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GET USED TO THIS STORY: With the David Petraeus affair now largely in the country's rear-view mirror and Israel and Hamas currently observing an uneasy cease-fire in Gaza, the nation's attention has returned to the topic that was originally expected to dominate the lame duck news cycle: the looming fiscal cliff. It's not as sensational as a sex scandal or life-and-death serious as an armed conflict, but the outcome of the negotiations could be felt both within the Beltway and out of it for months if not years to come.
BUT WE DON'T HAVE TO TELL YOU THAT: CNN: "Two-thirds of people questioned in a CNN/ORC International survey say that the U.S. would face a crisis or major problems if the country went off the 'fiscal cliff' at the end of the year, and if that happened, Republicans in Congress would probably receive the greater share of the blame. The poll also indicates that more than seven in ten Americans call for compromise on this issue, but they are pessimistic about that actually happening, with two-thirds predicting that Washington officials will act like 'spoiled children,' not 'responsible adults,' in the upcoming negotiations."
WHERE THINGS STAND: Washington Post: "President Obama called House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) over the weekend to discuss the status of negotiations, but aides say that a wide gulf remains between the two sides on the critical question of how to raise taxes on the wealthy."
SO THERE'S NO NEWS THEN? Yes and no. With 36 days to go and congressmen being congressmen, we're unlikely to see major movement anytime soon from either party. That said, we can expect plenty of trial balloons and shifting public postures from both sides as they position themselves for the final negotiations.
SPEAKING OF THOSE TRIAL BALLOONS: A handful of GOP lawmakers appear to be floating one in the form of suggestions that they're willing to risk angering anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist by listening to proposals that include tax hikes. Those Republicans who have spoken out are mostly in the Senate, and not the GOP-controlled House, however, so their actual votes don't really matter. Still, every Republican lawmaker who casts aside the pledge now makes it that much easier for the next to do the same. Full story here.
GROVER RESPONDS: The pledge-enforcing lobbyist joked Monday that "we've got some people discussing impure thoughts on national television." Still, he insisted that there's no mutiny going on. "They all said this two years ago, when we were arguing over the debt ceiling limit," Norquist said on CNN. "We cut spending. We didn’t raise taxes. So other Republicans did not listen."
OBAMA'S NEW LINE OF ATTACK: Washington Post: "The White House warned Monday that the average family will pay $2,200 more in taxes next year if Congress does not freeze tax rates for the middle class, publishing a new report as part of President Obama’s campaign to extend tax cuts for most Americans while allowing taxes on the wealthiest to rise."
GOP'S LATEST LINE OF ATTACK: Eric Cantor: Obama "Ought to Be Putting Obamacare on the Table"
OBAMACARE FIGHT, PART II?: The Supreme Court has opened the door ever-so-slightly for a new challenge to President Obama's landmark health care reform law. The justices today ordered the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to reopen arguments on the employer mandate and contraceptive coverage provisions in the law, a judicial move that—while unlikely—technically could put parts of the Affordable Care Act back before the high court sometime at the end of next year. Full details here.
WHAT NO ONE'S TALKING ABOUT: The latest round of U.N. climate talks, which kicked off in Qatar this morning. The international negotiations are likely to generate few headlines in the United States, something that is partly because the climate/energy conversation at home has been swallowed whole by the the current focus on the budget, and partly because, well, the talks themselves have never really come close to producing the type of breakthrough that would be needed to curb global greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are warming the planet. More here.
NEW S.E.C. CHAIR: New York Times: "Mary L. Schapiro, who overhauled the Securities and Exchange Commission after the financial crisis, announced Monday that she was stepping down as chairwoman of the agency. In recent days, the S.E.C. informed the White House and Treasury Department that Ms. Schapiro planned to leave Dec. 14, becoming the first major departure from the Obama administration’s team of financial regulators. Ms. Schapiro will also relinquish her position as one of the five members of the agency’s commission, the group that oversees Wall Street and the broader financial markets. The White House announced on Monday that President Obama was naming Elisse B. Walter, a commissioner at the S.E.C., as the new chairwoman. In a somewhat surprising move, Ms. Walter will not step into an interim post, but will take over the top spot for the foreseeable future."
MEANWHILE, IN EGYPT: Wall Street Journal: "Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi tried to contain the fallout from his decision last week to expand his powers by meeting with the country's top judges Monday and issuing a statement that attempted to qualify the scope of his edict. Yasser Ali, Mr. Morsi's spokesman, said the president asked that only his sovereign decisions be immune from judicial review. Mr. Ali also said that Mr. Morsi assured judges that his decree is 'temporary' and limited only to 'sovereignty-related issues.'"
AND IN SYRIA: Financial Times: "Syrian rebels stormed a hydroelectric dam on the Euphrates on Monday in the latest in a series of rebel advances, one which highlights the role played by the Islamist Jabhat al-Nasra in the armed opposition. Activists said fighters from the extremist group played a key role in the battle to push the regime out of the dam, which supplies electricity to several areas, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group."
WE HOPE YOU DIDN'T JUST GORGE ON LEFTOVERS: CNN: "A 32-year-old man who died after downing dozens of roaches and worms last month to win a python at a Florida reptile store choked to death, medical officials said Monday. Edward Archbold died 'as a result of asphyxia due to choking and aspiration of gastric contents,' said the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office. It said his airway was obstructed by bug body parts, and ruled his death was an accident."
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