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News Wrap: Congress to Finalize Details on Payroll Tax Cut

February 15, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Congressional negotiators worked today to dot the I’s and cross the T’s on extending the payroll tax cut through the end of this year. The $100 billion cost will be added to the national debt, after House Republicans dropped a demand for offsetting spending cuts.

House Speaker John Boehner.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: We’re not going to allow the Democrats to continue to play political games and raise taxes on working Americans. And so we made a decision to bring them to the table, so that the games would stop and we would get this work done.

I think there’s an agreement in principle, but there are a lot of details that are yet to be worked out. I’m hopeful that that will be wrapped up today.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The tentative deal would also renew long-term jobless benefits and block a cut in Medicare payments to doctors costing another $50 billion. Those provisions would be paid for by auctioning broadcast airwaves to wireless companies and having federal workers contribute more to their pensions.

President Obama welcomed the deal today as he spoke in Milwaukee.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This tax cut means that the typical American family will see an extra $40 in every paycheck this year. And that’s going to help speed up this recovery. It will make a real difference in the lives of millions of people. And as soon as Congress sends me that extension of tax cuts and unemployment insurance to my desk, I will sign it right away.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HARI SREENIVASAN: Final votes on the package could come on Friday.

Iran made claims today of sweeping progress in its efforts to produce nuclear fuel. The announcements came even as the Tehran government made new diplomatic overtures.

We have a report narrated by Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN MILLER: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad whispered a prayer and kissed a Koran as nuclear scientists unveiled Iran’s new homemade fuel rod.

“Praise be to the prophet and his family,” they say.

“How many of these have we got?” asked the president.

“Well, we we’ll have a new one every month,” the man in the mask said. “Soon, we won’t need the Russians.”

They lowered the rod into the heart of the research reactor. This development does not bring Iran any closer to building a bomb. This place produces radio isotopes for nuclear medicine. But if Tehran is trying to convince the world that its purpose is peaceful, no one’s buying it, particularly as the president also presided over the unveiling, today, via video link, of a new generation of centrifuges for enriching uranium, all carried live on state TV.

The 74 million people of the Islamic republic are paying a high price for their leaders’ defiance. Their nation is isolated. They’re suffering from sanctions. Prices are rising, credit tightening, currency plummeting.

The Tehran regime thinks its brinksmanship gives it leverage. It has written to the E.U. offering to resume stalled nuclear talks. For President Ahmadinejad, this is a defiant projection of power and prestige.

“Times have changed,” he said today. “The world has changed. The age of imperialism is over. We will continue along this chosen path.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: In another development, Iranian state TV reported six European nations have been put on notice that their supplies of Iranian oil will be cut off. It would be retaliation for new European sanctions that take effect in July.

In Syria, there was no letup in the military assault on Homs. A huge cloud of smoke rose above the skyline as Syrian artillery bombarded the city again. Government troops and rebel soldiers battled in the streets. At the same time, President Bashar al-Assad promised a referendum this month on a new constitution, allowing for a multiparty system. But the opposition demanded again that Assad step down.

The deep freeze across Eastern Europe has now claimed more than 650 lives. That new count came today after more than two weeks of blizzards and frigid temperatures. In Romania, snowbound communities had to rely on a man flying a motorized parachute plane for supplies. Some 23,000 Romanians have been cut off by snowdrifts blocking roads and rails.

Greece made progress today toward getting the rest of Europe to accept its promised austerity measures. Greek political leaders gave written assurances that they will enforce the cuts. Even so, the chairman of the eurozone finance ministers called for additional guarantees.

In Athens, the Greek finance minister charged that richer nations are looking for a reason not to do the bailout.

EVANGELOS VENIZELOS, Greek finance minister (through translator): There are now clearly powers inside Europe that are playing with fire because they believe the October 26 decisions of the European Council may not be implemented, not adhering to the conditions already set out, and who would like to see Greece outside the eurozone.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The eurozone ministers meet on Monday to consider approval of the $170 billion bailout. Greece needs the funding to avoid defaulting on bond payments in late March.

The war of wills over the Greece bailout put Wall Street in a selling mood. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 97 points to close just under 12,781, its worst day so far this year. The Nasdaq fell 16 points to close below 2,916.

The latest look at world hunger laid out stark new findings today. A report by the charity Save the Children found chronic malnutrition kills five children every minute, or two million every year. It also said 450 million children are at risk of permanent damage from poor nutrition in the next 15 years. Most of the hardest-hit countries were in Africa.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.