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 Republicans and Senate Democrats in talks to avoid government shutdown
With funding for the federal government set to expire in less than two weeks, Senate Democrats and House Republicans are in discussions to avoid a government shutdown, a Senate Democratic leadership source told CNN. News of the negotiations comes a day after several Republican lawmakers indicated they might accept a short-term spending bill as long as it included at least some spending reductions and not necessarily the deeper cuts the House approved last weekend. Senate Democratic leaders reacted positively to those comments Monday, said the source, and hope it will lead to an agreement before March 4, when a government shutdown would begin if the House and Senate fail to reach an agreement.
CNN: White House working to avoid government shutdown
Congress may be taking advantage of a week long vacation outside the beltway, but back in Washington there is vigorous debate over the prospect of a federal government shutdown. Amid plenty of finger pointing among lawmakers, the White House is working hard to stave off what the president himself said would be ‘destabilizing’ to U.S economic recovery. In a news conference last week, President Obama urged caution against ‘being too loose’ with talk about a government shutdown. “This is not an abstraction,” he said. “People don’t get their social security checks. They don’t get their veterans payment.”
CNNMoney: Government shutdown: What's at stake
The countdown to a possible government shutdown is on. If lawmakers don't pass a funding extension by March 4, the government will shift to performing essential operations only. That could mean that government workers would stay home, national parks and museums would close and cleanup at toxic waste sites would stop. It's difficult to predict how the current government would respond to a shutdown, because each federal agency is responsible for crafting and updating its own "shutdown plan." Those plans are not made public. But the past offers some clues.
CNN: Wisconsin protests tapering off, but tense budget standoff remains
As the standoff continues in Madison over a budget bill that would increase the costs of benefits to public employees and curb their collective bargaining rights, Republican Gov, Scott Walker blamed unions for squandering state coffers and impeding fiscal reform. "We're broke," the governor told reporters Monday. "You really can't negotiate when you don't have money to negotiate with." Unions argue that collective bargaining - a process of negotiations meant to regulate working conditions - has served to protect wages and health care, enforce workplace safety and serve as a means to arbitrate employee grievances. The bill's supporters say union contracts have hamstrung efforts to address the state's swelling deficit. Its opponents say the bill is an assault on workers' rights.
CNN: Wisconsin governor blasts public-sector unions as wasteful
Embattled Republican Gov. Scott Walker fired back at opponents of a budget bill that would increase the costs of benefits to public employees and curb their collective bargaining rights, describing in a written statement how current agreements give too much power to unions. Walker highlighted questionable uses of taxpayer money as advocated by unions, noting a Milwaukee teachers union that last summer tried to negotiate health insurance using taxpayer dollars to pay for erectile dysfunction pills. Unions have argued that collective bargaining - a process of negotiations meant to regulate working conditions - has instead served to protect wages and health care, enforce workplace safety and serve as a means to arbitrate employee grievances.
Wall Street Journal: Detroit Schools' Cuts Plan Approved
The state of Michigan approved a plan for Detroit to close about half of its public schools and increase the average size of high-school classrooms to 60 students over the next four years to eliminate a $327 million deficit. The plan was submitted in January by Robert Bobb, Detroit Public Schools' emergency financial manager, as a last-ditch scenario if the district couldn't find new revenue sources, which it hasn't so far. Final approval came after Mike Flanagan, the state superintendent of public instruction, cleared Mr. Bobb's initial plan with some new requirements, including that the district not file for bankruptcy protection during Mr. Bobb's remaining months in office.
Politico: Haley Barbour says he'd veto Mississippi bill to establish Ku Klux Klan license plate
Under pressure to address racial issues swirling around a potential presidential bid, Haley Barbour said on Monday for the first time that he wouldn’t sign legislation in Mississippi to honor a former Ku Klux Klan leader with a state-issued license plate. "The bureaucracy denied it, the legislature won't pass it and if the legislature passes it, it won't become law because I won't sign it,” Barbour told the Associated Press in an interview – a change from when he had earlier declined to take a position against the measure.
CNN: Huckabee ready to test his message
Former Republican Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said he's using his upcoming book tour to gauge if his message resonates with voters before making a decision on whether or not to make a run for the White House in 2012. "A Simple Government" hits book shelves Tuesday and describes his philosophy for the national debt, national security, international relations and family values. On a conference call with reporters Monday, he said his 41-city tour will also help him decide if "there is both financial and organizational support that warrants walking away from what I'm doing and getting back into the fray again."
CNN: Limbaugh takes aim at Michelle Obama's waistline
Michelle Obama is taking heat from talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh after a report in the Vail Daily that she consumed a not-so-healthy-meal of ribs for dinner while on a recent visit to the Colorado resort, the latest example of conservative angst directed at the first lady's healthy-eating initiative. "The problem is, and dare I say this, it doesn't look like Michelle Obama follows her own nutritionary, dietary advice," Limbaugh said Monday on his radio program. "And then we hear that she's out eating ribs at 1,500 calories a serving with 141 grams of fat per serving." "She is a hypocrite," Limbaugh continued. "Leaders are supposed to be leaders. If we are supposed to go out and eat nothing, if we are supposed to eat roots, berries, and tree bark, show us how."
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CNN: Church bus wreck in California mountains kills 1, injures 13
One person was killed and 13 were injured Monday when a church bus returning from a weekend retreat wrecked on a California mountain highway, authorities said. The bus went over the side of the road near Crestline in the San Bernadino Mountains, and down a grade after colliding with an SUV, according to Officer Mario Lopez of the California Highway Patrol. The location - in mountains about 75 miles east of Los Angeles - made it difficult for emergency responders who had to make their way up a mountain road to get to the wreck and for helicopters that flew in to airlift victims.
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CNN: Gadhafi says he's still in control as more Libyans turn against him
As Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi announced Tuesday that he was still in charge of the country, the U.N. Security Council readied to meet later in the day to discuss the spreading unrest there - the first time the council has held consultations over any of the revolts that have swept the Arab world since January. Gadhafi made a brief television appearance early Tuesday to announce that he was in Libya, denying reports that he had fled the country in the face of a spreading revolt. Speaking to a state television reporter in front of his Tripoli home, Gadhafi said he wanted to show people "that I am in Tripoli, not in Venezuela. Don't believe those dogs in the media."
CNN: Clinton to Libya: End 'unacceptable bloodshed'
The United States on Monday condemned the violence in Libya and called for a halt to the "unacceptable bloodshed" in response to civil unrest, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement. "The government of Libya has a responsibility to respect the universal rights of the people, including the right to free expression and assembly," Clinton's statement said. "Now is the time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed. We are working urgently with friends and partners around the world to convey this message to the Libyan government."
CNN: Analysis: Why Arab Spring could be al Qaeda's fall
When historians in future years grapple with the significance of the overthrow of the Mubarak regime in Egypt 10 days ago, coming as it did in the wake of the "Jasmine" January 14 Revolution in Tunisia, they may judge it not only as a seismic event, shattering and renewing the Arab political order, but also the key watershed moment in confronting the global al Qaeda threat. The political, economic, and cultural stagnation that al Qaeda fed off for more than two decades has been replaced by the fastest moving change the region has ever witnessed, the most promising of Arab Springs.
CNN: Deadly quake strikes New Zealand
A 6.3-magnitude earthquake ripped through Christchurch, New Zealand, on Tuesday afternoon, causing multiple fatalities as it toppled buildings onto buses, buckled streets and damaged cathedrals, authorities said. New Zealand Police announced on the agency's website that a large-scale evacuation of the central city was under way. According to the news release, the earthquake killed an undetermined number of people at various locations around the city, including passengers on two buses crushed by buildings that had fallen on them. TVNZ reported that the 147-year-old Christchurch Cathedral's spire had toppled, Christchurch Hospital was being evacuated and the airport was closed.
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CNNMoney: U.S. oil prices don't matter at the pump
U.S. oil prices remain relatively low compared to the rest of the world, but that doesn't mean American motorists are getting a break at the gas station. Gasoline prices in the United States have jumped 5 cents in just a week, according to AAA. The gasoline Americans buy is made not just with U.S. supplies but mainly with oil from around the globe, and that fuel is surging in price. Since a protester lit himself on fire in Tunisia at the end of December, sparking revolts across North Africa and the Middle East, global oil prices have jumped. Brent crude, pegged to oil prices in the North Sea, is up over 12%.
In Case You Missed It
CNN's Ben Wedeman has the first report from a western TV journalist on conditions in Libya.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords sends her husband and his twin brother a happy birthday tweet from her hospital room.
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