The Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Thursday passed the GOP leadership's 2013 budget plan - a measure that has no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate but creates a clear contrast between the two parties on a number of critical tax and spending issues ahead of the general election.
The resolution passed in a strongly polarized 228-191 vote. No Democrats backed the measure; only 10 Republicans opposed it.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's $3.53 trillion blueprint includes an overhaul of the nation's tax code and major changes to popular entitlements such as Medicare - expensive programs that in the past have been considered politically untouchable.
Republicans say the plan is necessary to slow the growth of exploding federal deficits and put the federal government on the road to fiscal stability.
"We have one of the most predictable economic crises in this country coming. It's a debt-driven crisis. And so we have an obligation - not just a legal obligation but a moral obligation - to do something about it," Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said Thursday morning. GOP leaders "think the key components are to get spending under control, reform our entitlement programs" and help stimulate economic growth.FULL STORY
The Senate narrowly rejected a Republican-sponsored measure Thursday that would have bypassed the Obama administration's current objections to the Keystone XL pipeline and allowed construction on the controversial project to move forward immediately.
Fifty-six senators voted in favor of the amendment - four short of the 60 required for approval. Eleven Democrats joined a unanimous Republican caucus in backing the plan.
The proposed 1,700-mile long pipeline expansion, intended to carry crude oil from Canada's oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast, has become a political lightning rod. Supporters, including the oil industry, say it's a vital job creator that will lessen the country's dependence on oil imported from volatile regions.
Opponents say the pipeline may leak, and that it will lock the United States into a particularly dirty form of crude that might ultimately end up being exported anyway.FULL STORY
The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan deal Friday morning extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits while also avoiding a Medicare fee cut for doctors for the rest of the year.
The measure was approved in a 293-132 vote. A majority of both Republicans and Democrats voted in favor of the bill, though 91 Republicans and 41 Democrats voted no.
The Senate is also expected to pass the bill Friday.
President Barack Obama has promised to sign the legislation as soon as it reaches his desk, ending debate on the politically sensitive measures at least for the duration of the election.
The roughly $100 billion payroll tax cut, a key part of Obama's economic recovery plan, has reduced how much 160 million American workers pay into Social Security on their first $110,100 in wages. Instead of paying in 6.2%, they've been paying 4.2% for the past year and two months - a break worth about $83 a month for someone making $50,000 a year.
Without congressional action, all three measures are set to expire at the end of February.FULL STORY
[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.FULL STORY
[Updated at 8 p.m. ET Thursday] Try to act like you haven‚Äôt 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‚Äôt 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‚Äôs 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.
President Barack Obama will sign an executive order Monday designed to help reduce a growing number of prescription drug shortages while protecting patients from possible pharmaceutical industry price gouging.
Among other things, the order requires the Food and Drug Administration to increase its reporting of possible shortages of certain prescription drugs, while also speeding up regulatory reviews of new drug manufacturing sites, drug suppliers and manufacturing changes.
The Justice Department will be tasked with examining whether specific drug shortages are tied to an intentional stockpiling of medications designed to raise prices.FULL STORY
High-level debt ceiling talks dragged on between administration and congressional officials Tuesday as lawmakers struggled to devise a way to overcome deep partisan divisions and avoid an unprecedented national default that could now be little more than one week away.
Publicly, neither Democratic nor Republican leaders indicated a willingness to consider the latest proposal put forward by their counterparts.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, called a plan put forward by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, a market-rattling "short-term solution" that "really isn't a solution at all." Boehner called Reid's blueprint a "blank check" for more uncontrolled spending that would undermine the economy.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, called Reid's plan "another (Democratic) attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people."FULL STORY
Democratic and Republican congressional leaders are set to unveil new deficit reduction plans Monday as top officials scramble to bridge a cavernous partisan divide and raise the federal government's debt ceiling before an unprecedented - and potentially devastating - national default.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, is expected to outline a blueprint calling for roughly $2.7 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade while raising the debt limit by $2.4 trillion - an amount sufficient to fund the government through the 2012 election. Reid's plan would not require any new tax hikes or reforms to politically popular entitlement programs.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is expected to outline a two-stage plan. The first stage calls for approximately $1 trillion in spending cuts while raising the debt ceiling through the end of 2011, according to sources. The second stage would raise the debt limit through 2012, but tie the increase to major tax reforms and entitlement changes outlined by a special commission.
Democrats are vehemently opposed to the idea of holding more than one vote to the raise the debt limit through the 2012 election, arguing that such a requirement is politically unrealistic and could prove to be economically destabilizing. Republicans want to lock in long-term tax and spending changes, and argue that President Barack Obama is trying to avoid politically tough decisions in a presidential election year.
If Congress fails to raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit by August 2, Americans could face rising interest rates and a declining dollar, among other problems. As the cost of borrowing rises, individual mortgages, car loans, and student loans could become significantly more expensive.FULL STORY
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a joint resolution Tuesday supporting the limited use of U.S. military force in Libya for one year - a move sought by the Obama administration as it works to win clear congressional backing of the controversial North African mission.
The resolution, which explicitly rejects any introduction of U.S. ground troops, was approved 14-5. It now advances to the full Democratic-controlled Senate.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives rejected a similar measure last Friday, but also voted down a bill restricting U.S. involvement in the conflict.
Deep congressional divisions over the mission stem from, among other things, a belief among some representatives and senators on both sides of the aisle that the White House has violated the War Powers Resolution.FULL STORY
The House of Representatives is expected to officially register its disapproval of U.S. involvement in the NATO-led Libya campaign Friday, voting to restrict funding for America's role in the mission.
The Republican-sponsored bill, which would effectively prohibit U.S. offensive operations such as drone strikes, is seen as a sharp rebuke of President Barack Obama's policy in the war-torn North African country.
It would limit the U.S. role to nonhostile actions such as search and rescue, aerial refueling, operational planning, intelligence gathering and reconnaissance.FULL STORY
The White House released copies of President Barack Obama's original long-form birth certificate Wednesday, seeking to put an end to persistent rumors that he was not born in the United States.
The certificate states, as Obama's advisers have repeatedly said, that the president was born at Honolulu's Kapiolani Hospital on August 4, 1961. Doubters insist Obama was born overseas - possibly in his father's home country of Kenya - and may be constitutionally ineligible to serve as president.
"We do not have time for this kind of silliness," Obama told reporters at the White House. "I've been puzzled at the degree to which this (story) just kept on going."
"Normally I would not comment on something like this," the president said. But the country has "some enormous challenges out there" and that it will not be able to effectively meet "if we're distracted."FULL STORY
[Update 12:14 p.m.:] The U.S. Geological Survey has downgraded the earthquake from a 4.2 magnitude to a 3.8 magnitude.
[Original post] Debra Sholty was just opening up her business Thursday morning in Kokomo, Indiana, when a magnitude 4.2 earthquake rumbled through the north-central part of the state.
"It was like a huge explosion under your feet," said Sholty, the owner of Hobson Cleaners.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake struck just before 8 a.m. ET and was three miles deep. Its epicenter was located about 15 miles east-southeast of Kokomo, and 50 miles north of Indianapolis.FULL STORY