POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Wednesday, March 30, 2011
March 30th, 2011
04:17 AM ET
12 years ago

POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Wednesday, March 30, 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.

For the latest political news: www.CNNPolitics.com

CNN: Obama signals willingness to arm Libyan rebels
On a day when opposition forces in Libya suffered battlefield losses, President Barack Obama made clear in interviews Tuesday with the three major U.S. television networks that he was open to arming the rebel fighters. "I'm not ruling it out, but I'm also not ruling it in," Obama told NBC in one of the separate interviews he gave the day after a nationally televised speech on the Libya situation. "I think it's fair to say that if we wanted to get weapons into Libya, we probably could," Obama told ABC. "We're looking at all our options at this point."

CNN: Rubio threatens to hold vote hostage
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida threatened to vote against raising the debt ceiling unless his conditions for tax and budget reforms are met, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed set to be published Wednesday. The freshman senator and tea party favorite said raising the limit – the legal amount the U.S. government is allowed to borrow to finance its debt – is "putting off the tough decisions until after the next election." "We cannot afford to continue waiting. This may be our last chance to force Washington to tackle the central economic issue of our time," Rubio wrote. "If we simply raise it once again, without a real plan to bring spending under control and get our economy growing, America faces the very real danger of a catastrophic economic crisis."

CNN: Schumer's message mishap
Sen. Chuck Schumer was caught in a candid moment Tuesday, instructing fellow Democratic senators to describe GOP spending cuts as "extreme" and to blame the Tea Party for preventing House Speaker John Boehner from cutting a deal to end the budget stalemate, unaware his comments were being listened to by reporters on a conference call. The behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Democrats' political message strategy came as Schumer, D-New York, was about to begin a telephone call with reporters to talk about negotiations with Republicans over government spending cuts. "OK," Schumer could be heard telling senators who were preparing to address reporters on the call. "The main thrust is basically that we want to negotiate and we want to come up with a compromise but the Tea Party is pulling Boehner too far over to the right."

CNNMoney: House votes to kill Obama mortgage plan
The House passed a bill Tuesday to kill a signature Obama administration program that helps homeowners stay in their homes but has faced criticism as ineffective. The House voted 252 to 170 to stop any new funding for the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Eleven Democrats joined Republicans to defund the program. The program taps the federal bailout that saved the big banks, providing incentives to mortgage servicers to modify mortgages for borrowers behind on their payments. To many struggling Americans seeking permanent mortgage relief, HAMP offered little more than false hope. More homeowners have been kicked out of the program than have received permanent relief," Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement.

CNN: Wisconsin judge again halts collective bargaining law
Amid a debate over whether Wisconsin's new collective bargaining law had taken effect, a Wisconsin judge again put it on hold Tuesday and warned anyone against trying to implement it. "Now that I've made my earlier order as clear as it possibly can be, I must state that those that act in willful and open defiance of a court order place not only themselves at peril of sanctions - they also jeopardize the financial and governmental stability of the state of Wisconsin," said Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi. Sumi may decide Friday whether the law will be allowed to stand - at least for now.

Los Angeles Times: Brown ends talks on bipartisan budget deal
Gov. Jerry Brown has abandoned his effort to negotiate a bipartisan budget, charging that Republicans were unwilling to support his plan unless he yielded to "an ever-changing list of collateral demands." The governor's announcement that he is walking away from the negotiating table, made in a late-afternoon news release Tuesday, further roils the state's finances and marks the biggest setback yet for the 72-year-old Brown. He returned to Sacramento this year for his third term as governor promising that he had the political skills and policy expertise to resolve the state's chronic financial mess. Earlier in the day, key GOP lawmakers who had been negotiating with the governor declared the talks fruitless.

New York Times: Revised Bill on Collective Bargaining Advances in Ohio
Ohio moved closer to completing legislation to limit collective bargaining rights for public sector workers on Tuesday, while legislation in Wisconsin continued to be tied up in the courts. The bill in Ohio passed a State House committee on Tuesday after Republicans added provisions that Democrats said would further hurt unions. The legislation was expected to pass the full House as early as Wednesday. Republicans said they had made some of the changes to accommodate unions, but Democrats said the revised bill was worse than the original, especially a new provision that would prohibit nonunion employees from paying fees to unions.

Wall Street Journal: Tax Revenue Snaps Back
State and local tax revenue has nearly snapped back to the peak hit several years ago—a gain attributed to a reviving economy and tax increases implemented during the recession. But the improvement masks deeper problems for state and local governments that are likely to linger for years. To weather the recession, state governments relied on now-depleted federal stimulus funds, which allowed them to put off painful cuts that would have otherwise been necessary to balance budgets. Meanwhile, demand for government services and the tab for public-worker pensions and health care have continued to grow.

The Hill: Fed will miss deadline on rules for debit card fees, Bernanke says
The Federal Reserve will miss the April 21 deadline for finalizing rules on new limits on debit card fees, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has told lawmakers. In a letter sent Tuesday to House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) and ranking member Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Bernanke said the central bank would not be able to meet the statutory deadline. The "extraordinary volume" of public comments — more than 11,000 comments have been submitted — coupled with the complexities raised, will make it impossible for the central bank to finish the rules by the deadline set in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

CNN: Senate hearing looks at anti-Muslim bigotry
When Sen. Richard Durbin called a hearing on anti-Muslim bigotry, his office insisted it was not a response to a controversial House hearing that recently examined the threat of home-grown terrorism. "Terrorism is not the subject of today's hearing," Durbin, D-Illinois, said in his opening remarks. But two Senate Republicans said they couldn't discuss the Muslim-American community without looking at its potential for radicalization. Earlier this month, Rep. Peter King, R-New York, prompted a flurry of controversy and media attention by tackling "the radicalization of American Muslims" in a separate hearing.

Roll Call: Members Collect Many Unpaid Tickets
Members of Congress have immunity from many routine parking tickets in the District of Columbia, but that doesn’t mean they can’t try to rack up fines. According to a Roll Call survey of vehicles parked on Capitol Hill and at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, as of mid-March, lawmakers were carrying at least $15,000 in outstanding tickets — ranging from expired meters to speeding camera violations — and potentially thousands of dollars more. Three-quarters of those tickets, worth about $11,500, were in default at the time of the survey, having gone more than 60 days, and in some cases years, without payment.

CNN: Obama + Kaine: mutual admiration society
At a DNC fundraiser in Harlem, Barack Obama all but endorsed outgoing DNC chair and former Virginia governor Tim Kaine for U.S. Senate – a decision Kaine has not yet made (or at least announced). While many have speculated Kaine will go “plunging back into the hurly-burly of electoral politics,” as Obama described it, so far the DNC chair has only coyly said he is likely to run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Jim Webb (D). "I don't know if those rumors are true, but what I do know is that I cannot imagine someone who has been a better partner to me, a better friend,” Obama said, according to a pool report. “Should he choose to do so, he would be an outstanding senator for the commonwealth of Virginia."

CNN: Santorum blames 'abortion culture' for problems with Social Security
Potential 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum said the "abortion culture" in America is to blame for the failing Social Security system. In an interview with WEZS Radio in Laconia, New Hampshire, Tuesday, the former Republican Pennsylvania senator said abortion rates are influencing the number of children born in the United States and there are therefore not enough children to support the program long-term. "The Social Security system in my opinion is a flawed design, period. But having said that, the design would work a lot better if we had stable demographic trends," Santorum said. "A third of all the young people in America are not in America today because of abortion."

CNN: Congressman wants feds to hand out iodide pills
A Massachusetts congressman called on the federal government Tuesday to distribute potassium iodide pills to Americans living near nuclear reactors, a preventive step one expert warns might do more harm than good. Rep. Ed Markey wants the federal government to distribute doses of the compound - which can be used to block the thyroid gland's absorption of radioactive iodine - to every household within a 20-mile radius of a U.S. nuclear power plant "in recognition of the probability that rapid evacuation during a nuclear meltdown will be difficult and time consuming."

Washington Post: Report clears Justice Department in Black Panther case
The Justice Department’s Office of Personnel Responsibility (OPR) has concluded an investigation finding that politics played no role in the handling of the New Black Panther Party case, which sparked a racially charged political fight. After reviewing thousands of pages of internal e-mails and notes and conducting 44 interviews with department staff members, the OPR reported that “department attorneys did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment” and that the voter-intimidation case against the Panthers was dismissed on “a good faith assessment of the law” and “not influenced by the race of the defendants.”

For the latest national news: www.CNN.com

CNN: Contaminated IV solution suspected in 9 patient deaths in Alabama
Nine of 19 patients who were infected with bacteria that got into their blood after they were fed intravenously have died in six Alabama hospitals, state health officials said Tuesday. "This represents an example of an outbreak that does, unfortunately, occur," Dr. Don Williamson of the Alabama Department of Public Health told reporters in a conference call. The bacteria, identified as serratia marcescens bacteremia, can prove fatal, though investigators - including those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - have not determined that they caused the deaths, he said, adding that the investigation is ongoing.

CNN: Hole in US Airways plane was caused by a bullet, sources say
A hole in a US Airways jet that landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, was caused by a bullet that pierced the passenger cabin, three government sources told CNN Tuesday. Officials believe the bullet was fired in Charlotte, after passengers had exited the aircraft, one source said. The hole was discovered after the Boeing 737-400 landed Monday. The sources said a bullet has been recovered inside the plane. "We do not believe its terrorism related," said one of the government sources. "It appears to be a random event. We do not believe the plane was targeted. No one heard the bullet fired."

FOX News: Federal Vehicles Guzzling More Fuel Despite Obama's Pledge to Cut Greenhouse Gas Use
President Obama's effort to reduce Uncle Sam's carbon footprint has resulted so far in nothing but hot air. A new report finds that last year federal vehicles guzzled more gas than they had in any of the last five years despite Obama's order requiring federal fleets to reduce total petroleum consumption by 30 percent by 2020 and to promote tele-working as part of a broader goal to cut direct emissions by 28 percent by 2020. The General Services Administration's report, released this month, found that the federal fleet of vehicles - not including military - increased its gas consumption to 322 million gallons in 2010, up 7 percent from 301 million gallons in 2009, the largest yearly increase in the past five years.

CNN: Virginia Tech fined $55,000 in 2007 shooting rampage
Virginia Tech will be fined $55,000 for waiting too long to provide timely warnings about a shooter on the loose during a 2007 rampage in which 32 people died, the U.S. Department of Education said Tuesday. The school said it will appeal. A December 2010 report said the school did not notify students in a "timely manner" - as dictated by what is known as the Clery Act - after a shooting that left two people dead at West Ambler Johnston residence hall on the morning of April 16, 2007. The same shooter, identified as Cho Seung-Hui, 23, went to the university's Norris Hall more than two hours later and killed 30 more people before turning a gun on himself.

For the latest international news: http://edition.cnn.com

CNN: Rebels lose ground in Libya as Gadhafi forces go on the offensive
Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi went on the attack Tuesday, pushing opposition fighters back to the outskirts of a key oil town, rebels said. Also Tuesday, world diplomats met in London to discuss the future of the North African nation. Opposition fighters in Bin Jawad battled Gadhafi forces and came under a hail of artillery and rocket attacks, a rebel source said. CNN saw rebel fighters streaming back out of the city, beating what looked to be a hasty retreat. One said the barrage was too much for the opposition to withstand, and that Gadhafi loyalists had infiltrated Bin Jawad.

CNN: International diplomats unite against Gadhafi
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's government has "completely lost legitimacy," and military action against the regime must continue until attacks on civilians stop and humanitarian assistance is allowed to pass freely, international diplomats meeting in London concluded Tuesday. Envoys from more than 40 countries and organizations attended the conference and agreed to establish a "Libya Contact Group" to coordinate international response to crisis, said UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, who chaired the conference. The first meeting will be held in Qatar, he said. The group also agreed to push for more international pressure and additional sanctions on Gadhafi's regime.

CNN: 'Flickers' of al Qaeda in Libyan opposition, U.S. NATO leader says
There is a good chance NATO pressure will encourage Libyan tyrant Moammar Gadhafi to leave power, the U.S. NATO commander told Congress Tuesday, but the opposition that could come in the Libyan leader's wake has "flickers" of al Qaeda. While there is a wide range of possible outcomes in Libya, running from a static stalemate to Gadhafi cracking, there is a "more than reasonable" chance of Gadhafi leaving power, Adm. James Stavridis said before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

CNN: Security forces regain control of Iraq government building
Security forces wrested control of an Iraqi government building from armed militants who attacked and seized the location and held people hostage earlier Tuesday, Interior Ministry officials said. At least 56 people died and 98 others were wounded when armed men assaulted and seized the building in Tikrit, the capital of Salaheddin Province in northern Iraq. Iraqi forces launched a raid to take back the building and free hostages, many of whom were killed by the attackers in the building, the officials said.

CNN: Workers endure austere conditions in averting nuclear disaster
They sleep anywhere they can find open space - in conference rooms, corridors, even stairwells. They have one blanket, no pillows and a leaded mat intended to keep radiation at bay. They eat only two meals each day - a carefully rationed breakfast of 30 crackers and vegetable juice and for dinner, a ready-to-eat meal or something out of a can. They clean themselves with wet wipes, since the supply of fresh water is short. These are the grueling living conditions for the workers inside Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. They've been hailed as heroes risking their lives by braving high levels of radiation as they work to avert a nuclear meltdown.

CNN: Embattled Japanese power company chief hospitalized due to 'fatigue'
The president of the embattled utility that owns the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has been hospitalized due to "fatigue and stress," the company said Wednesday. Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Masataka Shimizu was hospitalized Tuesday. The company has not released further details about his condition. Shimizu made a public apology several days after a March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems at the plant. The last time he was spotted in public was at a March 13 news conference.

CNN: Syrian president to address the nation
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is expected to address the nation in a speech before the People's Assembly on Wednesday, a day after the cabinet resigned amidst an unusual wave of unrest across the nation. The state-run SANA news agency reported the speech would "tackle the internal affairs and the latest events in Syria," and "reassure the Syrian people." On Tuesday, tens of thousands of pro-government demonstrators poured onto the streets of Damascus, although state media reported a much higher national turnout.

CNN: Egypt to announce new working constitution
Egypt's ruling military leadership will announce Wednesday a constitutional declaration that will operate as a working constitution in the current political transitional period, state-run news media MENA reported. This new working constitution will be in effect until a new one is drafted and approved. General Mamdouh Shahin, a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, will give a news conference Wednesday morning to officially announce the constitutional declaration, that includes eight amended articles of which were endorsed in a historic referendum held on March 19.

CNN: At least 11 killed in Thailand flooding
At least 11 people are dead after flash floods swept through eight provinces in southern Thailand, officials said Wednesday. The flooding has affected more than 716,000 people, the country's disaster prevention agency said. Villagers in one province, Krabi, have been asked to take shelter at temples or other areas, said a local official, Sombat Morakot.

CNN: At least 7 killed in suicide attack at Pakistan political rally
Seven people, including a policeman, were killed and 10 others injured Wednesday when a suicide bomber on a motorbike blew himself up in northwest Pakistan, officials said. The explosion took place at a public gathering for a political party in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Abdullah Khan, a senior police official in the district, said the gathering was organized by Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam party. The party head, Fazal Ur Rehman, was scheduled to speak at the rally.

For the latest business news: www.CNNMoney.com

CNN: Muni bonds headed for worst quarter in 10 years
The municipal bond market is headed for its worst quarter in a decade, as investors fear cash-strapped states and cities across the country are on the brink of default, and local governments slow debt issuance. Only $44.4 billion worth of muni bonds have been issued in the first quarter so far. That's the lowest level since the first quarter of 2000, when $39.1 billion was issued, according to data from Thomson Reuters. Part of the drop in issuance comes as investor demand cools amid worries that municipalities may not be able to get their books in order. And that would leave investors holding the bag, so to speak.

Financial Times: Opec set for $1,000bn in export revenues
Opec, the oil producers’ cartel, will reap $1,000bn in export revenues this year for the first time if crude prices remain above $100 a barrel, according to the International Energy Agency. The cartel has been one of the main beneficiaries of high oil prices, which have soared in recent weeks amid the civil uprisings in the Middle East and north Africa. Brent crude was trading at $115 a barrel on Tuesday. Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA, said a new assessment by the rich nations’ oil watchdog showed that the total number of barrels exported by Opec in 2011 would be slightly lower than in 2008, when cartel oil revenues reached $990bn. But if average prices remain around $100 a barrel, Opec’s oil revenues will still reach a record of $1,000bn this year.

CNN: 34,000 Tylenol bottles recalled for musty smell
Johnson & Johnson is recalling yet another batch of Tylenol medicines due to consumer complaints about a musty, moldy smell. Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ, Fortune 500) McNeil division, which makes over-the-counter drugs such as Tylenol, Motrin and Benadryl, said the latest recall includes one lot of Tylenol 8 Hour (150 count) extended release caplets, or 34,000 bottles. McNeil said the new recall is part of the company's ongoing surveillance of its products.

In Case You Missed It

Did President Obama's speech help change the minds of members on Capitol Hill? Dana Bash reports.

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