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Biden and anti-war Dems

Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to this politically influential heartland state is bringing him up close to his own party’s opposition to the White House’s endorsement of possible military action against Syria. Biden was to headline a Sunday fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, an annual steak picnic for a lawmaker who’s popular with anti-war Democrats. Even if Biden sidesteps talk of Syria, the issue was shaping up to be as much a part of the backdrop as the bales of hay and smoke from the grilling steaks, and in a state where he will have to have a strong
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U.S. and Russia reach agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov say they have reached an agreement on a framework for securing Syria‘s chemical weapons after the third day of intense negotiations in Geneva. They say some elements of the deal include a timetable and how Syria must comply — and that if Syria fails, they will seek a Security Council resolution that could authorize military action. At a news conference Saturday, Kerry said the pair and their teams of experts had reached “a shared assessment” of the existing stockpile and that Syria must destroy all of its weapons.
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White House to unions: No subsidies on health plans

Low-income workers on union health plans are not eligible for the same federal subsidies available to those who buy insurance in the new state health care marketplaces, the White House said Friday. The decision is a disappointment for labor unions, coming shortly after top union officials met for more than an hour with President Barack Obama to press their case that subsidies could be extended to union-sponsored plans. Labor leaders have complained for months that without the subsidies, the Affordable Care Act would drive up the cost of some union plans, leading employers to drop coverage and jeopardizing health coverage
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Thousands illegally received $1.3 billion in disability payments

Social Security made $1.3 billion in potentially improper disability payments to people who had jobs when they were supposed to be unable to work, congressional investigators said in a report Friday. The Government Accountability Office estimated that 36,000 workers got improper payments from December 2010 to January 2013. The numbers represent less than 1 percent of beneficiaries and less than 1 percent of disability payments made during the time frame. But GAO said the overpayments reveal weaknesses in Social Security’s procedures for policing the system. “The report lays out clear, common-sense steps that the agency can and should take in
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After Syria debacle, can Obama regain any momentum?

With a military strike against Syria on hold, President Barack Obama tried Thursday to reignite momentum for his second-term domestic agenda. But his progress could hinge on the strength of his standing on Capitol Hill after what even allies acknowledge were missteps in the latest foreign crisis. “It is still important to recognize that we have a lot of things left to do here in this government,” Obama told his Cabinet, starting a sustained White House push to refocus the nation on matters at home as key benchmarks on the budget and health care rapidly approach. “The American people are
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U.S. has three times more chemical weapons than Syria

Three decades after the United States started destroying its own chemical weapons, the nation’s stockpile stands at more than 3,000 tons — about three times what the U.S. now says Syrian President Bashar Assad controls. Taken together, the remaining U.S. arsenal weighs about as much as three dozen Boeing 737s loaded for takeoff. And while the U.S. has made significant progress, eradicating 90 percent of the 31,500 tons it once possessed, the military doesn’t expect to complete destruction until 2023. Deadlines have come and gone, and been extended. And, like other countries, the United States has found that complying with
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Lost in translation or lack of trust? Kerry wasn’t sure

Something got lost in translation between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday — and it served to illustrate the level of distrust in U.S.-Russian relations. It happened when the two diplomats delivered opening statements before their high-stakes talks about how to inventory and dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons. As their joint appearance ended, Kerry asked a Russian translator to repeat the end of Lavrov’s remarks, saying his headset had cut out briefly. When it was clear that Kerry wasn’t going to get an immediate retranslation, Lavrov tried to assure him that he hadn’t
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A lot still riding on outcome of Syria weapons talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that prospects for a resumption in the Syrian peace process are riding on the outcome of U.S.-Russian talks aimed at securing Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal that lurched into a second day. As American and Russian chemical weapons experts huddled in a Geneva hotel to haggle over technical details that will be critical to reach a deal, Kerry and Lavrov met a distance away with U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakdar Brahimi to examine political developments and plot a new international conference to support the creation of Syrian transitional
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AFL-CIO steps up attacks on Obamacare

The AFL-CIO on Wednesday approved a resolution critical of parts of President Barack Obama’s health care law in spite of efforts by White House officials to discourage the labor federation from making its concerns so prominent. The strongly worded resolution says the Affordable Care Act will drive up the costs of union-sponsored health plans to the point that workers and employers are forced to abandon them. Labor unions still support the law’s overall goals of reducing health costs and bringing coverage to all Americans, the resolution says, but adds that the law is being implemented in a way that is
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Obama’s many public relations blunders

Some of President Barack Obama’s top allies say the president misread a few crucial political forces when he asked Congress to support his bid to strike Syria. Chief among Obama’s missteps, they say, was underestimating the nation’s profound weariness with military entanglements in the Middle East, fed by residual anger over the Iraq war‘s origins, and overestimating lawmakers’ willingness to make risky votes 14 months before the next congressional elections. “I can’t understand the White House these days,” said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., an early and enthusiastic endorser of a strike against Syria over last month’s chemical weapons attack. Rather
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