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News Wrap: Democrats Vow to Block GOP Payroll Tax Cut Bill

December 14, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The stalemate in Congress over extending the payroll tax cut continued. Senate Democrats made clear they will reject a House Republican bill. It would extend the tax cut, but would also mandate that work begin on a Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline.

Democrats strongly oppose that provision, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he wants to dispense with the bill quickly.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., majority leader: Let’s get this vote over with. Then we can begin serious negotiations on how to prevent a $1,000 tax hike on American families. The sooner we put this useless, partisan charade behind us, the sooner we can negotiate a true bipartisan solution that protects middle-class workers.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a quick vote on the payroll tax cut. He insisted the top priority should be to pass a trillion-dollar spending bill that funds government operations through next September.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., minority leader: There’s agreement on the funding bill, but no agreement and no plan at all on how we’re going to pass the payroll tax cut extension in the Senate. So we ought to finish our most immediate concern first. Instead, we have wasted week after week after week, one senseless show vote after another.

HARI SREENIVASAN: If there’s no action on the spending bill, the government will run out of funds and have to shut down on Saturday.

But Democrats said, if Congress does pass the spending bill first, Republicans will have no incentive to compromise on the payroll tax cut extension.

The House debated a defense spending bill today worth more than $660 billion. One closely watched provision orders the military to take custody of terror suspects linked to al-Qaida, even those arrested inside U.S. borders. They would be denied a trial and be subject to indefinite detention.

That sparked a renewed debate over security concerns vs. civil liberties.

REP. ALCEE HASTINGS, D-Fla.: Congress has not tried to curtail civil liberties like this since the McCarthy era. Well, here we are today trying to return to an era of arbitrary justice, witch-hunts and fear-mongering. While this measure includes an exemption for United States citizens, it doesn’t protect them from indefinite detention.

REP. MAC THORNBERRY, R-Texas: To argue that this bill changes in some way the current law, when the words say nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities, is — is just not credible. This is a small step. The provisions in this bill, Mr. Speaker, are a small step towards having this Congress back involved in making these detention decisions.

HARI SREENIVASAN: White House officials had said the detainee provision would hinder the president’s ability to fight terror, and they threatened a veto. But, today, a spokesman said last-minute changes to the bill addressed those concerns.

Wall Street was down for a third day, amid persistent worries over Europe’s debt troubles. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 131 points to close at 11,823. The Nasdaq fell nearly 40 points to close at 2,539.

Striking new findings emerged today on sexual violence and teen drug abuse in the U.S. In a major study for the Centers for Disease Control, nearly one in five women surveyed reported they have been victims of rape or attempted rape. One in four said they had suffered severe physical abuse by a sexual partner, and one in six reported being stalked.

A separate survey found cigarette and alcohol use are at historic lows among high school seniors, but marijuana use is on the rise. The National Institute on Drug Abuse said only 19 percent of 12th graders reported using tobacco recently, the lowest since the survey began in 1975. Sixty-four percent said they have taken a drink in the last year, also down from previous years. Marijuana use, however, increased. More than a third of 12th graders said they used it in the past year.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.