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: GOP keeps up pressure on Democrats to accept spending cuts
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner told a gathering of religious broadcasters that the nation's mounting debt is a moral threat to the country. "You may recall President Obama, in his State of the Union address, talking about a 'Sputnik moment,' the moment that shocks our nation into getting serious," said Boehner "In my view, America's 'Sputnik moment' is our shocking national debt." The nation's $14.1 trillion debt, said Boehner, is "a mortal threat to our country. It is also immoral."
CNN: Conrad: Two-week agreement is 'acceptable' to prevent a government shutdown
Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota said the Republican-backed plan to avoid a government shut down is "acceptable," but that it is "not the way to go." The continuing resolution that is currently funding the government expires March 4 and members of Congress are in negotiations to avoid a government shutdown. Most recently, leading Democrats appeared open to the Republican proposal that would include $4 billion in cuts and fund the government for an additional two weeks while a more permanent deal is worked out. "Honestly I think this two-week business is not the way to go," Conrad said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "I think there should be a longer term agreement, hopefully through the end of the year."
ABC: Gov. Jan Brewer: 'Government Is a Necessary Evil'
Facing an oncoming federal budget crisis, Republican governors Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Jan Brewer of Arizona both said a government shutdown would not be productive for the country. "I think government is a necessary evil," Brewer said. "But it's necessary to provide services, and they should be able to come to some solution. We need to trim the budget and move on. We appreciate our public employees but our job as governor is to look after our taxpayers," Haley added.
CNN: Protesters stay in Wisconsin Capitol as defiant governor digs in
Union workers and activists who refused to leave the Wisconsin Capitol building Sunday, against orders, will be allowed to spend the night, police said. Authorities had set a deadline earlier in the day of 4 p.m. CST for demonstrators to leave the building, saying it needed to be cleaned after roughly two weeks of protests. While many people left, hundreds of others defied the order and remained inside. Some say they are willing to risk arrest in a conflict that has become a flash point in the nation's debate around labor unions
CNN: Senators criticize Obama over Libya
Two leading U.S. senators were both critical Sunday of President Barack Obama's delay in speaking out over the uprising in Libya. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Obama should "stand up for democracy" and noted that the British prime minister and French president were not hesitant to address the crisis. "America leads," McCain told CNN's "State of the Union" from Cairo. "They're looking to America for leadership, for assistance, for moral support and ratification of the sacrifices they've made in the defense of democracy. America should lead."
CNN: Huckabee explains Romney criticism
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee says so-called "RomneyCare" should not disqualify former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney from running for president in 2012. "I don't think it disqualifies him," Huckabee said on "FOX News Sunday". "I think the purpose of states are always to be laboratories of government." In his new book, Huckabee criticized the health care plan Romney implemented while governor of Massachusetts. There are similarities between Romney's plan and the current health care law signed by President Barack Obama, including the individual mandate that requires all residents, with some exceptions, to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. "I don't have a problem with a governor in any state taking a risk, trying something bold," Huckabee added. "But if it doesn't work, for heaven's sakes, let's not put it in all 50 states."
Boston Globe: Patrick gives Romney praise he may not want
Governor Deval Patrick praised Mitt Romney yesterday for crafting the successful 2006 health care law in Massachusetts, presenting fresh fodder for Romney’s critics as he struggles to explain to GOP presidential primary voters why he authored a law that became a model for President Obama’s national health care overhaul. Patrick, appearing on ABC’s Sunday news show “This Week’’ while attending the winter meeting of the National Governors Association, singled out health care as an issue the former Massachusetts Republican governor “deserves a lot of credit’’ for. “One of the best things he did was to be the coauthor of our health care reform, which has been a model for national health care reform,’’ Patrick said. The compliment is probably one Romney would be happy to do without as he courts GOP primary voters in his expected bid for the White House.
USA Today: U.S. health care law not immune to nullification
In their battle against the federal health care legislation, Republican lawmakers in at least 11 states are turning to a centuries-old and rarely used tactic in an effort to wrest power from the federal government. The Republican-controlled Idaho House of Representatives became the first elected body in the nation to pass a nullification bill on Feb. 16, when it voted 49-20 in favor of a measure to nullify the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Seven Republicans voted against the nulification bill along with all House Democrats. The doctrine of nullification has deep roots in U.S. history. Thomas Jefferson in 1798 first outlined the notion that states have the right to void federal laws that they perceive run contrary to the U.S. Constitution when he argued against Congress' passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Washington Post: Governors differ on extent of flexibility for Medicaid
Democratic and Republican governors, burdened by crushing budget pressures from Medicaid, said Sunday that federal officials should allow them more freedom to change eligibility rules and other aspects of the public health insurance program for the poor. But they displayed sharp ideological differences over how far such flexibility should go. After a series of private conversations at the National Governors Association's semiannual meeting over the weekend, leaders of the group formed a bipartisan committee to explore in detail what kind of flexibility over Medicaid the governors can agree to seek from federal health officials. It remains unclear whether they will be able to forge such common ground, given their partisan disagreements over both Medicaid and the new federal law to reshape the health-care system. "The closer governors get to Washington, the more they start acting like members of Congress," said Oregon Gov. John A. Kitzhaber (D), vice chairman of the NGA's Health and Human Services Committee, referring to the rancorous debate over health care that persists on Capitol Hill.
Wall Street Journal: Only 1 in 4 Got Mortgage Relief
Just one in four of the 2.7 million homeowners who sought to participate in the Obama administration's signature mortgage assistance program have succeeded in getting their monthly payments reduced. The rest failed to qualify for the program or were disqualified after they were initially accepted into the program, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal of data on applicants to the program newly released by the Treasury Department. In all, about 680,000 homeowners who applied for the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, had received permanent modifications of their loans and were making timely payments or were still in the trial phase as of December.
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CNN: 'King's Speech' rules at the 83rd Oscars
The story of a king overcoming a speech impediment to lead his people through World War II took top honors at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards. "The King's Speech" won the best picture, best actor, best director and best original screenplay Oscars at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre Sunday night. The saga of how a college student created Facebook, which is now credited helping citizens overthrow their leader in the Mideast, lost out on the big awards, but "The Social Network" did win Oscars for best musical score, film editing and best adapted screenplay. Natalie Portman, who played a ballet dancer in "Black Swan," was given the best actress Academy Award. Portman also won Golden Globe and SAG best actor trophies in recent weeks.
CNN: Last living U.S. World War I veteran dies
Frank Buckles, the last living U.S. World War I veteran, has died, a spokesman for his family said Sunday. He was 110. Buckles "died peacefully in his home of natural causes" early Sunday morning, the family said in a statement sent to CNN late Sunday by spokesman David DeJonge. Buckles marked his 110th birthday on February 1, but his family had earlier told CNN he had slowed considerably since last fall, according his daughter Susannah Buckles Flanagan, who lives at the family home near Charles Town, West Virginia. Buckles, who served as a U.S. Army ambulance driver in Europe during what became known as the "Great War," rose to the rank of corporal before the war ended.
Forbes: Air Force Perfects Ocean Power
Air Force Academy researchers have harnessed more than 99% of the energy in a simulated ocean wave and are now preparing to deploy the world’s first free-floating, fully submerged wave energy converter that generates electrical power from deep ocean waves. The Academy’s Department of Aeronautics, which has worked on feedback flow control and fluid dynamics for various military aircraft and NASA spacecraft for decades, began efforts to develop computational simulations of a successful wave-energy converter in 2008.
Des Moines Register: Munson: Small towns mourn fast-closing post offices
The debate waged last week in a Methodist church basement could be coming to a mailbox near you, if it hasn't already been delivered. Talk about Priority Mail. This southwest Iowa town of 92 residents is begging the United States Postal Service to keep its post office with its 44 boxes, on a downtown strip dominated by derelict storefronts save for the beloved Hayloft restaurant and bar around the corner, owned and operated by Mayor Zelda Swartz. Post offices have withered along with the rest of small-town Iowa, with an average of about six offices in the state closed annually in recent years. But the waves of closures on tap in 2011 – likely to number in the dozens out of the state's 850 or so offices – will be on an unprecedented scale.
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CNN: Libyan security forces switch sides as Gadhafi hangs on
Embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi seemed increasingly cornered Sunday as security forces defected to the opposition in a town near the capital and the United Nations Security Council voted for tough restrictions on and possible war crimes charges against the Libyan regime. Former security forces said they had switched sides and joined the opposition in Zawiya, a town about 55 kilometers (35 miles) from the capital, Tripoli. Some buildings in Zawiya showed signs of damage, including a freshly burned-out police station. CNN's Nic Robertson, on a government-organized trip to Zawiya, saw armed civilians taking defensive positions on rooftops to prepare for a possible effort by Gadhafi loyalists to retake the town. About 2,000 people took part in an anti-government protest there, some standing atop tanks or holding anti-aircraft guns. They said they wanted the government overthrown, calling Gadhafi a "bloodsucker."
CNN: Gadhafi 'must go,' British foreign secretary says
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi "must go," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Sunday, as Britain froze the assets of Gadhafi and his family. "The people of Libya have risen up against Colonel Gadhafi," Hague said. "We have here a country descending into civil war with atrocious scenes of killing of protesters and government actually making war on its own people, so of course it is time for Colonel Gadhafi to go. "That is the best hope for Libya," he said, adding that he had revoked the diplomatic immunity in the United Kingdom of Gadhafi, his sons, his family and his household.
CNN: European governments send rescue missions to Libyan desert
British Prime Minister David Cameron says a military-led rescue mission into the Libyan desert was "the right thing to do," despite the fact that UK planes didn't have permission to enter Libyan airspace. Three Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft successfully evacuated some 150 civilians of multiple nationalities from eastern Libya, according to a statement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The civilians were retrieved from multiple locations in the desert south of Benghazi, said Liam Fox, the secretary of state for defense. Another 150 civilians were flown out by British forces in similar missions mounted Saturday, according to previous statements from the FCO
CNN: As North Korea threatens, U.S., South Korea to start drills
U.S.-South Korean joint military drills kick off Monday, one day after North Korea threatened to engulf Seoul in a "sea of flames." The annual exercises are taking place amid high tensions. North Korea shelled Yeongpyeong Island, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians, last November. The U.S insists the drills are defensive in nature while training forces to respond to any provocation but North Korea has always denounced them as preparing for an invasion to topple Kim Jong-il's regime. North Korea's military said Sunday it would retaliate with "an all-out offensive to put an end to the U.S. imperialists' military occupation of South Korea." The military also said the world will see actions "engulfing Seoul in a sea of flames, smashing every move for confrontation." The North often issues such warnings before military drills, but tensions are higher after November's shelling and the March sinking of the South Korean warship, Cheonan, which the South blames on the North.
BBC: UK 'to end direct aid to 16 countries'
The UK is to stop direct aid to 16 countries, including Russia, China and Iraq, papers seen by the BBC suggest. A draft copy of a government review of its £7.8bn overseas aid budget – to be published this week – also reveals assistance for India will be frozen. But, overall, the international development budget will rise by a third in this parliament, it says. International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said spending would be a "good deal better focused". The government's draft report states that aid spending is good for Britain's economy and safety.
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Financial Times: Record iron ore prices loom
Steel mills are set to pay record prices for iron ore next quarter, as resurgent global demand butts up against limited supply. The cost of iron ore, used to make steel, is critical to the global economy as it filters into steel prices and, ultimately, into the cost of everyday goods. The sharp rise in costs – up about 23-25 per cent from the first quarter, according to analyst estimates – will add to concerns about inflation as oil and food prices are also rising rapidly. Iron ore prices are important to the profitability of two of the world’s largest heavy industries, the mining and steelmaking sectors.
CNN: Volvo plans $10 billion China investment in next 5 years
Volvo announced over $10 billion in investments over the next 5 years as a part of its new strategy in China, following its acquisition by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group last year. The Swedish car brand will open a new manufacturing plant in the southwest city of Chengdu in 2013, the company said on Friday. The Chinese-owned car maker also may build another factory in Daqing in northeast China. The company said that the new production centers will not affect operations and employment in Europe. Volvo now has little presence in China. The company hopes to sell about 200,000 vehicles in China by 2015, compared to 39,000 sold last year. Volvo also unveiled plans to expand the number of dealerships in China to 220 from 106 by 2015.
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