Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Home for the holidays

December 16, 2011

There will be no vacation for you, Congress, until you get your work done. That was the stern message from President Obama today. But it probably wasn’t his warning that pushed Democrats and Republicans to get back to serious negotiations to finish the year’s business. More likely, it was fear of voter backlash.

For the third time this year, Americans were hearing about the threat of a government shutdown because Democrats and Republicans could not strike a deal on some basic legislation –a spending bill needed to fund many government agencies beyond Friday. After a flurry of meetings on Capitol Hill, we received word that the deal was near.

Separate negotiations on the legislation to extend a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits also seemed to gather pace after days of distractions and setbacks. If the negotiators are successful, Congress’ work might all be done by the weekend.

 

And then lawmakers can go home for the holidays with their mission accomplished. But by taking the country to the brink once again, it would come as no surprise if they still got hit with some backlash back home.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

US lawmakers near deal to avert government shutdown

U.S. lawmakers on Thursday were close to a deal on a massive spending bill to keep the government running through the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30 and avert a shutdown when current funds run out at midnight on Friday.  Democratic aides in Congress told Reuters the potential deal was near but they did not provide details. If a compromise is reached, the full Senate and House of Representatives would have to vote on the measure before it could be signed into law by President Barack Obama, who earlier in the day urged prompt action.

 

For more of this story by Richard Cowan and Rachelle Younglai, read here.

Military marks end to nearly nine bloody years in Iraq

U.S. forces formally ended almost nine years of war in Iraq with a modest flag-lowering ceremony in Baghdad, while to the north flickering violence highlighted ethnic and sectarian strains threatening the country in years ahead. “After a lot of blood spilled by Iraqis and Americans, the mission of an Iraq that could govern and secure itself has become real,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at the ceremony at Baghdad’s airport.

For more of this story by Missy Ryan and Patrick Markey, read here.

Republican Gingrich at center stage in Iowa debate

Republican front-runner Newt Gingrich, buffeted by attacks, gets his chance to fight back at a debate that may help clarify who will win Iowa’s looming contest to choose a presidential candidate. Gingrich takes center stage in Sioux City at the last debate before Iowa’s January 3 contest at an exhilarating time. He is leading national polls of Republicans.

 

For more of this story by Steve Holland, read here.

Senate passes new rules on detainees, sends to Obama

Congress approved a defense bill requiring the military to handle suspected foreign militants allied with al Qaeda, sending it to President Obama for his expected signature into law. Final action came a day after Obama retreated from a veto threat on the legislation. The administration was unhappy with the intrusion into its authority over counterterrorism matters but relented when some of its flexibility was restored.

For more of this story by Susan Cornwell, read here.

Republican Ryan backs new bipartisan Medicare plan

Republican lawmaker Paul Ryan, who caused an uproar this year by proposing a plan to privatize Medicare, unveiled a new bipartisan approach for cutting the cost of the government’s $525 billion healthcare plan for the elderly. Hejoined Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon to unveil a plan that would retain Medicare’s popular fee-for-service program but subject it to direct competition from private insurance plans.

For more of this story by David Morgan, read here.

For more stories from our Washington correspondents visit www.reuters.com and stay informed.

Photo Credits: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (House Speaker Boehner, House Minority Leader Pelosi  arriving at separate news conferences); REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (Gingrich campaigning in Iowa); REUTERS/Joshua Roberts (Rep. Paul Ryan); REUTERS/Imelda Medina (Christmas ornaments)

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