New year, new party in charge of the U.S. House. Battles over spending and GOP efforts to repeal health care reform will begin in earnest Wednesday as the 112th session of Congress begins with Democrats yielding control of the House to Republicans. Here's a look at this and some of the other stories we plan to follow this week:
Spending, filibusters could be addressed this week
With temporary funding for the U.S. government not expiring until March and with President Obama's next budget proposal not expected to be submitted to Congress until mid-February, congressional squabbles over spending could take weeks. But the House already is expected to start debate Thursday on cutting funding for legislative activities by 5%, which incoming House Speaker John Boehner says could save $25 million to $30 million a year.
The Senate, meanwhile, could start considering changes this week to its rules on filibusters, those maneuvers that the minority party often uses to delay or kill legislation. Democrats are returning to the chamber with a diminished majority and want to weaken the filibuster and other moves that senators can use to block bills. One option is to eliminate a rule that requires 60 votes to bring a bill to a final vote. Another is to prevent the ability of a single, anonymous senator to prevent a bill from coming to the floor. Yet another is to force senators who want to filibuster to speak at length.
Steele fights for his future at the RNC
While Republicans prepare to take the House, Republican National Committee chief Michael Steele is fighting to keep his job. On Monday, the Susan B. Anthony List and Americans for Tax Reform will stage a debate between Steele and five candidates who are challenging him. Steele is up for re-election later this month.
Will Ivory Coast's presidential standoff lead to military conflict?
Leaders of three West African countries are expected to meet with Ivory Coast's self-declared President Laurent Gbagbo on Monday to ask him to relinquish his post or face a military ouster. Gbagbo has claimed he won a November 28 election, but a growing international bloc - including the United States and the United Nations - has recognized his challenger, Alassane Ouattara, as the winner. Each has ignored the other's deadline to stand down. Ouattara, holed up in a hotel in the capital since the election, has formed a government and made new diplomatic assignments.
Sudan braces for vote that could split it in two
On the other side of Africa, Southern Sudan is preparing for a January 9 referendum that could see the region split from Northern Sudan. The referendum is part of a 2005 peace agreement that ended two decades of violence between the North and oil-rich South - a conflict that led to the deaths of 2 million people, many from starvation. The impending vote has sparked fears of renewed violence, but Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, has said he will accept the results.
Evacuations continue following massive flooding in Australia
About 1,000 people are expected to be evacuated from their homes in the coming days in Queensland, Australia, because of flooding that has covered an area larger than France and Germany combined, Queensland officials say. An emergency management spokesman in Queensland said floodwater is receding in certain areas but is also flooding some towns as it recedes. At least one person has died as a result of the flooding, electricity has been intentionally cut in severely flooded areas and a regional airport is expected to be closed for weeks.
What caused thousands of blackbirds to die in Arkansas?
Arkansas game officials hope testing scheduled to begin Monday will solve the mystery of why up to 5,000 blackbirds fell from the sky just before midnight New Year's Eve. The birds, most of which were dead, were found within a one-mile area of Beebe, about 40 miles northeast of Little Rock, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said. An ornithologist for the commission said such an incident could be caused by a lightning strike or high-altitude hail, and another commission member said biologists believe the deaths were stress-related from either fireworks or weather. Meanwhile, Arkansas officials also are investigating the deaths of an estimated 100,000 fish about 125 miles to the west.
Freedom for Lindsay Lohan; Queen Latifah hosting "People's Choice Awards"
After several months of court-ordered rehab, actress Lindsay Lohan reportedly is set to check out of the Betty Ford clinic on Tuesday. Fans and critics alike are anxious to learn what the embattled starlet's next career move will be now that she is no longer attached to the Linda Lovelace biopic, "Inferno."
On Wednesday, the public will deliver its verdicts on movies, music and television during the 2011 "People's Choice Awards," hosted by Queen Latifah. More than 35 million votes were cast for the awards ceremony, which aims to reveal the public's favorites in numerous entertainment categories. The show will air live on CBS starting at 9 p.m. EST from the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles.
The "Super Bowl of tech" kicks off
The year's biggest technology trade show kicks off Wednesday in Las Vegas, Nevada, with tech titans including Microsoft, Samsung and Sony set to unveil their latest gadgets. Sometimes called the "Super Bowl of tech," the Consumer Electronics Show is expected to attract more than 100,000 industry players. Tablet computers, smartphones and 3D televisions are expected to be among the big items this year, and our Tech section will be watching.