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JERUSALEM (AP) — President Barack Obama is set to plunge into the turbulent Middle East on a mission aimed primarily at assuring America's top ally in the region and its friends back home that it will not be forsaken amid bitter domestic political squabbles and budget crises in Washington.

Obama arrives today in Israel for his first visit to the country — and only his second to the Middle East, outside of a quick jaunt to Iraq — since taking office.

He will also be making his first trips as president to the Palestinian Authority and Jordan this week. But on an itinerary laden more with symbolism than substance, an Israel that is increasingly wary of developments in Syria and Iran will be the main focus of his attention.
Published in National News
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama says the U.S. must shift cars and trucks off oil for good so the public can avoid spikes in gasoline prices.

In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama promotes a plan to direct $200 million a year into an energy security trust to fund research for alternatives like electric car batteries and biofuels. He says the trust would use revenues from federal leases on offshore drilling without adding to the deficit.

Obama says investing in clean energy will help create jobs. He's envisioning cars that can one day go coast to coast without using any oil.

In the Republican address, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin says Republicans have a plan to balance the federal budget in 10 years by cutting spending.
Published in National News
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Missouri Senate panel is trying to prevent the enforcement in the state of President Barak Obama's executive orders on gun control.

The committee voted Tuesday to adopt the measure sponsored by Sen. Brian Munzlinger, of Williamstown.

Obama signed 23 executive actions in January, including orders to make more federal data available for background checks and end a freeze on government research on gun violence.

Munzlinger's bill initially would have criminalized the enforcement of all federal gun laws, even those enacted by Congress, passed after Jan. 1, 2013. But those provisions were revised to include only the enforcement of executive orders.

A House committee endorsed similar legislation last week, but that measure seeks to criminalize enforcement of all federal gun laws.
Published in Local News
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Republican alternative outlined in Missouri to President Barack Obama's Medicaid expansion would offer cash incentives to patients who hold down their health care costs.

Legislation to be filed Tuesday by Rep. Jay Barnes would stop short of Obama's call to expand Medicaid coverage to adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $32,500 for a family of four. But it would add some adults to the Medicaid rolls while also removing some children whose parents earn up to three times the poverty level.

Private insurers would bid to offer managed care plans, and patients could get cash for avoiding costly medical care.

House Speaker Tim Jones says Barnes' plan is a "commonsense conservative" proposal. But he says it could be at least a two-year project.
Published in Local News
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama's chief of staff says the White House hasn't proposed "anything to Capitol Hill yet" on immigration even as a leading Republican criticizes a reported draft proposal regarding illegal immigrants.

That draft, according to USA Today, would create a visa for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States and allow them to become legal permanent residents within eight years.

Obama aide Denis McDonough tells ABC's "This Week" that the White House is working with a bipartisan group of senators.

GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida says if such a measure was proposed, it would be "dead on arrival" in Congress.

McDonough says "let's make sure that it doesn't have to be proposed" because the White House and Congress are able to work out a deal.
Published in National News
WASHINGTON (AP) — Uncompromising and politically emboldened, President Barack Obama urged a deeply divided Congress Tuesday night to embrace his plans to use government money to create jobs and strengthen the nation's middle class. He declared Republican ideas for reducing the deficit "even worse" than the unpalatable deals Washington had to stomach during his first term.

In his first State of the Union address since winning re-election, Obama conceded economic revival is an "unfinished task," but he claimed clear progress and said he prepared to build on it as he embarks on four more years in office.

"We have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is strong," Obama said in an hour-long address to a joint session of Congress and a television audience of millions.

With unemployment persistently high and consumer confidence falling, the economy remains a vulnerability for Obama and could disrupt his plans for pursuing a broader agenda, including immigration overhaul, stricter gun laws and climate change legislation.

Still, fresh off a convincing re-election win, Obama made clear in his remarks that he was determined to press his political advantage against a divided, defensive and worried Republican Party. Numerous times he urged Congress to act quickly on his priorities — but vowed to act on some issues on his own if they do not.

Obama also announced new steps to reduce the U.S. military footprint abroad, with 34,000 American troops withdrawing from Afghanistan within a year. And he had a sharp rebuke for North Korea, which launched a nuclear test just hours before his remarks, saying, "Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further."

In specific proposals for shoring up the economy in his second term, an assertive Obama called for increased federal spending to fix the nation's roads and bridges, the first increase in the minimum wage in six years and expansion of early education to every American 4-year-old. Seeking to appeal for support from Republicans, he promised that none of his proposals would increase the deficit "by a single dime" although he didn't explain how he would pay for his programs or how much they would cost.

In the Republican response to Obama's address, rising GOP star Marco Rubio of Florida came right back at the president, saying his solution "to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more."

Sen. Rubio said presidents of both parties have recognized that the free enterprise system brings middle-class prosperity.

"But President Obama?" Rubio said. "He believes it's the cause of our problems."

Still, throughout the House chamber there were symbolic displays of bipartisanship. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., arrived early and sat with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., just returned in January nearly a year after suffering a debilitating stroke. As a captain in the National Guard, Duckworth lost both her legs while serving in Iraq in 2004.

A few aisles away, the top two tax writers in Congress, Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., sat together.

But as a sign that divisions still remain, three of the most conservative Supreme Court justices skipped Obama's speech. Six of the nine attended. Missing were Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito.

Jobs and growth dominated Obama's address. Many elements of his economic blueprint were repacked proposals from his first term that failed to gain traction on Capitol Hill.

Standing in Obama's way now is a Congress that remains nearly as divided as it was during the final years of his first term, when Washington lurched from one crisis to another.

The president implored lawmakers to break through partisan logjams, asserting that "the greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next."

"Americans don't expect government to solve every problem," he said. "They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can."

Yet Obama offered few signs of being willing to compromise himself, instead doubling down on his calls to create jobs by spending more government money and insisting that lawmakers pay down the deficit through a combination of targeted spending cuts and tax increases. But he offered few specifics on what he wanted to see cut, focusing instead on the need to protect programs that help the middle class, elderly and poor.

He did reiterate his willingness to tackle entitlement changes, particularly on Medicare, though he has ruled out increasing the eligibility age for the popular benefit program for seniors.

Republicans are ardently opposed to Obama's calls for legislating more tax revenue to reduce the deficit and offset broad the automatic spending cuts — known as the sequester — that are to take effect March 1. The president accused GOP lawmakers of shifting the cuts from defense to programs that would help the middle class and elderly, as well as those supporting education and job training.

"That idea is even worse," he said.

Obama broke little new ground on two agenda items he has pushed vigorously since winning re-election: overhauling the nation's fractured immigration laws and enacting tougher gun control measures in the wake of the horrific massacre of school children in Newtown, Conn. Yet he pressed for urgency on both, calling on Congress to send him an immigration bill "in the next few months" and insisting lawmakers hold votes on his gun proposals.

"Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress," he said. "If you want to vote no, that's your choice."

Numerous lawmakers wore green lapel ribbons in memory of those killed in the December shootings in Connecticut. Among those watching in the House gallery: the parents of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, shot and killed recently in a park just a mile from the president's home in Chicago, as well as other victims of gun violence.

On the economy, Obama called for raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 by 2015. The minimum wage has been stagnant since 2007, and administration officials said the increase would strengthen purchasing power. The president also wants Congress to approve automatic increases in the wage to keep pace with inflation.

Looking for common ground anywhere he could find it, Obama framed his proposal to boost the minimum wage by pointing out that even his GOP presidential rival liked the idea. He said, "Here's an idea that Gov. Romney and I actually agreed on last year: Let's tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on."

Obama also renewed his calls for infrastructure spending, investments he sought repeatedly during his first term with little support from Republicans. He pressed lawmakers to approve a $50 billion "fix it first" program that would address the most urgent infrastructure needs.

Education also figures in Obama's plans to boost American competitiveness in the global economy. Under his proposal, the federal government would help states provide pre-school for all 4-year-olds. Officials did not provide a cost for the pre-school programs but said the government would provide financial incentives to help states.

Among the other initiatives Obama is proposing:

— A $1 billion plan to create 15 "manufacturing institutes" that would bring together businesses, universities and the government. If Congress opposes the initiative, Obama plans to use his presidential powers to create three institutes on his own.
— Creation of an "energy security trust" that would use revenue from federal oil and gas leases to support development of clean energy technologies such as biofuels and natural gas
— Doubling of renewable energy in the U.S. from wind, solar and geothermal sources by 2020.
— Launching negotiations on a free trade agreement between the U.S. and European Union

Obama also called on Congress to tackle the threat of climate change, another issue that eluded him in his first term. The president pledged to work with lawmakers to seek bipartisan solutions but said if Capitol Hill doesn't act, he'll order his Cabinet to seek steps he can take using his presidential powers.

Taking a swipe at those who question the threat of global warming, Obama said, "We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science - and act before it's too late."

Tackling voters' rights issues, Obama announced the creation of a commission that will seek to make it easier and faster for people to cast ballots on Election Day. He used as an example the story of 102-year-old Desiline Victor, a Florida woman who waited in line to vote for several hours during the November election. Victor attended Tuesday's speech as a guest of the first lady and was applauded heartily by the lawmakers.

Obama also called on Congress to pass legislation giving the government more power to combat the rapidly growing threat of cyberattacks. And, as a down payment on that, the president announced that he has signed an executive order to fight electronic espionage through the development of voluntary standards to protect networks and computer systems that run critical infrastructure.
Published in National News
Tuesday, 12 February 2013 02:05

2 charged in slaying of Chicago honor student

CHICAGO (AP) - Authorities say they've filed murder charges in the death of a 15 year old honor student who was shot last month near the Chicago home of President Barack Obama.

Chicago police spokeswoman Melissa Stratton said Monday that two young men are charged with first-degree murder in connection to the Jan. 29 death of Hadiya Pendleton.

They also are charged with two counts of attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm. Their names haven't been released.

Police say Pendleton was talking with friends in a Chicago park when one suspect ran toward the group and opened fire. The gunman then fled in a car.

The shooting made national headlines after it was reported that Pendleton had recently returned from Washington, where she'd performed during inauguration festivities with her high school band.
Published in National News
Tuesday, 05 February 2013 02:55

Obama signs bill averting government default

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama has signed into law a bill raising the government's borrowing limit, averting a default and delaying the next clash over the nation's debt until later this year.

The legislation temporarily suspends the $16.4 trillion limit on federal borrowing. Experts say that will allow the government to borrow about $450 billion to meet interest payments and other obligations.

The Senate gave the bill final approval last week and sent it to Obama, who signed it Monday shortly after returning from Minneapolis.

Democrats and Obama had warned that failure to pass the bill could set off financial panic and threaten the economic recovery.

The bill includes a provision attached by House Republicans that temporarily withholds lawmakers' pay in either chamber that fails to produce a budget plan.
Published in National News
Page 5 of 5

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