was another wtf moment,” she said.
CNN: Tea Party favorite introduces health care repeal
Republican South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint introduced legislation Wednesday to fully repeal the health care reform legislation passed last year and signed into law by President Obama. DeMint's action comes on the same day Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, began procedural steps to force a vote on a separate repeal bill in the coming weeks. DeMint, a leading force in the Tea Party movement and founding member of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, said Republicans are "standing with the American people who are demanding we repeal this government takeover of health care."
CNN: Senate Tea Party caucus holds first meeting Thursday
Tea Party activists from around the country will gather on Capitol Hill Thursday for a question and answer session with three of their favorite senators at the first official gathering of the Senate Tea Party Caucus. "What we're trying to do, with Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and I'm sure eventually others, is to make sure all the activists know that we're still listening–we want to get their input, we want to keep them up to date with what we're doing. So it's more a forum than a caucus to keep that interaction going," Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, told CNN. DeMint, along with Paul of Kentucky, and Lee of Utah, are currently the only three members of the Senate Tea Party Caucus. Other notable Tea Party-backed senators – such as Marco Rubio of Florida and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin – haven't joined the caucus yet.
CNN: DeMint on prez run: 'No'
Republican South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, a leading force in the Tea Party movement, said Wednesday on CNN's "The Situation Room" that he's not running for president. CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer asked DeMint, "Are you going to run for the Republican presidential nomination?" DeMint responded, "No, no I'm not."
Los Angeles Times: Republicans want a return to workplace immigration raids
Deportations of illegal immigrants have reached new heights for two years running under President Obama, statistics show, but Republicans say they'll use their new majority in the House to press for more aggressive enforcement without any path to legal status. Republican lawmakers called on the Obama administration to return to the era of workplace raids to arrest illegal employees, an approach that contrasts sharply with the president's continued push to create a path to citizenship for "responsible young people" and deport only those illegal immigrants charged with serious crimes.
CNN: House Dems' bill would tighten controls on offshore rigs, companies
Several House Democrats introduced a bill Wednesday that would impose stricter federal controls and oversight on oil companies and owners and operators of offshore oil rigs along the U.S. coastline. The Democrats, led by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, said the bill takes many of the recommendations from the national oil spill commission, which investigated the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion of the BP rig killed 11 workers, and released millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf. The bill would prohibit corporations with poor safety records from bidding on new oil leases along the U.S. coastline, and it would lift all federal liability limits in cases of offshore spills.
CNN: House passes bill eliminating public financing
The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to eliminate the federal public financing system that helps pay for presidential campaigns and political conventions. The vote was 239-160. Ten Democrats voted with the Republicans to pass the bill. The House bill, sponsored by Oklahoma Republican Rep Tom Cole, would eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. This voluntary public financing system was created in 1976, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, to lessen the influence of corporate money on campaigns. Taxpayers can check off a box on their tax returns directing $3 in federal money to the program. Candidates who apply for public financing must adhere to overall spending limits.
The Hill: Republican Party unity cracks over raising $14.3 trillion debt ceiling
Conservative Republicans in the House are upping the pressure on their party leaders to take a firm stand against raising the federal debt ceiling. The Republican Study Committee (RSC) introduced legislation on Wednesday that it says would allow the Treasury Department to avoid a default on U.S. debt without expanding the borrowing limit. The bill is the latest indication that some Republicans are digging in their heels on the debt vote despite stern warnings from the Obama administration that failing to raise the ceiling would be disastrous for the country. It also signals a widening rift with GOP leaders who have suggested Republicans will ultimately have no choice but to approve the debt increase.
Huffington Post: Goldman Sachs Got Billions From AIG For Its Own Account, Crisis Panel Finds
Goldman Sachs collected $2.9 billion from the American International Group as payout on a speculative trade it placed for the benefit of its own account, receiving the bulk of those funds after AIG received an enormous taxpayer rescue, according to the final report of an investigative panel appointed by Congress. The fact that a significant slice of the proceeds secured by Goldman through the AIG bailout landed in its own account–as opposed to those of its clients or business partners– has not been previously disclosed. These details about the workings of the controversial AIG bailout, which eventually swelled to $182 billion, are among the more eye-catching revelations in the report to be released Thursday by the bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.
CNN: Color-coded threat system to be replaced in April
The much-maligned, color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System is about to be consigned to the proverbial dustbin of history. Not that anyone is really paying attention. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is expected to announce Thursday that the almost 9-year-old threat alert system will go away in April. It will be replaced by the new National Terror Advisory System that will focus on specific threats in geographical areas, a department source said Wednesday. The source did not provide details of the new system, which Napolitano will unveil at what the department is calling "the first annual 'State of America's Homeland Security' address" at George Washington University.
CNN: Giffords making 'lightning' fast progress, doctors say
U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was making "lightning speed" progress for a brain injury and had the drain for brain fluid removed from her head, her doctors said Wednesday. "Since Gabby arrived last Friday, we noticed daily improvement in her neurological condition," Dr. Dong Kim, chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Texas Medical School, said during Wednesday's media briefing. "In terms of recovering from brain issues, this is really at lightning speed." Giffords is still unable to speak, and she's unable to sit or stand on her own, doctors said. The Arizona Democrat, who survived an assassination attempt, was moved from a Houston hospital to a nearby rehabilitation hospital on Wednesday after doctors upgraded her condition to good from serious.
Roll Call: Shop Talk: Santorum Staffs Up for 2012 in Granite State
Former Reagan administration official and longtime campaign activist Claira Monier has been tapped to chair likely Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum’s New Hampshire political action committee. The former Pennsylvania Senator, who was defeated in 2006, becomes the first prospective candidate to announce both a New Hampshire chairman and a state director. He selected Mike Biundo, the campaign manager for Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.), to fill the director’s role earlier this month.
CNN: Mother Nature waits for no one, even presidents
President Obama learned that even presidential motorcades can get stuck in snowy Washington, D.C. traffic. After a day trip to Wisconsin Wednesday following his State of the Union Address, President Obama returned to a sleeting and snowing Washington, D.C. What is usually a 10-minute or less helicopter ride aboard Marine One from Joint Base Andrews, formerly known as Andrews Air Force Base, turned into a nearly one hour motorcade ride from the base where Air Force One landed to the White House, according to pool reports.
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CNN: Snow may continue to keep much of Northeast grounded
The major snowstorm that pelted much of the Northeast will taper off Thursday but still many schools and government offices and even some airport runways could remain closed. On Wednesday the National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings that stretched from the southern Appalachian mountains to coastal Massachusetts. All of those warnings were due to expire early Thursday morning. Even though that storm only stayed for a day, it caused major issues in some areas.
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CNN: Blast kills miners in Colombia
At least 20 people were killed and six injured Wednesday in a mine explosion in northeastern Colombia near the border with Venezuela, the government-run Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining, known by the acronym Ingeominas, reported. "At this time, personnel from Ingeominas are at the scene of the accident dealing with the emergency with a group of institute rescue workers aided by the 5th Brigade of the national army, who brought in a helicopter for possible rescue efforts and to transport the victims," the institute said in a written statement. Earlier, a spokeswoman for the national civil defense agency said that more miners could still be in the mine, although an exact number was unknown. Hellen Garcia said that authorities believe as many as 30 could have been affected by the explosion.
CNN: Nobel winner ElBaradei returning to Egypt, brother says
Egyptian Nobel prize laureate and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei is Thursday returning to the country, which has been convulsed by unprecedented protests for the past two days, his brother told CNN. ElBaradei will participate in protests himself on Friday, his brother Ali said. The Muslim Brotherhood has called for its followers to demonstrate after Friday prayers - the first time in the current round of unrest that the largest opposition bloc has told supporters to go out on the streets.
CNN: Russia doesn't need 'lecturing,' Medvedev says at Davos forum
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told business and political leaders from around the world Wednesday that his nation is trying to modernize and recognizes it has work to do. "Russia is very often criticized. Sometimes the criticism is well deserved, sometimes absolutely not," he said in a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos. "Russia is rebuked for the lack of democracy, totalitarian tendencies, weaknesses of legal and judiciary systems. "Today we are the way we are, and let me tell you that Russia indeed faces many difficulties in building the rule of law, in creating a modern state of the economy," he said, adding that "major changes have taken place" and Russia is "moving ahead."
CNN: World Muslim population doubling, report projects
Twenty years ago, the world had about 1.1 billion Muslims. Twenty years from now, it will have about twice as many – and they'll represent more than a quarter of all people on earth, according to a new study released Thursday. That's a rise from less than 20 percent in 1990. Pakistan will overtake Indonesia as home of the largest number of Muslims, as its population pushes over 256 million, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life projects. The number of Muslims in the United States will more than double, to 6.2 million, it anticipates. Afghanistan's population will nearly double, to about 50.5 million, making it home to the ninth largest Muslim population in the world. Israel will become nearly a quarter Muslim. The Palestinian territories have one of the highest growth rates in the world.
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CNNMoney: Dow, S&P end at two-year highs after Fed snoozer
Stocks held onto gains Wednesday afternoon, with the Dow and S&P finishing at their highest levels since the summer of 2008, after the Fed kept rates steady and left its bond-buying plan alone. The Dow finished up 8 points, or 0.1%, at 11,985.44, the highest close since June 19, 2008. Earlier in the session, the Dow rose as much as 43 points, or 0.4%, to 12,020.52, hitting its highest intraday level since June 20, 2008. However, the index is still far from its all-time highs above 14,000 reached in October 2007. The S&P 500 (SPX) added 5 points, or 0.4%, to close at 1,296, its highest level since August 28, 2008. The broader index had reached as high as 1,299.74, but failed to break above the key resistance level of 1,300. Meanwhile, the Nasdaq (COMP) gained 20 points, or 0.7%. President Obama's State of the Union address late Tuesday helped push stocks higher from the open.
In Case You Missed It
House Speaker John Boehner says even Social Security changes need to be considered to help balance the budget.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich is suing for $150,000 because a sandwich he bit into three years ago contained an olive pit.
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