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News Wrap: Senate Passes Spending Bill to Keep Government Operating

March 20, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN:  The Federal Reserve stood by its aggressive plan to stimulate the U.S. economy, keeping short-term interest rates at record lows.  And it said there are signs the economy is getting stronger.  One of those signs, unemployment, fell to a four-year low of 7.7 percent in February.

Still, the Fed predicted it won’t reach 6.5 percent until 2015. 

The Fed and its chairman, Ben Bernanke, also had words of caution for Congress. 

BEN BERNANKE, Federal Reserve Chairman:  I do believe that long-term fiscal stability is extremely important.  And I urge Congress and the administration, as I always do when I go to testify, to do whatever is necessary to put us on a sustainable fiscal path going forward.  But, in doing so, I think it’s a good idea to pay attention to the impacts in the near term on what is still not a completely satisfactory recovery. 

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Congress moved a step closer to advancing a spending bill that would keep the federal government running through September.  The Senate passed the legislation this afternoon along bipartisan lines.  The measure funds the day-to-day operating budgets of every Cabinet agency, gives $87 billion dollars to fund overseas military programs and keeps a pay freeze for federal workers.  The House is expected to vote on the bill tomorrow. 

Markets on Wall Street responded well to the Fed statement.  The Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 56 points to close above 1,4511.  The Nasdaq rose 25 points to close at 3,254. 

European markets rebounded today from a three-day losing streak, amid hopes Cyprus will raise funds to qualify for a Eurozone bailout.  Yesterday, the Cypriot parliament rejected a bill to tax bank deposits.  Today, lawmakers crafted a plan B. 

We have a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News. 

JONATHAN RUGMAN, Independent Television News:  Why would the finance minister of a sun-kissed island be braving Moscow’s weather?  Because he’s desperate for money.  Mr. Sarris came begging here for around $5 billion euros, and he doesn’t intend to leave without it. 

MICHALIS SARRIS, Finance Minister of Cyprus:  There was no offers, nothing concrete.  We are continuing discussions.  We are happy with a good beginning and we are looking forward to continuing these discussions over the next few hours. 

JONATHAN RUGMAN:  And while the Cypriots have flown to Russia, the Russians have flown to Cyprus, their executive jets on the hunt for money perhaps, theirs, in a country where cash points still work, even if the banks behind them don’t.  These banks are not set to reopen until next Tuesday.  Any dash for cash, and they could collapse. 

PHIDIAS PILIDES, Cyprus Chamber of Commerce:  Cyprus is facing on the economic side a question of survival. 

JONATHAN RUGMAN:  Even the Orthodox Church has joined the scramble for a solution.  The island’s archbishop today told the president he would put the church’s vast property portfolio up as collateral.  Yet, this is a government running out of time, and in the absence of an agreed financial lifeline, possibly the first to leave the Eurozone. 

HARI SREENIVASAN:  German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today she is looking for a way to work with Cyprus.  The European Central Bank warned it would have to pull the plug on a bailout unless Cyprus can make a quick decision. 

In South Korea, a suspected cyber-attack caused networks at major banks and top television broadcasters to crash simultaneously today.  The attack paralyzed bank machines across the country.  Some were down for more than seven hours and customers couldn’t use their debit and credit cards.  There was no claim of responsibility and North Korea made no comment about the attack.  Last week, the North accused the U.S. and South Korea of a cyber-attack that shut down its Web sites for two days. 

A new government estimate puts the number of schoolchildren with autism at one in 50.  Officials from the Centers for Disease Control said this number relies on parents who report their child’s disorder.  The figure comes from a nationwide phone survey of 95,000 parents of children of all ages in 2011 and 2012.  An earlier government estimate of one in 88 came from a study that used medical and school records.  But it focused on 14 states and only on children who were eight years old. 

A deadly type of acute leukemia may have a chance at remission from cell therapy.  The journal “Science Translational Medicine” published the findings today.  The treatment is experimental and has only been used on five adult patients whose bodies resisted chemotherapy.  The treatment genetically alters a patient’s own immune cells to fight the cancer.  One patient saw all traces of his leukemia disappear within eight days of treatment.  And three of the five patients have now been in remission for five to 24 months. 

General Motors announced a recall of 27,000 vehicles because of problems with their automatic transmissions.  The recall affects the 2013 models of Buick’s full-size LaCrosse cars and Cadillac SRX crossover SUV.  GM cited a software problem that could cause the transmission to shift to sport mode and increase the risk of a crash, although none have been reported.