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.
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CNN: White House criticizes Egyptian government and vice president
President Barack Obama's spokesman criticized the Egyptian government on Tuesday for arresting and harassing journalists and rights activists, and called comments by Vice President Omar Suleiman that Egypt is not ready for democracy "particularly unhelpful." The remarks by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs reflected a growing U.S. dissatisfaction with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Suleiman, the intelligence officer Mubarak chose as his deputy to bring about reforms demanded by protesters who have convulsed Cairo and the Egyptian economy for more than two weeks. In another sign of U.S. frustration with the pace of reform in Egypt, Vice President Joe Biden, in a phone call Tuesday with Suleiman, pushed for more progress, according to a White House statement.
Wall Street Journal: White House Plans Phase-Out of Fannie, Freddie
More than two years after the government seized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Obama administration will recommend phasing out the housing-finance giants and gradually reducing the government's footprint in the mortgage market, according to people familiar with the matter. The administration is expected to include three options for a post-Fannie and Freddie world when it releases a long-awaited proposal for the future of the nation's $10.6 trillion mortgage market, which could come as soon as Friday. Together with federal agencies, Fannie and Freddie have accounted for nine of 10 new loan originations in the past year. The White House's "white paper" will begin what promises to be a prolonged and fiery debate about the future of how homes are financed across the U.S. Any wind-down of Fannie and Freddie would happen gradually to avoid roiling markets, and the central, unanswered question is what kind of federal function, if any, the administration and Congress will invent to take their place.
CNN: For GOP, 2012 campaign starts at CPAC
Thousands of conservative activists are descending on the nation's capital this week for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, a three-day political carnival of speeches, strategy sessions and after-hours networking. With less than one year to go before the Iowa caucuses, this year's event has added significance: A bumper crop of would-be GOP presidential contenders are slated to address the conference in an effort to burnish their conservative credentials and charm the Republican base. Most of the candidates making serious noise about seeking the Republican nomination will appear at CPAC, with only a few exceptions - notably former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.
CNN: 'First Tea Party town hall' sees political unity, few tough questions for lawmakers
Six members of Congress faced conservative activists in what organizers called the "first Tea Party town hall" on Tuesday. Attendees included Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, both of Utah, as well as Representatives Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Allen West of Florida and Steve King of Iowa. Before the event, organizers said the lawmakers should expect tough questions from activists in the audience at the National Press Club and from others via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Instead, the event took on the air of a pep rally at times. Activists, who staunchly support some of the lawmakers, encouraged them, largely agreed with them and frequently applauded their statements about Constitutionally-limited government, lower taxes and less spending.
CNN: Hatch: 'I'm a tough guy,' doesn't fear a GOP re-election challenge
Who's afraid of a big, bad re-election challenge from inside his own party? Not Sen. Orrin Hatch. Amid rumblings that the Utah Republican may face intra-party challenges as he readies for re-election to a seventh term, Hatch said, "I've always had convention challenges." Hatch spoke to reporters after participating in a Tea Party town hall on Tuesday at the National Press Club.
CNN: House defeats bill extending Patriot Act provisions until December
A bill to extend three provisions of the Patriot Act and Intelligence Reform bill that are due to expire next month failed to win approval Tuesday from the U.S. House of Representatives. The House voted 277-148 in favor of the bill, which fell short of the 284 votes needed to pass, because it was considered under a House rule that required a two-thirds majority. In the vote, 26 Republicans joined 122 Democrats in opposing the bill that would have extended the provisions through December 8.
CNN: House GOP pushes abortion restrictions
House Republicans are holding hearings this week on legislation to restrict federal support for abortion, a move that has little support in the Democratic-controlled Senate or White House, but is of enormous importance to the GOP's socially conservative base. While the measures have little chance of becoming law, the hearings provide a forum for both sides to publicly air views on the abortion debate. At a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing Tuesday on a bill that would make permanent the current restrictions on federal funding for abortion, Republicans warned that failing to act could lead to tax dollars paying for late-term abortions, while Democrats argued that the legislation amounted to an unnecessary and ill-conceived overreach by abortion foes.
The Hill: Momentum builds for debt deal
Momentum appears to be building toward a grand compromise on reducing the budget deficit that could be based on recommendations from President Obama’s debt commission. Senate Democrats will hear a pitch for using the debt commission’s proposals on Wednesday from their leading budget hawk, who is trying to hammer home the message that both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue must get serious about slashing the nation’s rising debt. The presentation at the Senate Democratic retreat will come from Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.), the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, who dropped a reelection bid last month saying he feared it would distract him from fixing America’s fiscal condition.
CNN: Obama administration pushes trade timetable
The Obama administration is poised to lay down the most ambitious and definitive timeline on several key trade deals. The president's point man on trade, Ambassador Ron Kirk, will ask Congress on Wednesday to vote on the South Korea agreement "this spring." He'll also push for resolution on similar deals with Colombia and Panama "as soon as possible this year," according to Kirk, the United States Trade Representative. In excerpts from prepared remarks to be delivered before the House Committee on Ways and Means, Kirk will say that "after extensive consultations with the business community, Labor and Congress, in December we concluded a U.S.-Korea trade agreement that is better for America's auto industry and better for America's auto workers. It is winning widespread support.
USA Today: Job training sprawl costs U.S. $18B per year
The federal government spends $18 billion a year on 47 separate job training programs run by nine different agencies. All but three programs overlap with others to provide the same services to the same population, according to a government report to be released today. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that "little is known about the effectiveness" of the programs because half haven't had a performance review since 2004 and only five have ever had a study to determine whether job seekers in the program do better than those who don't participate.
CNNMoney: Obama looks to help states with jobless aid
States and companies may get a little more help from Washington D.C. in dealing with high unemployment costs - at least for the next two years. The Obama administration is proposing waiving interest payments for two years on the $42.3 billion states have borrowed from the federal government to cover unemployment benefits. Some 30 states are on the hook for an estimated $1.3 billion in interest charges this year. The measure, one of three related to unemployment insurance costs, will be part of the federal budget President Obama will deliver to Congress next week.
New York Times: Texas Governor Offers Optimism on Budget Shortfall
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas cannot be faulted for lack of optimism. Facing a two-year budget gap of at least $15 billion, Mr. Perry struck a defiant stance in his annual address to the Legislature, calling the state economy “the envy of the nation” and promising the budget would be balanced through spending cuts alone. “Now the mainstream media and big-government interest groups are doing their best to convince us that we’re facing a budget Armageddon,” he said. “Texans don’t believe it, and they shouldn’t, because it’s not true. Are we facing tough choices? Of course, but we can overcome them by setting priorities.”
CNN: Biden announces $53 billion high-speed rail plan
The Obama administration is proposing to spend $53 billion over the next six years to help promote the construction of a national high-speed, intercity passenger rail network, Vice President Joe Biden announced Tuesday. The proposal represents a significant expansion of the $10.5 billion already spent on high-speed rail expansion since Obama entered office, including $8 billion in the 2009 economic stimulus package. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters potential funding sources for the plan will be outlined in the president's proposed budget, which is scheduled to be released next week.
CNN: U.S. rep: Crisis over detained diplomat may imperil Pakistan aid
Members of Congress told senior Pakistani leaders that billions of dollars of U.S. aid are in jeopardy unless an American diplomat, detained since January 27 in connection with the shooting deaths of two Pakistani civilians, is released. "We indicated it could very well be" that the U.S. might consider withholding funding, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-California, said Tuesday after returning to Washington from meetings in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The State Department has demanded that Raymond Davis be freed. Under international agreements, people carrying diplomatic passports are granted diplomatic immunity, the State Department said.
Politico: The Israel primary
Aspiring politicians in New York once made a point of visiting the three I’s: Italy, Ireland and Israel. For the GOP’s presidential prospects in 2012, it’s all about one: Israel.
A stop in the Jewish state is becoming as critical to a would-be president’s political resume as an early trip to Iowa or New Hampshire, a sort of global two-fer. Get some early foreign policy street-cred and play a little dog-whistle politics with Christian conservatives who are deeply invested in Israel’s fate – some because they view it as critical to the Biblical vision of the end of days.
For the latest national news: www.CNN.com
CNNMoney: Pedals, drivers blamed for out of control Toyotas
An intensive 10 month investigation into possible causes of unintended acceleration in Toyota cars found no fault with the automaker's electronic throttle control systems, the Department of Transportation announced Tuesday. So far there are three known causes of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles: improperly installed floor mats, sticky pedals, and driver error. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, "We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota's electronics systems, and the verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas."
For the latest international news: http://edition.cnn.com
CNN: At the center of the debate in Egypt: Its constitution
In the United States, Americans feel protected by their Constitution. In Egypt, the opposite can be true. The Arab nation's constitution, recently amended in 2005 and 2007, was designed to preserve power for the ruling National Democratic Party and make it virtually impossible for anyone outside the ruling establishment to seek the highest office in the land. More than two weeks into the uprising, the debate centers on whether to dump Egypt's governmental road map altogether or decide how it can be amended to pave the way for a more democratic era.
CNN: South Korea agrees to humanitarian talks with North Korea
South Korea agreed in principal to hold humanitarian talks with North Korea, as the two sides resumed working-level military meetings Wednesday, South Korea's government said. The so-called Red Cross talks are used to facilitate reunions for families separated by the Korean War and for the North to receive humanitarian aid such as rice and fertilizer from Seoul. The South Korean Unification Ministry said the government agreed in principle to the talks in response to requests from Pyongyang earlier this year.
For the latest business news: www.CNNMoney.com
Bloomberg: Top Forecaster Brown Sees U.S. Adding 2 Million Jobs in 2011
The U.S. economy will create 2 million jobs in 2011, twice as many as last year, said Scott Brown, the most accurate forecaster of the jobless rate over the past two years according to Bloomberg News calculations. Unemployment will end the year at 8.6 percent, projected Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates Inc., less than the 8.8 percent median forecast of 61 economists surveyed by Bloomberg from Feb. 2 to Feb. 8. It dropped to 9 percent in January from 9.4 percent the prior month. President Barack Obama’s deal with congressional Republicans to reduce the payroll tax and extend Bush-era cuts will put more money in Americans’ pockets and spur demand, said Brown. The need to rebuild inventories as sales climb will give the world’s largest economy an added lift this year, he said.
Wall Street Journal: Home Affordability Returns to Pre-Bubble Levels
Home affordability returned to pre-bubble levels in a growing number of U.S. markets over the past year as price declines laid the groundwork for a housing recovery. Data provided by Moody's Analytics track the ratio of median home prices to annual household incomes in 74 markets. By that measure, housing affordability at the end of September had returned to or surpassed the average reached between 1989-2003 in 47 of those markets. Most economists believe the housing boom took off in 2003. During the boom, lax lending and speculation pushed house-price inflation far beyond the modest rise in household income. Nationally, the ratio of home prices to annual household income reached a peak of 2.3 in late 2005. But by last September, it had fallen to 1.6, matching the lowest level in the 35 years the data have been collected and well below the historical average of 1.9 between 1989 and 2003.
Japan Times: Aquaculture booms but will wild fish recover?
Even as global food prices hit record levels, rising in January for the seventh month in a row amid concerns about future shortages, fish farming is a bright spot in the generally challenging outlook for food production. This is why Japan and many other Asian countries are so interested in aquaculture. In the past, most fish have been caught in the wild. However, in recent decades, a rapidly growing volume and range of fish have been raised in tanks and ponds on land, or in cages and nets in oceans, lakes and rivers, helping to meet growing demand for protein. Aquaculture is now a $100 billion industry. Asia has led the way in production and exports of both wild capture and farmed fish, making an increasingly important contribution to the region's food security, while providing expanded employment opportunities and alleviating poverty.
In Case You Missed It
CNN's Dana Bash reports on a new bill that aims to redefine certain abortion rights.
Democratic lawmakers push to extend unemployment insurance benefits that will help 99ers. CNN's Mary Snow reports.
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