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: Congress members grill administration officials on Libya mission
Angry members of Congress questioned top administration officials Wednesday on why they weren't asked to authorize President Barack Obama's decision to commit U.S. forces to the Libya military mission. The question dominated a classified briefing by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates for the U.S. House, according to House members who attended. A separate briefing for the Senate occured shortly afterward. Other issues raised by the legislators included whether the United States intended to arm the Libyan rebels, and the cost of the mission to U.S. taxpayers, participants told CNN.
CNN: Budget negotiators agree on spending cut target, Biden says
Vice President Joe Biden announced late Wednesday that House and Senate bipartisan negotiators had agreed to a spending-cut target of $73 billion in 2011 budget talks aimed at heading off a government shutdown before next week, when a temporary bill keeping the government operating runs out. Congress has been passing a series of short term spending resolutions since October 1, when the 2011 fiscal year began. ‘We’re all working off the same number now – $73 billion,” Biden said, emerging from a lengthy meeting with Senate Democratic leaders in the Capitol. “Obviously, there’s a difference in the composition of that number. What’s included, what’s not included. It’s gong to be a thorough negotiation.”
CNN: Obama rolls out plan to cut oil imports
President Barack Obama outlined a plan Wednesday to cut America's imports of foreign oil by a third by 2025 - a response to growing global energy demands and instability overseas. The president's proposal relies primarily on increased domestic production, conservation, and a shift to biofuels and natural gas. Among other things, Obama said he will push for an increased use of natural gas in trucks and buses, as well as the construction of commercial-scale biofuel refineries over the next two years. The president also announced that he is directing the federal government to ensure that all of its vehicle purchases are alternative fuel, hybrid, or electric cars by 2015.
CNNMoney: Bank bailout turns a profit
Don't look now, but the bank bailout is starting to turn a profit. The Treasury Department announced Wednesday that the money it gave to banks during the financial crisis has been paid back, and then some. The bank bailout - part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program - is now $6 billion in the black, a profit that might ultimately rise to $20 billion, according to the Treasury. And that's nice. But if you look at the whole program, there are still some trouble spots, and not everyone is happy.
CNN: Bill restricting public-sector unions passes in Ohio
The Ohio state legislature has passed controversial legislation that would limit collective bargaining rights by barring Ohio's public employees from striking. The bill now heads to Ohio Gov. John Kasich's desk to be signed into law, possibly this week. Kasich argues that Ohio Senate Bill 5 is crucial to closing an $8 billion budget shortfall and bringing public-sector benefits in line with those in the private sector. The law will affect some 360,000 employees by barring their right to strike and allowing them to decline to pay union dues.
CNN: New Hampshire workers to rally against collective bargaining limits
State workers and others planned to rally at the New Hampshire capitol Thursday after the state House approved a package that would make changes to collective bargaining laws. "Rally for New Hampshire" is scheduled for noon at the State House Plaza. Wednesday's vote on House Bill 2 came a day earlier than expected, catching state workers and other advocacy groups off guard.
CNN: Obama won't hold on to youth vote, Pawlenty claims
President Obama won't have a lock on the youth vote in 2012 ... or so claims one of his potential Republican challengers. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty told Vanderbilt University's student newspaper last week that his nascent campaign has been reaching out to young voters in all the right ways, like announcing his presidential exploratory committee on Facebook and appearing on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Pawlenty, who was participating in a symposium at the Nashville-based university, also predicted some buyer's remorse on the part of young voters.
Roll Call: Obama Campaign Racks Up Large Legal Fees
President Barack Obama was not on the ballot in 2010, but his campaign committee outspent all other presidential campaigns last year on legal fees, refunds to contributors and payments to the Treasury Department for unusable donations. Obama for America has spent more than $2.8 million on legal fees since the 2008 election, according to a CQ MoneyLine study of Federal Election Commission records. In all, the president’s campaign spent three times more on lawyers after Election Day than in the two years preceding it. A Democratic spokesman said in a statement that the expenses were expected and not extraordinary considering that Obama’s White House run was the largest campaign in history, taking in more than $750 million.
Politico: Rick Santorum: Barack Obama a U.N. puppet on Libya
Rick Santorum says that when it comes to America's military intervention in Libya, the United Nations has been pulling President Barack Obama's puppet strings. "He didn't do anything until the United Nations sort-of forced his hand," Santorum said on Fox News Wednesday night. The former Pennsylvania senator has repeatedly criticized Obama's approach to Libya, calling the president "disinterested, detached, ambivalent and indecisive." "It's one thing to engage the international community in something that you are leading and you want done," he said. "It is another thing to follow the international community — France, Portugal, and others — in something they want done. I think that is what happened here, not the president leading.”
New York Times: An Arizona Senate Race Waits to See if Giffords Emerges to Run
Representative Gabrielle Giffords is still in the hospital, but some of her most ardent backers are so enamored of the idea of her running for the Senate that they describe the inevitable campaign commercials: the deep-voiced narrator recounting what happened to her, the images of her wounded, then recovering and speaking into the camera alongside her astronaut husband to call on Arizonans to unite. These supporters say they do not want to get too far ahead of themselves, and make clear that Ms. Giffords, who was shot in the head, is still relearning basic tasks and might emerge from the hospital with neither the same political abilities nor aspirations that she had before. And publicly, her closest aides say the only thing they care about is her health.
Colorado Springs Gazette: Springs man's claim to have Obama records starts buzz
A Colorado Springs “birther,” retired Air Force Col. Gregory Hollister, has Internet blogs abuzz with what may be an illegal foray into an online Social Security data base and how he obtained a copy of President Barack Obama’s draft registration from 1980. “Col. Greg Hollister, USAF (Ret.) contacted the Selective Service, falsely impersonated President Obama, improperly registered his own address as President Obama’s address, and by this false impersonation and identity theft he managed to obtain a duplicate registration acknowledgement card with President Obama’s Selective Service information on it,” a blogger posted on gratewire.com last week. “This may violate several federal criminal statutes, and apparently caused the federal record of President Obama’s address with the Selective Service to be altered to show that he lives in Colorado Springs, CO.”
CNN: Rumsfeld talks 2012 GOP field
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave his view of the 2012 presidential campaign field by saying, “I would recommend letting these people run around the track for a while, see how they do.” In an interview that aired Wednesday on CNN’s “John King, USA” Rumsfeld wouldn’t divulge who out of the potential candidates would garner his support, but he mused about the pivotal moment in time for a presidential election. “They’re gonna have to deal with tough issues, with surprises. It’s gonna range from economic issues to social issues to foreign policy and defense issue, and it's a tough job running for president. They're gonna have to meet new issues and tough questions,” Rumsfeld told CNN’s King.
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CNN: EPA boosts radiation monitoring after low levels found in milk
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is increasing its nationwide monitoring of radiation as two states reported very low levels of radiation in milk. The agency said Wednesday it is boosting its monitoring of radiation in milk, precipitation, drinking water, and other outlets. It already tracks radiation in those potential exposure routes through an existing network of stations across the country. Results from screening samples of milk taken in the past week in Spokane, Washington, and in San Luis Obispo County, California, detected radioactive iodine at a level 5,000 times lower than the limit set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, officials said.
CNN: Fukushima shines light on U.S. problem: 63,000 tons of spent fuel
The Fukushima Daiichi disaster is focusing attention on a problem that has bedeviled Washington policymakers since the dawn of the nuclear age - what to do with used nuclear fuel. Currently, spent fuel - depleted to the extent it can no longer effectively sustain a chain reaction - is stored in large pools of water, allowing the fuel to slowly cool and preventing the release of radiation. But events in Japan, where two of the six spent fuel pools at the Fukushima Daiichi facility were compromised, have raised questions about practices at the nation's 104 nuclear reactors, which rely on a combination of pools and dry casks to store used fuel.
CNN: Report: African-Americans fall in equality index
African-Americans are faring slightly worse relative to their white counterparts than they did last year, according to an index released Thursday by the National Urban League. The group's 2011 Equality Index stands at 71.5%, compared to a revised index last year of 72.1%, the league said as it released its annual report, called The State of Black America. An equality index of less than 100% suggests blacks are doing worse relative to whites, while an index greater than 100% suggests blacks are doing better.
CNN: 10 sailors hurt in ship fire
Ten sailors aboard a U.S. Navy vessel were injured Wednesday after a jet on the ship caught fire, officials said. The incident occurred on USS John C. Stennis Wednesday afternoon in waters near southern California, the Navy said. The sailors were on the flight deck of the vessel when the jet "suffered a catastrophic engine failure and subsequently caught fire," the Navy said in a press statement.
CNN: NASA to check for shuttle damage after hail storm
NASA crews will perform a full survey of the space shuttle Endeavour on Thursday, a day after high winds and hail battered the launch pad, according to the space agency. "No one was injured and initially no obvious damage was observed. The storm moved through the area quickly," a NASA press release said. Endeavour is scheduled to blast off to the International Space Station on April 19th. The space shuttle's six astronauts are at the Kennedy Space Center for their launch dress rehearsal.
CNN: Supreme Court Justice Scalia fined in fender- bender
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has been fined $70 for allegedly rear-ending an automobile in a minor four-car collision, a United States Park Police spokesman confirmed Wednesday. Scalia was not injured in the accident, which occurred Tuesday when the 75-year-old high court justice's car rear-ended another vehicle on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in suburban Virginia, according to Sgt. David Schlosser of the Park Police.
CNN: FDA committee weighs whether food dye affects kids' behavior
A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee that has been weighing evidence on whether dye additives in food affect behavior in children will make its recommendation Thursday. The panel will first listen to testimony from the public and the industry. It spent Wednesday listening to testimony from doctors and scientists who contend that studies, although small in many cases, do show that some kids begin to show signs of hyperactivity once they are exposed to certain dye mixtures.
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CNN: Source: CIA operating in Libya, in consultation with opposition
CIA operatives are providing intelligence from Libya, where opposition forces are on the run and the defiant government suffered the embarrassing defection of its foreign minister Wednesday. The NATO-led coalition, which is enforcing a no-fly zone and protecting civilians from the intense fighting, got no help from the weather in its ongoing efforts to protect the fragile opposition movement. "The weather conditions did not allow close combat support by aircraft in the last couple of days," said Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
CNN: Radiation levels in seawater off Japan plant spike to all-time highs
The levels of radiation in ocean waters off Japan's embattled Fukushima Daiichi plant continue to skyrocket, the nation's nuclear safety agency said Thursday, with no clear sense of what's causing the spike or how to stop it. The amount of radioactive iodine-131 isotope in the samples, taken Wednesday some 330 meters (361 yards) into the Pacific Ocean, has surged to 4,385 times above the regulatory limit. This tops the previous day's reading of 3,355 times above the standard - and an exponential spike over the 104-times increase measured just last Friday. Officials have downplayed the potential perils posed by this isotope, since it loses half of its radiation every eight days.
Washington Post: Egypt says U.S. dragging its feet on freezing Mubarak assets
More than a month after the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the United States has yet to respond to a request by Cairo to freeze his assets, Egyptian officials say.In a country where a politically emancipated public is eager to hold the former authoritarian government to account, Washington’s delay is deepening already negative feelings toward the United States. Egyptian activists point to the quickness with which U.S. officials moved to freeze the assets of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.
CNN: Haiti's presidential election results delayed by fraud
Fraud has forced Haiti's election council to delay results of a highly anticipated runoff intended to decide the next leader of the troubled Caribbean nation. Results were supposed to have been announced Thursday. But the Provisional Election Council asked for four more days and will post preliminary results on Monday instead. Final results are not expected until April 16. The agency said "a high level of fraud and irregularities of various kinds has been detected in the tabulation of votes."
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CNNMoney: Stocks gain on jobs and energy optimism
Stocks ended Wednesday with solid gains, as investors welcomed two reports on job growth. The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) added 71 points, or 0.6%, while the S&P 500 (SPX) added 8 points, or 0.7% and the Nasdaq Composite (COMP) gained 19 points, also 0.7%. Meanwhile, smaller stocks reached pre-recession highs. The Russell 2000 Index, a measure of small-cap stocks, rose 1.2%, reaching its highest level since October 2007. Wednesday was all about jobs, as investors look ahead to the government's payroll numbers on Friday. Before the opening bell, one report showed that employers announced fewer planned job cuts in March, even as government sector layoffs mounted.
New York Times: Antitrust Cry From Microsoft
The wheel of technology history turns remarkably fast. Microsoft, whose domination of the technology industry provoked a landmark federal antitrust case, is crying foul against Google and urging European Union antitrust Officials to go after the search giant. Microsoft plans to file a formal antitrust complaint on Thursday in Brussels against Google, its first against another company. Microsoft hopes that the action may prod officials in Europe to take action and that the evidence gathered may also lead officials in the United States to do the same.
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