JUDY WOODRUFF: Businesses have won a second major delay in complying with the president’s health care law. The Treasury Department today announced that medium-sized companies with 50 to 99 employees will get an extra year, until January 2016, before facing tax penalties. Larger firms still have to comply next year, but only for 70 percent of full-time workers. Companies with fewer than 50 workers remain exempt. We will explore what’s behind the announcement right after the news summary.
Peace talks between the government of Syria and the opposition resumed today in Geneva. There were no immediate signs of progress. Back in Syria, the Red Crescent said that another 300 civilians were evacuated from the besieged city of Homs. We will have a close-up look at the situation there later in the program.
In Iraq, a group of insurgents-in-training accidentally set off their own car bomb, killing 21 people. Police say the would-be terrorists had gathered near the city of Samarra in an orchard, when the bomb exploded. In addition to those who died, two dozen suspects were arrested.
The month-long flooding that’s drowned huge swathes of Southern England is still getting worse. The Thames River burst its banks today 20 miles upstream of London, inundating small towns and villages.
We have a report from Tom Clarke of Independent Television News.
TOM CLARKE: It started as a flooding crisis. It’s now an all-out war on water.
The flooding far below is now into its eighth week. And these fields around the submerged village of Moorland are the new front line. But the earth works aren’t to save the village, but keep the floodwater where it is.
To protect the town of Bridgwater from almost inevitable flooding, they’re throwing up an emergency dike across there as fast as the diggers can dig it. Then these pipes and pumps fresh off the boat from Holland are going in a new river channel that’s being dug there to try and get the water from behind the dike into the River Parrett, which drains to the sea. The problem they have got is if there’s more floodwater than those pumps can handle, anyone living on this side of the dike is going to experience worse flooding than they have done already.
There’s growing anxiety here about whether homes and livelihoods are being sacrificed to keep others dry. Beyond, the row continues over whether the environment agency has failed on floods. Visiting seed offenses in Dorset, the prime minister refused to back the agency’s chair attacked by ministers over the weekend.
DAVID CAMERON, Prime Minister, United Kingdom: This is the time to get on and do everything we can.
QUESTION: You back him.
DAVID CAMERON: I back the environment agency. I back the work they are doing. Everyone has got to get on with the job that they’re doing. That’s all I’m interested in at the moment.
QUESTION: So he certainly shouldn’t resign?
DAVID CAMERON: There will be time for later on to talk about these things. Right now, everybody has got to focus on the job in hand.
TOM CLARKE: To defend his staff on the ground, today, Lord Smith hit back.
CHRIS SMITH, Chairman, Environment Agency: The chairman is here to be a punch bag, to stand up and take the flak. But my staff are doing a hugely dedicated, very professional job. These are exceptional circumstances.
And every time, it’s the worst ever, it’s the highest ever, it’s the longest ever. And that means that all our old assumptions about what flood defenses the country means are almost certainly not good enough.
TOM CLARKE: Few on the ground in the Somerset Levels would disagree with that. Ever since people have lived here, they have had to cope with floods. But there’s a realization that this is something new.
JUDY WOODRUFF: England has been battered by a string of storms, producing its wettest January since 1766, when King George III was on the throne.
As of today, same-sex married couples in the U.S. have gained more legal rights under federal law. Attorney General Eric Holder announced it over the weekend. The change includes those living in states that do not recognize gay marriage. Among other things, the policy means gay couples do not have to testify against one another in court, and they will be able to file for bankruptcy jointly.
A college football standout has announced that he’s gay three months before he takes part in the NFL draft. Michael Sam is an all-American defensive end at the University of Missouri. He made his announcement in interviews overnight. We will have a full report on Sam’s coming out and the reaction later in the program.
The Deep South braced today for its second major winter storm in two weeks. Two inches of snow paralyzed the Atlanta metro area two weeks ago.
Now the region is expecting rain and snow tomorrow, followed by sleet and freezing rain on Wednesday.
In advance, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has declared an emergency for nearly a third of the state.
GOV. NATHAN DEAL, R-Ga.: We’re not looking back. We’re looking forward. The next three days are going to be challenging days for the state and for local government and for private entities. We want to make sure that we are as prepared as possible and that we can respond as quickly as possible.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The previous storm triggered an epic traffic jam that left thousands of cars abandoned on highways and students trapped on buses or at schools. This time, Atlanta-area schools have canceled classes for tomorrow, and many workers have been told to stay home.
The weather is also an issue at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but because it’s so warm. It was 61 degrees Fahrenheit there today, and ski jumpers had to stop practice when the snow got too soft. As for the day’s results, a spoiler alert. Tune out for a moment, if you don’t want to know who won just yet.
But, in skiing, American Julia Mancuso took bronze in the women’s super-combined ski event. The gold went to Germany. Canadian athletes won the men’s moguls and the 1,500-meter speed-skating event.
French President Francois Hollande has arrived in the U.S. to begin his state visit. He traveled with President Obama to Charlottesville, Virginia, today, where they toured Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate. The third American president once served as an ambassador to France. Hollande is traveling alone, after a recent separation from his longtime partner over revelations he’d had an affair with an actress.
U.S. immigration rules are easing for those seeking asylum here who might have a form of past connection to a terrorist. Since 9/11, anyone believed to have given even limited material support to terrorist groups was automatically banned from the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security says this change gives it flexibility to consider more of an applicant’s background.
On Wall Street, it was a relatively quiet day. The Dow Jones industrial average gained seven points to close near 15,802. The Nasdaq rose 22 points to close at 4,148.