[Updated at 1:30 p.m. ET] President Barack Obama says that if Congress can't come up with a long-term deficit reduction package by March 1, Congress should pass a smaller, short-term package to avoid the deep automatic spending cuts that otherwise would take effect that day.
The imminent spending cuts – known as sequestration – were part of a 2011 debt ceiling deal.
In his comments moments ago at the White House, Obama said his past proposal – a mix of spending cuts, entitlement reforms and increased revenue – remain on table. He says this mix, rather than spending cuts alone, is the most sensible option.
Choosing only to cut spending, Obama said, would "cost us jobs and slow down our recovery."
[Initial post, 12:03 p.m. ET] President Barack Obama today will call for a short-term agreement to put off deep cuts to government spending set to take effect next month, a senior administration official has confirmed to CNN.
The president will make a statement to reporters at 1:15 p.m. ET that urges Congress to pass a measure that would put off the imminent spending cuts – known as sequestration – that were part of a 2011 debt ceiling deal, the official said.
A White House official, also on condition of not being identified, issued a statement that said Obama will call for a balanced approach – which is code for including additional revenue with spending cuts – to "avoid the deep, indiscriminate cuts to domestic and defense programs slated to take effect in just over three weeks."
A 5-year-old boy held hostage nearly a week is safe and the Alabama man who held him hostage is dead, law enforcement officials say.
[Update 10:30 p.m. ET] President Barack Obama called FBI Director Robert Mueller to compliment him for the role federal law enforcement officers played in resolving the hostage situation in Alabama today, a White House official told CNN. "The president praised the exceptional coordination between state, local, and federal partners, and thanked all the law enforcement officials involved during the nearly week-long ordeal for their roles in the successful rescue of the child."
[Update 10:17 p.m. ET] Law enforcement officials in Alabama expressed gratitude and relief at the successful conclusion of the week-long hostage ordeal in Midland City.
At a 9 p.m. news conference, Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said getting the 5-year-old hostage out alive was the goal of everyone on the scene.
"This is a very special child," Olson said. "He's been through a lot, (and) by the grace of God he's OK. ...
"I'm a father, a lot of these men and women that's been sacrificing tireless hours, they're parents as well. It's a relief to be able to reunite mother and child."
The boy, whose name is Ethan, is with his mother at a local hospital, said Steve Richardson, special agent in charge of the FBI's Mobile regional office.
"Ethan is laughing, joking, playing, eating - the things you would expect a normal 5-year-old child to do," Richardson said.
The officials refused to divulge any details of the rescue operation, saying they expect to need to employ the same tactics in another situation someday in the future.
Olson said officials believed Ethan was in danger.
"That's why we went in - to save the child," he said.
[Update 5:46 p.m. ET]
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley issued the following statement:
"Shortly after 3 p.m., I spoke with Col. Hugh McCall of the Department of Public Safety and Homeland Security Director Spencer Collier. They informed me that law enforcement had breached the bunker, the child was safe and the abductor was killed.
"I want to thank the law enforcement, first responders and all additional personnel who worked tireless hours to bring this situation to a resolution. They performed heroic efforts, and they should be praised for how they handled themselves in a professional manner.
"I am thankful that the child who was abducted is now safe. I am so happy this little boy can now be reunited with his family and friends. We will all continue to pray for the little boy and his family as they recover from the trauma of the last several days.
"At the same time, we also want to remember the family and friends of the bus driver - Charles Poland, Jr. This man was a true hero who was willing to give up his life so others might live. We are all inspired by his courage and bravery.
"I ask everyone across the state - and the nation - to continue to lift up these families and the entire Midland City community in your prayers."
[Earlier updates] Steve Richardson, the FBI's special agent in charge of the local office, said at a brief news conference that negotiations with Jimmy Lee Dykes had "deteriorated" during the past 24 hours, and that Dykes had been observed holding a gun.
At 3:12 p.m. CT, FBI agents entered the bunker and safely recovered the young hostage, Richardson said.
He said Dykes was dead and the child appeared to be physically unharmed. He did not say how Dykes died.
Richardson and other law enforcement officials declined to answer any questions.
The abducted boy, whose name is Ethan, has been taken to a hospital about eight miles from the place where he had been held hostage, Alabama Rep. Steve Clouse told CNN.
"Finally, this nightmare has come to an end," he said.
A neighbor of Dykes' said Monday he heard it end.
"I heard a big boom and then I heard, I believe I heard, rifle shots," Byron Martin told CNN. "Literally made me jump off the ground."
A U.S. government official familiar with the Secret Service acknowledged past missteps by Secret Service agents Thursday but was quick to defend the government's internal review process.
"We have had employees that have engaged in misconduct," the official said. "People make mistakes."
His comments come amid reports of misconduct by Secret Service personnel in Colombia and El Salvador.
[Updated at 12:23 p.m. ET] President Barack Obama announced a compromise Friday in the dispute over whether to require full contraception insurance coverage for female employees at religiously affiliated institutions.
Under the new plan, religiously affiliated universities and hospitals will not be forced to offer contraception coverage to their employees. Insurers will be required, however, to offer complete coverage free of charge to any women who work at such institutions.
Female employees at churches themselves will have no guarantee of any contraception coverage - a continuation of current law.
There will be a one-year transition period for religious organizations after the policy formally takes effect on August 1.
"No woman's health should depend on who she is or where she works or how much money she makes." Obama said at the White House. But "the principle of religious liberty" is also at stake. "As a citizen and as a Christian, I cherish this right."
[Updated at 10:11 a.m. ET] The Obama administration's contraception compromise will expand the religious exemption for religiously affiliated universities and hospitals, a source tells CNN Friday. Individuals will be able to get contraceptive coverage directly from insurers.
[Initial post, 8:30 a.m. ET] The White House probably will announce a compromise Friday on a controversial rule requiring religiously affiliated employers to provide full contraception coverage to women, an administration source said.
News of the possible compromise comes after days of escalating partisan and ideological rhetoric over the pending rule, which many Catholic leaders and other religious groups oppose.
As currently written, the rule would exempt churches, but hospitals and schools with religious affiliations would have to comply. The new policy is set to go into effect on August 1, though religious groups would have a yearlong extension to implement the rule.
The administration has been examining laws in 28 states that have similar coverage requirements, senior administration sources said this week. Two sources have told CNN that the administration is particularly interested in the Hawaii model, in which female employees of religious institutions can purchase contraceptive coverage directly from the insurer at the same price offered to employees of all other employers.
Another possible solution, one source has said, would be legislation allowing women employed by religiously affiliated employers to get contraceptive insurance from the exchanges created under Obama's sweeping health care reform rather than from their employer's insurer.
[Updated at 8 p.m. ET Thursday] Try to act like you haven’t heard this before: The U.S. government is days away from a potential partial shutdown.
For the eighth time in calendar 2011, Congress must approve at least a stop-gap spending measure because it failed to authorize spending for a full fiscal year. The current temporary measure ends Friday, and if Congress fails to act, a partial shutdown akin to that of 1995/1996 would ensue.
Leaders of both parties say they intend to keep the government funded. But as of Wednesday, a spending plan was held up as lawmakers argued over other issues, including possible extensions of a payroll tax cut and federal unemployment benefits.
Congressional negotiators came to an agreement Thursday night that they believe will prevent a shutdown, according to several Democratic sources. Negotiators were signing off on a massive spending bill that funds the government through October 1, 2012, they told CNN.
Both the House and Senate are expected to vote on the conference report Friday.
Temporary spending measures aren’t unusual. At least one was passed in 27 out of the last 30 years, so that Congress could have more time to develop a fuller spending plan. But this year the country averaged more than one every two months, with many of them featuring battles between House Republicans – believing 2010 elections gave them a mandate to bring budget deficits under control – and Senate Democrats over how to shrink deficits.
Here’s a look at the eight times the federal government technically came within days of losing its spending authorization this year, plus the summer debt-ceiling debate that also brought talk of a potential shutdown.
The Democratic-controlled House and Senate of 2010 failed to pass a budget for fiscal 2011, which would start in October 2010. Republicans won control of the House in November 2010 elections, setting the stage for this year's fierce budget battles.
With no full-year spending plan, a lame-duck Congress in December passed three short-term resolutions, with the final one keeping government operating until March 3.
Taking official control of the House in January, Republicans declined to pass any further spending extension, or "continuing resolution," without securing cuts as part of the deal. Freshmen Republicans, keen on slashing deficits, initially pressured their leadership to cut $100 billion from then-current spending levels.
By mid-February, the House GOP was pushing for $61 billion in cuts, which would have been partly reached by blocking all federal funding for Planned Parenthood and the president's health care overhaul, limiting the Environmental Protection Agency and cutting millions of dollars for the arts, heating subsidies and financial services regulations.
[Updated at 1:13 p.m. ET] U.S. President Barack Obama, announcing Friday that "the rest of our troops will come home by the end of the year," said: "After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over."
The new partnership with Iraq will be "strong and enduring" after U.S. troops leave the country, Obama said in the White House briefing room. The United States will continue its interest in a strong, stable Iraq after U.S. troops leave, the president said.
"Today I can say that our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays," Obama said.
About 39,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, and the U.S. had wanted to keep from 3,000 to 5,000 troops in Iraq past 2011 to aid in training and security. But the current Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq dictates the U.S. troops leave by year's end, and the United States and Iraq had been unable to come to an agreement on key issues regarding legal immunity for U.S. troops who would remain in Iraq, effectively ending discussion of maintaining a significant American force presence beyond 2011.
Of the 39,000 troops in Iraq, only about 150, a negligible force, will remain to assist in arms sales.
The negotiations were strained following WikiLeaks' release of a diplomatic cable that alleged Iraqi civilians, including children, were killed in a 2006 raid by American troops rather than in an airstrike as initially reported by the U.S. military.
U.S. troops have already started the drawdown - a brigade from Fort Bliss, Texas, that was originally scheduled to be among the very last to leave Iraq was being pulled out of the country months ahead of its planned departure, military officials told CNN last week.
[Updated at 12:47 p.m. ET] The scheduled departure of virtually all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year will allow the United States to "say definitively that the Iraq war is over," a White House official said Friday.
[Initial post] Virtually all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year as the current Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq dictates, a U.S. official told CNN Friday.
A small number of U.S. troops will be attached to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
This month, the United States and Iraq had been unable to come to an agreement on key issues regarding legal immunity for U.S. troops who would remain in Iraq after the end of the year, effectively ending discussion of maintaining a significant American force presence beyond 2011.
About 39,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, and the U.S. wanted to keep from 3,000 to 5,000 troops in Iraq past 2011.
U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to make a statement about Iraq around 12:45 p.m. Friday, according to a White House official.
[Updated at 9:44 p.m. ET] Referring to the Obama administration's contention that Standard & Poor's analysis of the government's finances was off by about $2 trillion, a Treasury Department spokesperson said: "A judgment flawed by a $2 trillion error speaks for itself."
The Standard & Poor's rating agency announced Friday evening that it has downgraded the U.S. credit rating to AA+ from its top rank of AAA.
On Friday afternoon, hours before S&P publicly announced the downgrade, the agency revealed its plans to the Obama administration and sent an analysis to the Treasury Department. The senior administration official said the analysis inflated U.S. deficits by $2 trillion.
Treasury analysts contacted S&P and challenged the analysis, and S&P acknowledged the mistake, the official said. But S&P said it still would stick with its decision to downgrade the United States' credit rating, according to the official.
President Barack Obama will give a speech on the United States' planned drawdown of troops from Afghanistan on Wednesday, a senior administration official said Monday.
The news came hours after White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that Obama had yet to make a final decision on the size and scope of the troop withdrawal, but would do so "soon."
An estimated 100,000 U.S. troops are serving in Afghanistan, some 30,000 of which are part of a surge ordered in late 2009 in a bid to control the rising violence.
Obama has said those troops would begin coming home in July, and he recently indicated the number would be "significant."
A day after joining survivors of the September 11 attacks in New York City, President Barack Obama will meet with those who killed the leader of the group behind the plot, Osama bin Laden, a senior administration official said Thursday.
Obama will travel to Fort Campbell in Kentucky on Friday "to privately thank some of the special operators involved in the operation," according to the official. On Wednesday, the president met at the White House with Adm. William McRaven, the head of the Joint Special Operations Command "to thank him personally," the official said.
It's still unclear whether President Barack Obama had made up his mind before sitting down Wednesday with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, but CNN has learned that during their one-on-one meeting, Obama gave the general a chance to defend himself.
"The president asked him about the article," said a senior administration official, referring to a Rolling Stone magazine article containing comments from McChrystal and his staff that appear to mock top civilian officials, including the vice president.
"He [McChrystal] tried to explain the situation," the official said.
That senior administration official, who briefed reporters, gave this backstory: Once Obama accepted McChrystal's resignation, he wasted no time finding his replacement. After McChrystal walked out of the White House following his 30 minute face-to-face meeting with the president, the president immediately huddled with a team of advisors to decide who would replace McChrystal. FULL POST
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