POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Monday, March 14, 2011
March 14th, 2011
05:02 AM ET
4 years ago

POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Monday, March 14, 2011

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.

WASHINGTON/POLITICAL
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CNN: Congress faces need for immediate and long-term spending plans
With another three-week extension in government funding expected to be passed this week, Democratic and Republican legislators used the Sunday talk shows to hammer home core messages on how to proceed. An extension would give Congress until April 8 to either reach a deal for the rest of fiscal year 2011, which ends September 30, or pass another extension to avoid a government shutdown. President Barack Obama and congressional leaders all say that no one wants a shutdown, but the parties remain far apart on how to approach both the immediate need to authorize government spending for the next six months and the long-term need for budget reforms that reduce the deficit and national debt.

CNN: Political punches thrown at Obama over budget debate
While Congress debates how to continue funding the government, the political debate Sunday centered on the president’s involvement in the negotiations. Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona blamed the Democrats, who controlled the House and Senate before the midterm elections, for the current budget battles and touted the Republican plan to fund the government for the remainder of this fiscal year. “Democrats were in charge of the House and Senate last year. Their job was to get a budget and fund the government, they didn’t do that,” Kyl said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “When you ask what can Republicans do? The House has put out its proposed budget for the rest of the year.”

The Hill: Even at a deficit-obsessed moment tax reform is a tough sell
Lawmakers from both sides like the idea, but most are unsure taxes could be overhauled in this climate. With deficit reduction on the lips of policymakers all around Washington, tax reform is proving to possibly be a tough sell for those searching for long-term solutions. As a bipartisan group of six senators continue to work to craft a broad deficit reduction plan, some top Republicans in their chamber have signaled that, at the very least, it would be difficult for them to back an approach that would use increased tax revenue.

CNN: Crowley resigns as State Department spokesman
P.J. Crowley abruptly resigned Sunday as State Department spokesman over controversial comments he made about the Bradley Manning case. Sources close to the matter said the resignation, first reported by CNN, came under pressure from the White House, where officials were furious about his suggestion that the Obama administration is mistreating Manning, the Army private who is being held in solitary confinement in Quantico, Virginia, under suspicion that he leaked highly classified State Department cables to the website WikiLeaks. Speaking to a small group at MIT last week, Crowley was asked about allegations that Manning is being tortured and kicked up a firestorm by answering that what is being done to Manning by Defense Department officials "is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid."

CNN: Political gas wars
A leading Democrat called for President Obama to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserves to prevent rising gas prices from harming the economic recovery. Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said the president is right to consider putting "the oil we have in reserve into the economy.” “I'm worried that if we don't use the reserve that our economic recovery will stall and fall backwards," Durbin said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "We don't need to see unemployment figures going up." Durbin said tapping the emergency 727-million-barrel reserve would pump resources into the market and help address the problem impacted by unrest in the Middle East.

CNN: Obama outlines plan for gun reform
More than two months after the fatal shootings in Tucson, Arizona, President Obama staked out his position in the gun control debate. In an op-ed in The Arizona Daily Star, Obama acknowledged the role of guns in American society, while warning of their dangers. "Every single day, America is robbed of more futures. It has awful consequences for our society," Obama wrote, adding that "we have a strong tradition of gun ownership that's handed from generation to generation." He outlined three "sound and effective" steps to keep "those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place," including enforcing laws already on the books, rewarding states that provide the best data and therefore do the most to protect their citizens and making the system for background checks "faster and nimbler."

Washington Post: Barely half of agencies meeting Obama's FOIA request goals, study says
President Obama's administration has improved in its responsiveness to Freedom of Information requests, but still has a ways to ago, according to a new report on the issue. Of 90 federal agencies equipped to process requests made under the Freedom of Information Act, slightly more than half have taken at least some steps to fulfill Obama's goal to improve government transparency, according to the study by the National Security Archive at George Washington University and the Knight Foundation. The report is set for release Monday.

CNN: Lieberman says hold off on new nuclear plants for now
A Senate proponent of nuclear energy called Sunday for a temporary halt in building new nuclear power plants in the United States until the situation in Japan can be examined. Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut who sits with the Democratic caucus, told the CBS program "Face the Nation" that the United States should "put the brakes on right now until we understand the ramifications of what's happening in Japan." While noting he continued to support the development of nuclear power, Lieberman said more details were needed on the possible partial meltdown of at least one Japanese reactor after Friday's huge earthquake and tsunami.

NATIONAL
For the latest national news: www.CNN.com

CNNMoney: Japan's nuclear crisis turns spotlight on U.S. plants
The safety of America's nuclear reactors is being questioned as Japanese engineers scramble to avert a total meltdown at two of that country's quake-stricken power plants. Like in Japan, some of the 104 nuclear reactors in the United States are situated along the ocean - some in earthquake-prone areas. The reactors are designed to withstand earthquakes, sabotage and other disasters. But the difficulty the Japanese are facing in controlling their plants is raising red flags about the safety of U.S. facilities.

INTERNATIONAL
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CNN: Japanese PM: 15,000 rescued in nation's 'toughest' crisis since WW II
Rescuers began a fourth day picking through the rubble of earthquake- and tsunami-ravaged northern Japan Monday, searching for survivors, as the country's prime minister called on people to pull together and face sacrifices following Friday's historic disaster. "In the 65 years after the end of World War II, this is the toughest and the most difficult crisis for Japan," Prime Minister Naoto Kan told reporters at a televised news conference Sunday. "We Japanese had a lot of difficulties in the past, but we were able to overcome those difficulties to reach this peaceful and prosperous society we have been able to build," Kan said. "So with regard to the earthquake and tsunami, I am confident that the Japanese people can be united to work together."

CNN: Report: 2,000 bodies found in northeast Japan
Approximately 2,000 bodies were found Monday in Miyagi Prefecture on Japan's northeast coast, the Kyodo news agency reported. If confirmed, the discovery would be the largest yet of victims from last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami. Roughly 1,000 bodies were found coming ashore on Miyagi's Ojika Peninsula, while another 1,000 were seen in the town of Minamisanriku, where some 10,000 people are unaccounted for, Kyodo reported. Officials said earlier Monday that the official death toll from the disaster stands at 1,627, with more missing.

CNN: Explosion rocks another Japanese nuclear reactor building
Fresh white smoke rose again Monday from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, caused by an explosion at a building tied to the facility's No. 3 reactor. Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said that, according to the head of the nuclear facility, the container vessel surrounding the reactor is still intact. Initial reports suggest that radiation levels rose following the explosion late Monday morning, but Edano said he does not believe there has been a massive leak. "We are now collecting information on the concentration of radiation," he said.

New York Times: Navy Says 17 Americans Were Treated for Contamination
American Navy officials in Japan said early Monday that 17 military personnel who had been aboard three helicopters assisting in the earthquake relief effort had been exposed to low levels of contamination. Cmdr. Jeff A. Davis, a spokesman for the American Seventh Fleet in Japan, said the Navy personnel — who apparently had flown through a radioactive plume from a damaged nuclear power plant — had been ordered to dispose of their uniforms and to undergo a decontamination scrub that had successfully removed radioactive particles. “They received very, very low levels of contamination,” Commander Davis said in a telephone interview from Japan early Monday.

CNN: Doctors, aid workers and rescue dogs get to work in Japan
A massive emergency response operation is underway in northern Japan, with world governments and international aid groups coming together to bring relief to the beleaguered island nation. Sixty-nine governments have offered to help with search and rescue, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The Japanese government has received 11 Urban Search and Rescue teams (USAR), the group said in a situation report, including teams from the United States, South Korea, Australia, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand, China, Hungary, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

CNN: Quake takes toll on Japan's fragile economy
The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan will rank among the costliest natural disasters on record, experts predict. Japan's central bank announced plans Monday to inject a record 15 trillion yen ($183 billion) into the economy to reassure global investors in the stability of Japanese financial markets and banks. The Bank of Japan also earmarked an additional 5 trillion ($61 billion) in aid for risky assets in an effort to bolster market confidence shaken by the disaster.

CNN: Tensions aside, China sends rescue team, money and supplies to Japan
A Chinese rescue team was in Japan Monday to help with search and rescue efforts in the aftermath of Friday's earthquake, state media reported. The 15-member team was working Monday at an elementary school in Oofunato, a Japanese city severely damaged by the 8.9-magnitude earthquake. As the team began its work, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao expressed "deep condolences" to the Japanese people. "China is also a country prone to earthquake disasters and we fully empathize with how they feel now," Wen said. "We will provide more as Japan needs it and we want to continue to help as necessary."

CNN: Gadhafi forces retake rebel town, state TV claims
Libyan state TV reported Sunday that the opposition-held town of al-Bregahad been "been cleansed from the criminal gangs and mercenaries, the area is now safe, and all citizens should go back to their work and their normal life." Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi have been fighting to recapture towns from the rebels since an uprising began last month. Opposition leaders in Benghazi confirmed to CNN that their forces have left al-Brega, but they are calling their move a "tactical retreat."

CNN: Witnesses: King's supporters confront Bahrain students
Supporters of the rulers of Bahrain threatened about 5,000 university students protesting against the government at Bahrain University Sunday, eyewitnesses said. The government denied that unjustified force was used. Elsewhere in the strategically important kingdom, riot police fired tear gas at protesters to break up the blockade of a highway, the government said. A video posted by an opposition party showed police appearing to fire two tear gas canisters at a man standing only a few feet from them. He doubles over after the first shot, and drops to the ground after the second, which appears to hit him in the face.

BUSINESS
For the latest business news: www.CNNMoney.com

CNNMoney: Tokyo stocks in slide
The leading Japanese stock index recovered a little after dropping nearly 6% early Monday, the first full day of trading following last week's earthquake, but remained sharply lower. The Nikkei-225 index tumbled 457 points, or 4.5%, to about 9,759. It was down even further, almost 598 points, in the first few minutes before rebounding. Some of the biggest names in Japanese industry fell sharply. Toyota was down more than 8%, while Sony was 10% lower. Elsewhere in Asia, stocks in China and Hong Kong were lower with the trading day about halfway through.

In Case You Missed It

Senior State Dept producer Elise Labott discusses news that Secretary Clinton spokesman P.J. Crowley will step down.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/03/13/exp.sotu.elise.labott.cnn

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