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 passes short-term funding bill
The House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would extend funding for the federal government by another two weeks - through March 18 - while cutting $4 billion from current spending levels. The measure was approved in a 335-91 vote, with Republicans overwhelmingly backing it while Democrats were sharply divided. The Senate plans to vote on the measure on Wednesday. Senators and aides from both parties said they expected it to pass and proceed to President Barack Obama for his signature to prevent a government shutdown after Friday, when the current spending resolution expires at midnight.
CNN: Senate passes bill blocking congressional pay in event of a shutdown
Congress just got one more incentive to find a compromise over government spending before the standoff leads to a government shutdown. The Senate passed a bill by unanimous consent late Tuesday that would withhold pay for members of Congress and the president if a government shutdown were to happen. Democratic Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Barbara Boxer of California introduced the bill last week, arguing that if a standoff over government spending leads to a government shutdown, politicians should "feel the pain," too. "We have to take steps to make sure that elected officials here are living by the same rules as everyone else," Casey said during a news conference last Thursday.
CNNMoney: Bernanke: Inflation risk 'modest'
In his twice yearly testimony to Congress Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke acknowledged surging oil and food prices, but said that inflation would likely remain tame. "My sense is that the increases we've seen so far - while tough for many people - do not yet pose a significant risk to the overall recovery," Bernanke said. Speaking before the Senate Banking Committee, Bernanke noted that rising commodity prices will likely be passed on to consumers, but this effect would be only "temporary and relatively modest." But he acknowledged that if higher prices persist, inflation could become a serious risk. "Sustained rises in the prices of oil or other commodities would represent a threat both to economic growth and to overall price stability," he said.
CNNMoney: Budget cuts may hit homeless vets
Among the more controversial GOP budget cut proposals is an effort to kill $75 million that's slated to house homeless veterans. It's the cut that Democrats like to point to when they accuse of Republicans of going too far. And Democrats have even started to make it a campaign issue. Republicans are quick to point out that the cuts won't impact veterans who were homeless but now receive housing vouchers. Vouchers give homeless veterans a place to live for a year and can be renewed annually, assuming federal funding is available. The cuts would hurt some 11,000 homeless veterans who qualify for housing this year but have yet to receive vouchers.
CNN: Wisconsin governor delivers budget address amid persistent protests
There were a handful of empty chairs in the Wisconsin Capitol Tuesday as Governor Scott Walker delivered his biennial budget address, defending a proposal that would curb the collective bargaining rights of most public employees. "Democracy does not just expect differences, it demands them," Walker said, referencing a showdown with 14 Democratic senators who fled the state in an effort to prevent a quorum on a bill that drew thousands to Madison in protest for a third consecutive week. The lawmakers remained absent for Walker's address. Meanwhile, the Republican governor defended his proposal and lauded the anticipated savings to the state budget should it pass.
Idaho Statesman: Boise County files for bankruptcy
In a move rare in the United States and perhaps unprecedented in Idaho, Boise County is filing for federal protection against a multimillion dollar judgment. “This was not our first option. This was our last option,” said Jamie Anderson, chairwoman of the three-member Boise County Board of Commissioners. “This protects us so we can continue to operate.” Chapter 9 protection, from a section of federal code expressly for financially distressed municipalities, means that creditors can’t collect while the county is developing a plan for reorganizing its debts.
CNN: Gingrich team clarifies exploratory committee talk
Newt Gingrich's political team scrambled to clarify the former House Speaker's presidential intentions late Tuesday after multiple news organizations reported that Gingrich plans to announce the formation a presidential exploratory committee during a trip to Georgia on Thursday. Throughout the day, Republicans familiar with Gingrich's plans told numerous media outlets, including CNN, that Gingrich will enter a presidential exploratory phase during a trip to Atlanta on Thursday, when he is slated to meet with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. Joe Gaylord, Gingrich's longtime political adviser, told the Des Moines Register that the formation of an exploratory committee is a certainty.
CNN: Chris Christie: 'I already know I could win'
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has repeatedly and dramatically said that he will not be seeking the GOP nomination for the 2012 presidential election, but said last week that if he were to run, he's confident he would win. "I already know I could win. That's not the issue. The issue is not me sitting here and saying, 'Geez, it might be too hard. I don't think I can win.' I see the opportunity both at the primary level and at the general election level," Christie said during an interview with the National Review last week.
CNN: 2012 hopefuls heading to Florida for conservative gathering
Three Republicans seriously considering 2012 presidential bids are heading to Florida this weekend to participate in a closed-door gathering of fiscal conservatives. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour are all scheduled to speak at the Club for Growth's 2011 Winter Economic Conference in Palm Beach.
New York Times: Arab Unrest Puts Their Lobbyists in Uneasy Spot
For years, they have been one of the most formidable lobbying forces in town: the elite band of former members of Congress, former diplomats and power brokers who have helped Middle Eastern nations navigate diplomatic waters here on delicate issues like arms deals, terrorism, oil and trade restrictions. …Now the Washington lobbyists for Arab nations find themselves in a precarious spot, as they try to stay a step ahead of the fast-changing events without being seen as aiding despots and dictators. In Libya, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt and other countries in the region, leaders have relied increasingly on Washington’s top lobbyists and lawyers, paying them tens of millions of dollars. Some consultants are tacking toward a more progressive stance in light of pro-democracy protests, while others are dropping their clients altogether because of the tumult.
CNN: Holder gets a grilling from Republicans during budget hearing
Attorney General Eric Holder sought to defend his department's budget request Tuesday in a House subcommittee hearing that veered directly into several hot-button issues, including the Obama administration's recent decision to no longer defend a key portion of a federal law barring recognition of gay marriage. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, said "Congress has a reason to be concerned" about that decision and that the Department of Justice "has a duty to defend the constitutionality of the laws of the United States, and has a long history of doing so." Wolf cited as an example former Solicitor General Ted Olson's defense of a campaign finance reform law that the conservative Republican, personally, "surely would have rejected." Holder said "the legal landscape has changed" in the 15 years since the Defense of Marriage Act became law, and that several lower courts have declared it unconstitutional.
McClatchy: Western governors fume at Obama plan for wild lands
Republican governors from across the country made clear this week how much they think Obama administration initiatives interfere with their states' rights. In the West, Republican governors are especially riled up about the possibility that more federal land could be designated as wilderness, and they fear it might slow energy development in their states, said Idaho Gov. Butch Otter. "I see it as a job killer," said Otter, who along with fellow Republican Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah, testified Tuesday before a House of Representatives committee about their concerns with a new Obama administration policy. It could extend federal protection without congressional approval to millions of acres of wild lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.
Cleveland Plain Dealer: Sherrod Brown and coal industry are almost on the same side, but not quite
The coal industry and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, don't agree on much. But both are trying in their own ways to stop President Barack Obama's administration from imposing rules this year on new or upgraded power plants and large factories that use coal because, both say, the rules would hurt Ohio manufacturers and consumers. The Ohio Coal Association's position, while more absolute than Brown's, doesn't surprise environmentalists. But Brown's position nevertheless disappoints the Ohio Environmental Council, which supports new rules by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to curtail carbon emissions from coal, which scientists say are directly linked to detrimental climate change.
CNN: Styrofoam makes a comeback in House cafeterias
An old standard is being reintroduced in cafeterias throughout the Capitol: Styrofoam cups. A little over a month after taking control of the House, Republicans have changed a pivotal element of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's "Green the Capitol" initiative. Since 2007, non-recyclable, Styrofoam cups were replaced with environmentally friendly biodegradable cups. The reappearance of Styrofoam cups is one move towards phasing out Pelosi's program, which brought climate-friendly vending machines and compact fluorescent light bulbs to the Capitol. The plan successfully reduced energy consumption by 23 percent and water consumption by 32 percent throughout Capitol buildings, according to an April 2010 report. One of the most controversial steps towards eco-friendliness was the unveiling of compostable utensils and takeout trays in House cafeterias. Staffers complained that the sensitive material of the utensils made them vulnerable to frequent breakage.
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CNN: Victim hurt in RFK assassination says he supports Sirhan parole
One of the surviving shooting victims in the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy said he will not object to Sirhan B. Sirhan's release if a parole panel OKs it. Sirhan, who was convicted of the slaying, will appear before a California parole board for the first time in at least nine years on Wednesday, supported by two psychologists' reports saying he no longer poses a threat to society, his attorney said.
Daily Telegraph: Robert F. Kennedy's assassin 'was a real-life Manchurian Candidate'
In June 1968, Sirhan Sirhan shot Kennedy dead in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, moments after he had clinched victory in the California Democratic primary for that year's presidential election. Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian, cried "I did it for my country" when arrested. He kept diaries detailing his hatred of Kennedy for promising military support for Israel, a year after the region's Six-Day War. Yet Sirhan's lawyer claims he was programmed to shoot the politician while under hypnosis. Bill Pepper, the New York attorney who will today lead Sirhan's 14th attempt to be given parole, improbably alleges his client was "hypno-programmed".
Chicago Tribune: O'Hare air controller errors climb
Mistakes are increasing among air traffic controllers at O'Hare International Airport, prompting a visit Wednesday by federal investigators to examine staffing levels and other issues that affect safety. New data from the Federal Aviation Administration reveal an increase in errors occurring while veteran controllers are training newly hired controllers directing planes that are landing, taking off or taxiing at O'Hare. Training has been accelerated to keep pace with future increases in flights expected at O'Hare after new runways are built. There were 17 errors in the most recent one-year period, up from six errors the year before, the data showed.
New York Times: Wastewater Recycling No Cure-All in Gas Process
As drilling for natural gas started to climb sharply about 10 years ago, energy companies faced mounting criticism over an extraction process that involves pumping millions of gallons of water into the ground for each well and can leave significant amounts of hazardous contaminants in the water that comes back to the surface. So, in a move hailed by industry as a major turning point, drilling companies started reusing and recycling the wastewater. “Water recycling is a win-win,” one drilling company, Range Resources, says on its Web site. “It reduces freshwater demand and eliminates the need to dispose of the water.” But the win-win comes with significant asterisks.
Los Angeles Times: Despite medical parole law, hospitalized prisoners are costing California taxpayers millions
A degenerative nerve disease has left 57-year-old California inmate Edward Ortiz semi-paralyzed in a private Bay Area hospital for the last year. The breathing tube in his throat tethers him to a ventilator at one end of the bed; steel bracelets shackle his ankles to safety rails at the other. Still, California taxpayers are shelling out roughly $800,000 a year to prevent his escape. The guards watching Ortiz one day last week said department policy requires one corrections officer at the foot of his bed around the clock and another guard at the door. A sergeant also has to be there, to supervise. "Some of this is ridiculous, but you can't argue with policy," said Corrections Officer Allan Roper as he stared down at the unconscious Ortiz, a convicted child molester who requires medical attention beyond the prison system's capabilities.
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CNN: International pressure on Gadhafi tightens
International efforts to persuade Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to step down ratcheted up Tuesday, as world leaders moved against him on financial and political fronts, strengthened their rhetoric and moved military might into the region. "We have joined the Libyan people in demanding that Gadhafi must go - now, without further violence or delay - and we are working to translate the world's outrage into action and results," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Obama administration is considering whether it should cut diplomatic ties with Libya, a senior U.S. official told CNN. "Whether to maintain relations or sever them is under review," the official said.
CNN: Israeli official: Netanyahu may seek interim accord with Palestinians
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering a diplomatic initiative that will seek an interim agreement with the Palestinians rather than one that resolves all core issues, an Israeli government official said Tuesday. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue, said that the latest instability in the region, including the departure of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, has caused Netanyahu to try to move the stalled process forward.
CNN: Pakistani minister who once complained of death threats, killed
A Pakistani minister, who had said he was getting death threats because of his stance against the country's controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Wednesday Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal Minister of Minorities Affairs, was gunned down in Islamabad Wednesday morning, Pakistani police and hospital officials said. Bhatti, who in the past had been critical of Pakistan's blasphemy law and was a Christian member of Pakistan's cabinet, once said "I am ready to sacrifice my life for the principled stand I have taken because the people of Pakistan are being victimized under the pretense of blasphemy law."
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CNNMoney: Stocks drop more than 1% as oil spikes near $100
U.S. stocks tumbled Tuesday, with all three major indexes down more than 1%, as oil prices spiked to nearly $100 a barrel. The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) sank 168 points, or 1.4%, with Alcoa (AA, Fortune 500) and Caterpillar (CAT, Fortune 500) leading the decline. The S&P 500 (SPX) fell 21 points, or 1.6%, and the Nasdaq (COMP) lost 45 points, or 1.6%. The sell-off came as oil prices for April delivery continued to head higher, climbing $2.66 to settle at $99.63 a barrel amid ongoing uprisings in Libya and the Middle East. In electronic trading, crude prices topped $100 a barrel Tuesday afternoon, after crossing that mark last week for the first time since 2008.
CNNMoney: What gas spike? Americans still hungry for SUVs, pickups
Rising gas prices did not keep Americans from buying large pickups and SUVs in February, according to sales results from leading automakers. Industrywide U.S. auto sales shot up 27% compared to a year ago according to sales tracker Autodata. That's well above forecasts of about a 19% increase. The sales rate was the best since the Cash for Clunkers program, and at that pace, sales could reach 13.4 million vehicles over a full year. The month was particularly strong for the sale of light trucks, such as pickups, vans and SUVs, even in the face of higher gas prices. Truck sales rose 32% and had the best sales rate since before the financial meltdown.
In Case You Missed It
House members passed a bill that could extend federal funding for at least two weeks.
CNN's Jessica Yellin and panel members discuss whether the U.S. should supply weapons to Libya's opposition forces.
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