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News Wrap: Senate passes farm bill after two-year battle

February 4, 2014 at 6:02 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: A new report on economic effects of the president’s health care law struck sparks today. The Congressional Budget Office projected as many as 2.3 million workers will reduce their hours or drop out of the work force by 2021 as they gain health insurance.

Jason Furman chairs the president’s Council of Economic Advisers.

JASON FURMAN, White House Council of Economic Advisers: Even if the net result of this is a net reduction in labor supply, to the degree that reduction in labor supply is voluntary and reflects the choices people are making, you’re going to think about that very differently than if it was businesses cutting back on jobs. This is not businesses cutting back on jobs. This is people having new choices they didn’t use to have.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Furman also argued the report doesn’t take into account a number of economic benefits of the law.

But Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said, in fact, the new estimate proves the law is indeed a job-killer.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: The CBO report is certainly not pretty if you’re interested in creating jobs in America. As we all know, they estimate up to $2 million — two million fewer jobs will be created as a result of Obamacare.

Honestly, it’s not a surprising report. All the anecdotes you hear all across the country are that premiums are going up and jobs are being lost.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The report also lowers the estimate of how many uninsured people will gain coverage this year by two million. It blames the early troubles of the government’s website, HealthCare.gov. We will explore all of the numbers further right after the news summary.

Separately, the CBO now says this year’s federal budget deficit will drop to $514 billion. That’s down sharply from last year, and it is the lowest since President Obama took office. The agency attributes the decline to rising tax revenues from the economic recovery, plus reductions in federal spending.

Wall Street had some improved numbers of its own today, after Monday’s big losses. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 72 points to close at 15,445. The Nasdaq rose 34 points to close at 4,031.

A new five-year farm bill has won final approval in the Senate, after more than two years of wrangling. The ultimate compromise will cost $956 billion. It keeps most crop subsidies intact, but it cuts $800 million a year from food stamps, about 1 percent. Many Republicans had wanted deeper cuts in both areas.

Officials and activists from West Virginia are stepping up the pressure for more information on last month’s chemical spill. They took their frustration today to a Senate hearing on the spill that tainted the water supply of 300,000 people.

West Virginia’s secretary of state, Natalie Tennant, said people don’t know what to believe.

NATALIE TENNANT, West Virginia secretary of state: First, we hear it’s 7,500 gallons. Then we hear it’s 10,000 gallons. One day, we’re told the water is safe. The next day, we hear that pregnant women shouldn’t drink it. It doesn’t add up. Either it’s safe or it’s not safe.

Quite frankly, people are fed up, they are angry, and they are scared. I have families telling me that they are melting snow just to be able to give their children baths.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Democratic and Republican senators alike are backing a bill to require inspections every three years at chemical plants that can threaten public water systems.

A federal judge in Virginia heard arguments today on whether to overturn the state’s ban on gay marriage. Voters approved it, in 2006, as an amendment to the state constitution. But two same-sex couples brought suit, saying the ban violates their rights under the U.S. Constitution. Virginia’s Democratic attorney general, Mark Herring, announced last month that he wouldn’t defend the ban.

In Afghanistan, the office of President Hamid Karzai confirms that he has held secret talks with Taliban officials in a bid to make peace. That disclosure comes as relations between Karzai and the U.S. have been strained since he refused to sign a security agreement. We will delve into what Karzai is doing, and why, later in the program.

Microsoft has reached within its ranks for a new CEO. Satya Nadella has been in charge of the software giant’s cloud computing business. With today’s announcement, he replaces Steve Ballmer, who announced last August that he would be leaving the company. In addition, Microsoft founder Bill Gates is stepping down as chairman, but he will serve as a technology adviser.