Congress sends Obama bill to avoid default, open government, ending 16-day stalemate
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Up against a deadline, Congress passed and sent a waiting President Barack Obama legislation late Wednesday night to avoid a threatened national default and end the 16-day partial government shutdown, the culmination of an epic political drama that placed the U.S. economy at risk.
The Senate voted first, a bipartisan 81-18 at midevening. That cleared the way for a final 285-144 vote in the Republican-controlled House about two hours later on the legislation, which hewed strictly to the terms Obama laid down when the twin crises erupted more than three weeks ago.
The legislation would permit the Treasury to borrow normally through Feb. 7 or perhaps a month longer, and fund the government through Jan. 15. More than 2 million federal workers would be paid -- those who had remained on the job and those who had been furloughed.
After the Senate approved the measure, Obama hailed the vote and said he would sign it immediately after it reached his desk. "We'll begin reopening our government immediately and we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty from our businesses and the American people."
Later, in the House, Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said, "After two long weeks, it is time to end this government shutdown. It's time to take the threat of default off the table. It's time to restore some sanity to this place."
Democrat Cory Booker wins US Senate election in NJ, pledges 'not to play shallow politics'
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Newark Mayor Cory Booker won a special election Wednesday to represent New Jersey in the U.S. Senate, giving the rising Democratic star a bigger political stage after a race against conservative Steve Lonegan, a former small-town mayor.
With nearly 95 percent of precincts reporting, Booker had 55 percent of the vote to Lonegan's nearly 44 percent. The first reaction from the social-media savvy victor came, of course, on Twitter: "Thank you so much, New Jersey, I'm proud to be your Senator-elect."
In a speech later to supporters in Newark, Booker spoke, as he often does, of the unity of the American people.
"That's why I'm going to Washington -- to take back that sense of pride," he said. "Not to play shallow politics that's used to attack and divide, but to engage in the kind of hard, humble service that reaches out to others."
He also told of how his father, who died last week at age 76, taught him about love and hard work, values he says he'll carry to the Senate.
10 Things to Know for Thursday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:
1. TRI-CORNERED COALITION LED TO BUDGET DEAL
The measure won support from the White House, most Democrats in Congress and many Republicans fearful of the economic impact of a default.
A short-term debt deal won't end fierce dynamics that killed past bids for a bigger accord
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Hold the champagne.
Even after lawmakers complete their pending deal to avert a federal default and fully reopen the government, they are likely to return to their grinding brand of brinkmanship -- perhaps repeatedly.
Wednesday's self-congratulations notwithstanding, congressional talks are barely touching the underlying causes of debt-and-spending stalemates that pushed the country close to economic crises in 2011, last December and again this month.
At best, lawmakers and the White House will agree to fund the government and raise the debt limit for only a few months. They also will call for yet another bipartisan effort to address the federal debt's major causes, including restricted revenue growth and entitlement benefits that rise automatically.
And yet, top advocates say they've seen virtually no change in the political dynamics that stymied past efforts for a compromise to end the cycle of brinksmanship and threats to harm the economy.
Before glitches, administration foresaw nearly 500,000 health care signups in the first month
WASHINGTON (AP) -- For the first month alone, the Obama administration projected that nearly a half million people would sign up for the new health insurance markets, according to an internal memo obtained by The Associated Press. But that was before the markets opened to a cascade of computer problems.
If the glitches persist and frustrated consumers give up trying, that initial goal, described as modest in the memo, could slip out of reach.
The Sept. 5 memo, for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, lists monthly enrollment targets for each state and Washington, D.C., through March 31, the last day of the initial open enrollment period under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
The new online insurance markets, called exchanges in some states, are supposed to be the portals to coverage for most of the nation's nearly 50 million uninsured people. Middle-class people without job-based coverage can shop for subsidized private plans, while low-income people are steered to an expanded version of Medicaid in states that have agreed to expand that safety net program.
Although the Oct. 1 launch of the markets was a top priority for the White House, the rollout was quickly overwhelmed by computer problems, and many potential customers still have not been able to enroll. Insurers say signups are coming through, but slowly. The administration has refused to release enrollment numbers.
Top Western and Iranian negotiators say nuclear talks made progress, more set for Nov 7-8
GENEVA (AP) -- Nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers ended on an upbeat note Wednesday, with top Western and Iranian negotiators announcing a follow-up round early next month while speaking of significant progress in efforts to reduce fears that Tehran may be seeking atomic arms.
Despite abandoning the pessimistic tone of previous meetings, however, negotiators refused to reveal details on what -- if any -- concessions Iran offered. That gives potential traction to skeptics who can claim the conference was aimed more at building trust and silencing critics at home than in resolving the thorny issues that have blocked progress over a decade of talks.
Iran denies suspicions that it wants nuclear arms and has resisted incentives and tough penalties aimed at curbing its atomic activities. But since reformist Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took office in August, senior officials from Rouhani on down have pledged to meet international concerns in exchange for an easing of crippling economic sanctions.
The post-meeting optimism expressed by senior Western and Iranian officials suggested that Tehran had put forward serious proposals at the two-day talks. Catherine Ashton, the EU's top diplomat, spoke of "a very intensive and, I think, a very important meeting," while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said he hoped for "the beginning of a new phase" between his country and some of its most vehement critics.
"I believe that both sides are serious about finding a resolution, that both sides want to find common ground," Zarif said. "And I hope that my counterparts ... will also take back home the fact that Iran is interested in resolving this issue."
Dozens of Syrian fighting groups break ties with main opposition, says rebel commander
BEIRUT (AP) -- Several dozen rebel groups in southern Syria have broken with the main political opposition group in exile, a local commander said in a video posted Wednesday, dealing a potential new setback to Western efforts to unify moderates battling President Bashar Assad's regime.
The Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition, the political arm of the Free Syrian Army rebel group, has long struggled to win respect and recognition from the fighters. It is widely seen as cut off from events on the ground and ineffective in funneling aid and weapons to the rebels.
In the video, a rebel in military fatigues read a statement with about two dozen fighters standing behind him, some holding a banner with FSA emblems.
FSA spokesman Louay Mikdad told The Associated Press that the video is authentic and identified the man speaking as a captain in one of the rebel groups, Anwar al-Sunna, which posted the video.
The rebel in the video said political opposition leaders have failed to represent those trying to bring down Assad.
JPMorgan paying $100M, admitting manipulation of prices in settlement over $6B trading loss
WASHINGTON (AP) -- JPMorgan Chase & Co. has agreed to pay a $100 million penalty and admitted that its traders acted "recklessly" during a series of London trades that ultimately cost the bank $6 billion.
The settlement announced Wednesday by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission comes less than a month after JPMorgan, the nation's largest bank, agreed to pay $920 million and admit fault in a deal with the Securities and Exchange Commission and other U.S. and British regulators.
The stunning trading losses that surfaced in April 2012 shook the financial world and damaged JPMorgan's reputation. The CFTC deal differs from the previous agreement because JPMorgan is formally acknowledging that its traders recklessly distorted prices to reduce the banks' losses at the expense of other market participants. In the SEC agreement, JPMorgan admitted only that it failed to supervise those traders.
The bank "recklessly disregarded the fundamental precept on which market participants rely: that prices are established based on legitimate forces of supply and demand," the CFTC said in a news release.
According to the agency, JPMorgan traders in London sold off $7 billion in derivatives tied to a price index of corporate bonds in one day -- including $4.6 billion worth in a three-hour span.
Facebook changes privacy settings to allow teenagers share with anyone on the Internet
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Facebook is now allowing teenagers to share their posts on the social network with anyone on the Internet, raising the risks of minors leaving a digital trail that could lead to trouble.
The change announced Wednesday affects Facebook users who list their ages as 13 to 17.
Until now, Facebook users falling within that age group had been limited to sharing information and photos only with their own friends or friends of those friends.
The new policy will give teens the choice of switching their settings so their posts can be accessible to the general public. That option already has been available to adults, including users who are 18 or 19.
As a protective measure, Facebook will warn minors opting to be more open that they are exposing themselves to a broader audience. The caution will repeat before every post, as long as the settings remain on "public."
Dodgers ride Greinke and 4 homers to 6-4 win over Cardinals that cuts NLCS deficit to 3-2
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- It took the Dodgers five games to hit a home run in the NL championship series. Once Adrian Gonzalez powered up for the first one, their dormant offense broke loose.
Gonzalez homered twice and Zack Greinke came through with the clutch performance Los Angeles needed in a 6-4 victory over the Cardinals on Wednesday that trimmed St. Louis' lead to 3-2 in the best-of-seven playoff.
"Guys weren't ready to lose today," said Carl Crawford, who also went deep to help the Dodgers save their season.
Los Angeles held on in the ninth, when St. Louis scored twice off closer Kenley Jansen before he struck out pinch-hitter Adron Chambers with two on to end it.
The series shifts back to St. Louis for Game 6 on Friday night, with ace Clayton Kershaw scheduled to start for Los Angeles against rookie Michael Wacha.