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 to vote on budget deal Thursday
The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Thursday on a nearly $40 billion budget deal for fiscal year 2011. Representatives are expected begin making speeches on the budget package Thursday morning, with a final vote likely by early evening, according to the website for House Majority leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia. The vote was originally scheduled for Wednesday. The Senate also must pass the budget resolution before it can take effect.
CNN: Obama seeks $4 trillion in cuts; GOP assails call for tax hikes
President Barack Obama unveiled his long-awaited deficit reduction plan Wednesday, calling for a mix of spending reductions and tax hikes that the White House claims would cut federal deficits by $4 trillion over the next 12 years without gutting popular programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Obama's plan includes a repeal of the Bush-era tax cuts on families making more than $250,000 annually - something sought by Democrats but strongly opposed by Republicans. The president also called for the creation of a "debt fail-safe" trigger that would impose automatic across-the-board spending cuts and tax changes in coming years if annual deficits are on track to exceed 2.8% of the nation's gross domestic product.
CNN: Defense cuts will come at the cost of capability, Pentagon warns
A reduction in defense spending desired by the president will only come with cuts to force levels and military capability, the Pentagon's spokesman said Wednesday. Just moments after President Obama addressed the nation about his ideas for massive deficit reductions, the Department of Defense announced it supported the way the White House wants to go about cutting spending, but warned it comes with a cost. Obama said in his speech at George Washington University, "Over the last two years, (Defense) Secretary (Robert) Gates has courageously taken on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future spending. I believe we can do that again."
CNN: GOP senators propose raising age for Social Security benefits
On the day President Obama announced his vision for curbing the costs of entitlement programs and reining in the nation's deepening debt, three conservative Republican senators announced their plan to raise the eligibility age for Social Security to 70 while lowering monthly payments to upper-income retirees. "There is no way in God's green Earth to save America from bankruptcy until you deal with entitlements," said Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina. "Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, combined in the next twenty years, is going to absorb every dollar of revenue coming to this place. There will be no money left for anything else."
CNN: Santorum announces presidential exploratory committee
Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania took his first official step toward running for president Wednesday, announcing the formation of a presidential exploratory committee. "In 2008 Americans wanted a president who they could believe in, but after two years they realized that what they needed is a president who believes in them," Santorum said in a statement. "It's time for America to be America again – an America that rewards innovation and hard work, that stands by our allies instead of our enemies, that protects even the most vulnerable of our society, and an America that says every life is to be cherished. That is what I believe in, and that's why I'm taking this next step in a possible run for president."
CNN: DeMint doesn't want to be vice president
Don't expect Republican Sen. Jim DeMint to petition for the No. 2 spot on the GOP presidential ticket in 2012. "I have no interest in that," the South Carolina senator told National Review Online. "I would recommend against it. I am more of a change agent than a support actor." "Somebody would have to be pretty desperate to do that," DeMint added.
CNN: Democrats form Super PAC
Trying to combat the financial advantage they say dramatically helped Republicans last year, Democratic activists Wednesday started another so-called "Super PAC," this one aimed at helping them regain control of the House of Representatives. House Majority PAC will be able to accept unlimited funds. The names of their donors will be reported to the Federal Election Commission. Recently Democrats launched two other independent party organizations: American Bridge 21st Century, which will be involved in a variety of races, and Majority PAC, which is aimed at helping Democrats regain the Senate. These groups cannot coordinate strategies with party committees.
CNN: Top Florida Republican proposes flexible primary date
Saying that he wants to keep Florida early in the presidential primary calendar, a leading Republican state lawmaker is proposing to create a ten member commission that would study the best date for the state to hold its contest. House Speaker Dean Cannon told reporters Wednesday that a bill would be introduced Thursday to create the commission, which by October 1 of this year would need to pick a primary date between the first Tuesday in January and the first Tuesday in March. Florida's primary is currently slated for January 31, 2012.
CNN: Game on in Florida Senate fund-raising battle
It seems Mike Haridopolos is living up to his reputation as a strong fund-raiser. The Florida state Senate president, who's running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, raised $2.6 million in the first three months this year, a source familiar with his fund-raising figures confirms to CNN. That's more than Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who brought in about $2 million in the first quarter, according to an e-mail release Wednesday from his re-election campaign. Nelson's campaign also reports having between $4.5 million to $5 million cash on hand.
CNNMoney: Goldman blasted for conflicts of interest
A Senate panel issued a scathing report Wednesday that describes Goldman Sachs as a "case study" of the recklessness and greed on Wall Street that set off the 2008 financial crisis. The 600-page report also blames the lending practices of big commercial banks, such as the now-defunct Washington Mutual, for plunging the U.S. economy into a painful recession. The regulators who failed to crack down on the banks, including the Office of Thrift Supervision, are faulted for their cozy relationship with Wall Street, as are the major credit rating agencies, Moody's and Standard & Poor's. "Our investigation found a financial snake pit rife with greed, conflicts of interest, and wrongdoing," said Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate subcommittee charged with investigating the causes of the financial crisis.
CNN: Obama administration defends transferring Gitmo detainees
The Obama administration repeated its determination Wednesday to close the terrorist detention facility at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and defended its policy of releasing some detainees despite congressional opposition. The administration's point man on closing the facility, Daniel Fried, testified Wednesday before the House Armed Services subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that Guantanamo's existence "continues to do more to harm than improve our security," Fried said. "Closing it remains in the national interest."
CNN: More states restrict abortions; group says trend 'unparalleled'
As two states imposed the latest rounds of laws against abortion or its providers this week, a new study contends "hostility" toward abortion rights is on the rise in legislatures across the country, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The trend has been buoyed by GOP victories in last year's elections, as well as how federal health care reform encouraged states to adopt their own laws regarding abortion coverage under plans offered by health exchanges, said Elizabeth Nash, public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, an advocacy group for abortion rights.
Chicago Tribune: Illinois teachers, lawmakers draw up reforms
Ambitious education reforms on the table in Springfield could change how Illinois schoolteachers earn tenure and hold onto their jobs amid tough financial times, with seniority for the first time mattering less than performance. The proposed changes would upend the way teachers long have been treated when financially strapped districts cut staff. …What's more, the proposals would make it tougher for teachers to strike, according to details that emerged after months of closed-door negotiations. Reform advocates contend the process to dismiss poor-performing teachers would be streamlined.
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CNN: New York state senator to urge Obama to help New York police officers
Some New York police officers still can not communicate with each other with police radios, even though the issue plagued the rescue effort after the 9/11 attacks nearly 10 years ago, a New York state senator says. And that state senator says he plans to send a letter Thursday to President Barack Obama urging him to remedy the situation. "Despite nearly a decade passing since the September 11, 2001 attacks ... our first responders, the brave men and women who will be standing on the front lines of our next attack and running into buildings as most are running out, still, in far too many instances, do not have proper interoperability they need, and in some cases still cannot communicate at all," the letter written by state Sen. Greg Ball says.
Washington Post: Homelessness increases in D.C. area
The number of homeless families in the Washington region rose nearly 10 percent during the economic downturn, according to data released Wednesday as part of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ annual survey of the homeless. One snowy night in January, surveyors went out to parks, campsites, shelters and winter hypothermia rooms for their annual “point-in-time” survey, finding 11,988 homeless people, up from 11,774 last year. Nearly a third were children and 5,315 were in families, an increase from 4,995 last year. The number of homeless families in the Washington area has risen 9.5 percent since 2007, the survey showed. Local officials said that increase was a measure of how stressed low-income residents have become in the recession, as thousands have lost their jobs, or their homes to foreclosure.
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CNN: Libyan rebels find support boost at Doha summit
Delegates representing Arab and African nations and NATO coalesced behind the Libyan rebels at a summit in Qatar on Wednesday, promising more humanitarian aid and money channeled through a temporary trust fund of sorts. Members of what is called the Libya Contact Group agreed that a temporary financial mechanism could provide a way to get money to the Libyan opposition. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said participants in the Qatari capital, Doha, were discussing the possibility of using frozen Libyan assets for the fund.
CNN: Three police officers killed in Taliban attack in Afghanistan
At least three people were killed in one of three attacks in Afghanistan Thursday morning, officials said. The deadly attack occurred in Paktia province near a police station, said Azad Gull, a district governor. Four suicide bombers attacked the police station and one was able to get inside and detonate his explosives, Gull said. Three police officers were killed in the attack and two were injured, Gull said. A Taliban spokesman said his organization was responsible of the attack.
CNN: U.S. brings first case against alleged Somali pirate leader
An alleged Somali pirate leader has been indicted for the takeover of the yacht Quest and the kidnapping of four Americans who subsequently were killed during the incident. Mohammad Saaili Shibin, 50, appeared at a detention hearing in federal court in Norfolk, Virginia, on Wednesday afternoon after the indictment against him was unsealed. He will remain in federal custody. "Today marks the first time that the U.S. government has captured and charged an alleged pirate in a leadership role - a hostage negotiator who operated in Somalia," said U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride in a written statement. MacBride went on to say the arrest and charges against Shibin should "send a strong message to all pirates that they are not beyond the reach of the FBI, whether they board the ships or remain on-shore in Somalia."
CNN: Remains of U.S. airman missing since 1943 identified
The remains of a Massachusetts airman missing in action from World War II have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial, the Department of Defense said Wednesday. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Martin P. Murray, 21, of Lowell, Massachusetts, took off on October 27, 1943, from an airfield near Port Moresby, New Guinea, with 11 other crew members aboard a B-24D Liberator. At the time, plans were being formulated to mount an attack on the Japanese fortification at Rabaul in Papua New Guinea's New Britain Province, the Defense Department's POW/Missing Personnel Office said in a statement. The crew was assigned to conduct reconnaissance on nearby shipping lanes in the Bismarck Sea.
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CNNMoney: Looking for work? 3 million jobs are available
The picture is improving for unemployed job seekers. In February, hiring picked up and the ratio of unemployed seekers to available jobs improved to reach the lowest level since the end of 2008, according to the latest government readings released Wednesday. The Labor Department reported that there were 3.1 million job openings in February, up 352,000 from January and 570,000 from year-earlier levels. It was the largest number of available positions since September 2008.
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