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Last minute stab at ‘fiscal cliff” averting deal may be too little too late

Amid partisan bluster, top members of Congress and President Barack Obama were holding out slim hopes for a limited fiscal deal before the new year. But even as congressional leaders prepared to convene at the White House, there were no signs that legislation palatable to both sides was taking shape. The Friday afternoon meeting among congressional leaders and the president — their first since Nov. 16 — stood as a make-or-break moment for negotiations to avoid across-the-board first of the year tax increases and deep spending cuts. Obama called for the meeting as top lawmakers alternately cast blame on each
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Republicans will have to live with a tax increase, no matter what happens

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are resigned to seeing some sort of income tax increase in legislation to avoid a “fiscal cliff,” but such efforts could be doomed in the absence of spending cuts, some Republican lawmakers say. Congress and President Barack Obama are gearing up for a last-ditch attempt to avoid $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts that could halt progress in the U.S. economy, which lately has been showing signs of gaining ground. The White House said Obama will host a meeting on Friday with the four top congressional leaders – Senate Majority Leader
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Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf dead at 78

 Truth is, retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf didn’t care much for his popular “Stormin’ Norman” nickname. The seemingly no-nonsense Desert Storm commander’s reputed temper with aides and subordinates supposedly earned him that rough-and-ready moniker. But others around the general, who died Thursday in Tampa, Fla., at age 78 from complications from pneumonia, knew him as a friendly, talkative and even jovial figure who preferred the somewhat milder sobriquet given by his troops: “The Bear.” That one perhaps suited him better later in his life, when he supported various national causes and children’s charities while eschewing the spotlight and resisting efforts
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Former President George H. W. Bush in intensive care

Former President George H.W. Bush is being treated in the intensive care unit at a Houston hospital after suffering “a series of setbacks,” including a stubborn fever, his spokesman said. In a brief email Wednesday, Jim McGrath, Bush’s spokesman in Houston, said the 88-year-old former leader had been admitted Sunday to the ICU at Methodist Hospital. McGrath said Bush, the oldest living former U.S. president, was alert and talking to medical staff. He said doctors are cautiously optimistic about Bush’s treatment and that the former president “remains in guarded condition.” He said Bush was surrounded by family. Early Thursday, McGrath
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Obama’s controversial EPA administrator resigns

The Obama administration‘s chief environmental watchdog, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, is stepping down after a nearly four-year tenure marked by high-profile brawls over global warming pollution, the Keystone XL oil pipeline, new controls on coal-fired plants and several other hot-button issues that affect the nation’s economy and people’s health. Jackson, the agency’s first black administrator, constantly found herself caught between administration pledges to solve controversial environmental problems and steady resistance from Republicans and industrial groups who complained that the agency’s rules destroyed jobs and made it harder for American companies to compete internationally. The GOP chairman of the House Energy
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Consumer confidence hits four-month low in December

Consumer confidence fell to a four-month low in December as a looming budget crisis sapped what had been a growing sense of optimism about the economy, a private sector report released on Thursday showed. The Conference Board, an industry group, said its index of consumer attitudes fell to 65.1 from a downwardly revised 71.5 in November. Economists had expected a reading of 70.0, according to a Reuters poll. November’s number was originally reported as 73.7. While the present situation index rose to 62.8 from an upwardly revised 57.4, its highest in more than four years, the overall survey suggested most
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‘Fiscal cliff’ deadlockers heading back for last minute effort

Efforts to save the nation from going over a year-end “fiscal cliff” were in disarray as lawmakers fled the Capitol for their Christmas break. “God only knows” how a deal can be reached now, House Speaker John Boehner declared. President Barack Obama, on his way out of town himself, insisted a bargain could still be struck before Dec. 31. “Call me a hopeless optimist,” he said. A look at why it’s so hard for Republicans and Democrats to compromise on urgent matters of taxes and spending, and what happens if they fail to meet their deadline: ___ NEW YEAR’S HEADACHE
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No Senate run for actor Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck is taking his name off the list of possible candidates for U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s seat, which would be open if the Democratic senator from Massachusetts is confirmed as secretary of state. Affleck says in a Monday posting on his Facebook page that while he loves the political process, he will not be running for public office. Speculation about the Cambridge, Mass., native rose slightly when he did not completely rule out a Senate bid during an appearance on CBS’ Face The Nation on Sunday. In his Facebook posting, Affleck says he would continue working with the Eastern
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Shoppers spending disappoints retailers during holiday

U.S. shoppers spent cautiously this holiday season, a disappointment for retailers who slashed prices to lure people into stores and now must hope for a post-Christmas burst of spending. Sales of electronics, clothing, jewelry and home goods in the two months before Christmas increased 0.7 percent compared with last year, according to the MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse report. That was below the healthy 3 to 4 percent growth that analysts had expected — and it was the worst year-over-year performance since 2008, when spending shrank sharply during the Great Recession. In 2011, retail sales climbed 4 to 5 percent during November
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Smaller crowd expected at Obama’s second inauguration

Visitors coming to the nation’s capital for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration can’t stay in the one place President Ronald Reagan‘s family once called an eight-star hotel. That spot is the White House, and it’s booked for the next four years. Still, inauguration-goers have a range of lodging options — from crashing on a friend’s couch to reasonably priced rooms to ones that cost thousands of dollars a night. With second inaugurations tending to draw fewer spectators, finding a place to stay in Washington won’t be nearly as difficult as in 2009. City officials are expecting 600,000 to 800,000 visitors
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