A look at action in Congress on Thursday:
The White House and congressional Republicans hammered out a critical compromise to extend the Bush era tax cuts for millions of Americans at all income levels, and an extension of unemployment benefits for many others appeared likely to become part of any deal. The extension is expected to apply to personal income tax rates as well as capital gains, dividends, the alternative minimum tax, the so-called marriage penalty and more. Meanwhile, the House passed a measure 234-188, largely along party lines, to prevent taxes from rising on lower and middle-income wage earners, while allowing them to rise on individuals at higher incomes. The measure has no chance of passing the Senate, making the vote purely symbolic.
The House voted 333-79 to censure Rep. Charles Rangel for ethics and fundraising violations. A war hero who has served his Harlem district for 40 years, Rangel stood in the well of the House and faced Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she read him the censure resolution. It was only the 23rd time in the nation's history that a House member received the most severe punishment short of expulsion.
LOUD TELEVISION ADS
Advertisers would be blocked from abruptly raising the volume to catch the attention of television viewers wandering off when regular programming is interrupted under a bill the House passed Thursday. Democrat Anna Eshoo of California is the bill's sponsor. She said it was her own "earsplitting experiences" that got her involved, recalling how the ads "blew us out of the house" when she watched television, already set at a high volume, with her parents. The Federal Communications Commission would be required within one year to adopt industry standards that coordinate ad decibel levels to those of the regular program. The new regulations, applying to all broadcast providers, including cable and satellite, would go into effect a year after that. The bill is headed for the president's signature.
NEW START TREATY
Once-reluctant Republicans signaled a willingness to back a nuclear treaty with Russia. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, said he was "wide open" to supporting the treaty if the Obama administration addressed his concerns about modernization of the remaining U.S. nuclear arsenal. The administration jump-started the treaty with a series of steps this week, including outreach by Vice President Joe Biden to lawmakers and the circulation of a letter from the heads of the three U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories expressing support for Obama's 10-year, $84 billion plan to maintain the nuclear stockpile. GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Johnny Isakson of Georgia are among those feeling more positive about completing the treaty in the lame-duck session. Sens. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and John Thune, R-S.D., are among those opposed.
GAYS IN MILITARY
Senate Republicans dug in their heels Thursday against allowing gays to serve openly in the military. Led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., they clashed with the Pentagon's top leaders and dimmed Democrats' hopes of repealing "don't ask, don't tell" this year. In tense exchanges with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, McCain and other Republicans dismissed a Pentagon study on gays as biased and said objections by combat troops were being ignored. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised a Senate vote, but Republicans have blocked previous attempts on procedural grounds. Further hurting chances of repeal is an agreement among the Senate GOP not to vote on any bill this month before addressing tax cuts and government spending.
More children would eat lunches and dinners at school under legislation passed Thursday by the House and sent to the president. The $4.5 billion bill, approved in a 264-157 vote, would expand a program that provides full meals after school to all 50 states. The Senate passed the legislation in August. The measure is part of first lady Michelle Obama's campaign to end childhood hunger and fight childhood obesity.
A controversial deficit-cutting proposal that would raise the retirement age and scale back tax deductions appears on track to win support from a majority of the panel — but fall short of the votes needed to adopt it. The plan gained the backing of two of the Senate's most conservative Republicans on Thursday. The plan is likely to win support from a majority of the 18-member panel in a vote Friday, but still likely to fall short of the 14 votes needed to send it to Congress for consideration. Nonetheless, even opponents such as future House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said it was a credible first step to build upon next year.