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News Wrap: After Weeks of Partisan Standoff, Tax Cut Extension Signed Into Law

December 23, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Congress made quick work today of passing a payroll tax cut extension for two months. It won unanimous consent first in the Senate and then in the House, with only a handful of lawmakers present.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, speaker of the House: Without objection, the bill is engrossed, read for a third time and passed, and the motion reconsider is laid on the table.

HARI SREENIVASAN: For much of the week, House Republicans had refused to consider anything except a full one-year extension. They dropped that demand yesterday, under intense pressure.

Today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid claimed victory and took a swipe at Tea Party freshmen in the House.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., majority leader: I hope this Congress has had a very good learning experience, especially those who are newer to this body. Everything we do around here doesn’t have to wind up in a fight. That isn’t the way things need to be.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Democrats did agree to open negotiations on a one-year extension right after the holidays. For his part, President Obama quickly signed the temporary bill into law. He called it “good news just in the nick of time for the holidays.” The president then boarded Air Force One bound for Hawaii, where he was born and spent part of his youth. He will join his family there for the holidays.

The congressional action to extend the payroll tax cut was enough to buoy Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 124 points to close at 12,294. The Nasdaq rose 19 points to close at 2,618. For the week, the Dow was up more than 3.5 percent. The Nasdaq rose 2.5 percent.

In the presidential campaign, Vice President Biden and Republican Mitt Romney traded jabs, with the Iowa caucuses looming. In The Des Moines Register, the vice president wrote that Romney would — quote – “settle for an economy in which fewer people succeed, while the majority tread water or fall behind.”

But Romney insisted the president’s policies are hurting the country, and he said, “I don’t think they understand from fantasyland what’s happening in real America.”

The tributes flowed amid solemn ceremony today at the Prague funeral of Vaclav Havel, the former Czech Republic president. He led the Velvet Revolution that put an end to communist rule in what was then Czechoslovakia.

Lucy Manning of Independent Television News narrates this report.

LUCY MANNING: He led his people overthrowing the hated communist regime, and now his people stood thousands strong to honor him.

From playwright and political prisoner to president, this was a man who changed history. And so world leaders came to acknowledge just what Vaclav Havel had achieved, the prime minister and the former prime minister. David Cameron said no one of his generation would forget the scenes of the Velvet Revolution.

The Clintons and former Secretary of State, Prague-born, Madeleine Albright. Vaclav Havel had loved his music, and President Clinton’s state visit there had seen the two men jamming in a jazz club.

As the church bells tolled and the sirens wailed, the Czechs stopped to remember the man who took them from east to west, Prague now and then, 1989, when he proved the pen was mightier than the sword, when revolution came without bloodshed, echoed in a message sent by the pope.

MAN: Mr. Havel defended human rights at the time when these were systematically denied to the people of your country.

LUCY MANNING: After the sound of Dvorak’s “Requiem,” Prague’s archbishop spoke of his time in prison with Vaclav Havel. Madeleine Albright in her native language told how he brought light into the places of deepest darkness.

As his coffin was carried out, like in that revolutionary year, they waved their keys, the sign for the communists to go home, for doors to be unlocked. And they applauded the leader who’d led them to that freedom.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Havel died Sunday morning at the age of 75.

In Iraq, a tense calm prevailed in Baghdad a day after bombings killed at least 69 people there. But, elsewhere, several thousand Sunnis rallied in Samarra, Ramadi, Baiji, and Qaim. They were protesting against Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The crowds demanded that the charges against Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi be dropped. He is accused of running assassination squads.

France is now offering to pay for 30,000 women to have their breast implants removed after more than 1,000 of them ruptured or leaked. The implants were recalled last year. Investigators say the French company Poly Implant Prothese used industrial-grade silicone in the implants, instead of a medical variety. The firm is now going out of business. The silicone gel implants are not sold in the U.S., but were sold in Europe and South America.

Royal Dutch/Shell acknowledged today that a faulty underwater pipe caused an oil spill off Nigeria this week. The pipeline seen in this photo on Shell’s website spewed crude into the sea for up to 25 hours. The company says the leak has now been plugged. Today, oil sheens and slicks from the spill inched closer to the southern shore of Nigeria from the Bonga oil field. Shell estimated the leak at nearly 1.7 million gallons, likely the worst spill off Nigeria since 1998.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.