Senate votes to avert government shutdown, lock in $85 billion in cuts — with some flexibility
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate approved legislation Wednesday to lock in $85 billion in widely decried spending cuts aimed at restraining soaring federal deficits — and to avoid a government shutdown just a week away. President Barack Obama's fellow Democrats rejected a call to reopen White House tours scrapped because of the tightened spending.
Federal meat inspectors were spared furloughs, but more than 100 small and medium air traffic facilities were left exposed to possible closure as the two parties alternately clashed and cooperated over proposals to take the edge off across-the-board spending cuts that took effect on March 1.
Final House approval of the measure is likely as early as Thursday. Obama's signature is a certainty, meaning the cuts will remain in place at least through the end of the budget year on Sept. 30 — even though he and lawmakers in both parties have criticized them as random rather than targeted. Obama argued strongly against them in campaign-style appearances, predicting painful consequences, before they began taking effect, and Republicans objected to impacts on Pentagon spending.
Without changes, the $85 billion in cuts for the current year will swell to nearly $1 trillion over a decade, enough to make at least a small dent in economy-threatening federal deficits but requiring program cuts that lawmakers in both parties say are unsustainable politically. As a result, negotiations are possible later in the year to replace the reductions with different savings.
The administration as well as Republicans picked and chose its spots in arguing for flexibility in this year's cuts.
Obama pledges unshakeable US support for Israel, resolve against Iran's nuclear aims
JERUSALEM (AP) — Eager to reassure an anxious ally, President Barack Obama on Wednesday affirmed Israel's sovereign right to defend itself from any threat and vowed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. He said containment of a nuclear-armed Iran was not an option and said the United States would do whatever it takes to prevent Iran from getting "the world's worst weapons."
Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his first visit to the Jewish state as president, Obama offered his personal commitment that the U.S. would stand by Israel in any circumstances that required it to act to protect its people. He said the U.S. and Israel would start talks soon on a new, 10-year security cooperation package to replace one that expires in 2017.
Obama also pledged to investigate whether chemical weapons were used this week in neighboring Syria's 2-year-old civil war, something he said would be a "game-changer" for current U.S. policy. In addition, he said he would continue to urge Israel and the Palestinians to relaunch the moribund peace process.
Speaking at a joint news conference, Obama and Netanyahu, who have sparred on numerous occasions in the past, presented a united front on Iran.
They stressed repeatedly that all options — including military ones — are on the table to keep Iran from acquiring an atomic weapon if the diplomatic track fails. And they brushed aside apparent differences over when the Iranian nuclear program might reach the point that military action is required.
Poll finds changing personal views and demographics in shift in favor of gay marriage
WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation's views on gay marriage are more favorable in large part because of a shift in attitudes among those who know someone who is gay or became more accepting as they got older of gays and lesbians, according to a national survey.
The Pew Research Center poll also finds that a large group of younger adults who tend to be more open to gay rights is driving the numbers upward. The issue has grabbed the national spotlight recently with the public embrace of same-sex marriage by Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio.
"We've certainly seen the trend over the last ten years," Michael Dimock, director of the center, said Wednesday. "But we're now really in a position to talk about the combination of generational change and personal change that have sort of brought the country to where it is today."
Overall, the poll finds 49 percent of Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, and 44 percent opposed to the idea. That's more people now favoring gay marriage than opposing it. A decade ago 58 percent opposed it and a third supported it.
The 49 percent who now support same-sex marriage includes 14 percent who said they have changed their minds.
With average age of 22, Marines killed in Nevada had dedicated lives to service, family
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) — They're called "leathernecks" or "Devil Dogs," but some of the Marines killed in a desert training accident this week were just a year or so out of high school, their boyish faces not yet weathered by life's hardships
Just 19, Pfc. Josh Martino of Dubois, Pa., had already spent nearly half his young life dreaming of becoming one of "the few, the proud." He had joined in July and was hoping to marry his fiancee later this year before being deployed to Afghanistan, his mother said.
"Since he was probably 8 years old he wanted to be a Marine," Karen Perry said Wednesday after meeting with military officials to start planning her son's funeral. "That's all he wanted to do."
Lance Cpl. Josh Taylor, 21, also seemed to have been born for the Corps. The Marietta, Ohio, native had talked about being a Marine since he was about 5, said his grandfather, Larry Stephens. Josh, too, was planning for a wedding, scheduled for May.
Both young men were among seven members of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force killed late Monday when a mortar shell exploded in its firing tube during an exercise at Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada. Eight men were injured, some severely.
Cypriot gov't officials: Plan B aimed at getting bailout to be presented Thursday
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus' government has drawn up a new plan to raise funds needed for the country to secure a crucial international bailout, three top government officials said Wednesday.
The new bill could be voted on as early as Thursday evening, one of the officials said.
Parliament had resoundingly rejected the previous plan, which involved seizing up to 10 percent of people's bank deposits.
The rejection threw Cyprus' entire bailout into question, raising the possibility that the country's banks could collapse, the government would be unable to pay its bills and Cyprus could be forced out of the euro.
The officials said the new "Plan B" includes some Russian assistance and a smaller bank deposit tax. Parliament is expected to vote on the new bill Thursday.
Colorado governor signs landmark bills to limit ammunition magazines, expand background checks
DENVER (AP) — The governor of Colorado signed bills Wednesday that put sweeping new restrictions on sales of firearms and ammunition in a state with a pioneer tradition of gun ownership and self-reliance.
The bills thrust Colorado into the national spotlight as a potential test of how far the country might be willing to go with new gun restrictions after the horror of mass killings at an Aurora movie theater and a Connecticut elementary school.
The approval by Gov. John Hickenlooper came exactly eight months after dozens of people were shot at the theater, and the day after the executive director of the state Corrections Department was shot and killed at his home.
The bills require background checks for private and online gun sales and ban ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds.
Two ballot measures have already been proposed to try to undo the restrictions.
5 ex-officials convicted, 1 cleared in Bell, Calif., corruption case
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Five former elected officials of the small, blue-collar California city of Bell were convicted Wednesday of multiple counts of misappropriating public funds by paying themselves huge salaries while raising taxes on residents.
Former Mayor Oscar Hernandez and co-defendants Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, George Cole and Victor Belo were all convicted of multiple counts and acquitted of others.
Former Councilman Luis Artiga was cleared entirely.
The charges against the officials involved paying themselves inflated salaries of up to $100,000 a year in the city of 36,000 people, where one in four residents live below the poverty line.
An audit by the state controller's office previously found the city had illegally raised property taxes, business license fees and other sources of revenue to pay the salaries. The office ordered the money repaid.
2 Apollo-era engines pulled from the depths of the Atlantic; expedition led by Amazon CEO
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Rusted pieces of two Apollo-era rocket engines that helped boost astronauts to the moon have been fished out of the murky depths of the Atlantic, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos and NASA said Wednesday.
A privately funded expedition led by Bezos raised the main engine parts during three weeks at sea and was headed back to Cape Canaveral, Fla., the launch pad for the manned lunar missions.
"We've seen an underwater wonderland — an incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines that tells the story of a fiery and violent end," Bezos wrote in an online posting.
Last year, the Bezos team used sonar to spot the sunken engines resting nearly 3 miles deep in the Atlantic and 360 miles from Cape Canaveral. At the time, the Internet mogul said the artifacts were part of the Apollo 11 mission that gave the world "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Bezos now says it's unclear which Apollo mission the recovered engines belonged to because the serial numbers were missing or hard to read on the corroded pieces. NASA is helping trace the hardware's origin.
Harry Reems, former porn star who was male lead in 'Deep Throat,' dies in Utah at 65
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Harry Reems, the male star of the 1972 cultural phenomenon "Deep Throat," which brought pornography to mainstream audiences, has died at age 65.
Reems died Tuesday afternoon at the veterans' hospital in Salt Lake City, his wife, Jeanne Sterrett Reems said Wednesday. Doctors haven't determined his cause of death but Reems had multiple health issues, including pancreatic cancer, his wife said.
Reems became famous for his role in the adult-film classic "Deep Throat," which drew middle class audiences to the theater and became a forerunner of today's hardcore adult-entertainment industry.
The film later served as the nickname for a source that helped Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein investigate the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation.
Reems was born in in New York in 1947 as Herbert Streicher. He served in the U.S. Marines before he ended up in the entertainment industry in the 1970s. He aspired to become a serious actor but was thrown in front of the camera while working on the production crew for "Deep Throat."
Reports: Jimmy Fallon replacing Jay Leno next year and moving to NY. NBC mum
LOS ANGELES (AP) — As Jay Leno lobs potshots at ratings-challenged NBC in his "Tonight Show" monologues, speculation is swirling the network is taking steps to replace the host with Jimmy Fallon next year and move the show from Burbank to New York.
NBC confirmed Wednesday it's creating a new studio for Fallon in New York, where he hosts "Late Night." But the network did not comment on a report that the digs at its Rockefeller Plaza headquarters may become home to a transplanted, Fallon-hosted "Tonight Show."
The New York Times reported the replacement in a Wednesday story. The Hollywood Reporter had a similar report March 1, which was denied by the network.
Looming over NBC is its failed effort to replace Leno with Conan O'Brien, which ended in 2010 with Leno regaining "Tonight" and NBC losing O'Brien to TBS.