HARI SREENIVASAN: Democrats and Republicans accused each other today of refusing to talk specifics about how to avoid the fiscal cliff. The two sides traded charges of bad faith as year-end tax hikes and spending cuts moved another day closer.
On the face of it, there seemed to be little movement today.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: No substantive progress has been made in the talks between the White House and the House over the last two weeks.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and legislative chief Rob Nabors arrived at the Capitol this morning for meetings with congressional leaders.
House Speaker John Boehner also spoke to President Obama on the phone last night. He said he wanted to know where the administration would rein in spending, but that he had heard nothing new.
JOHN BOEHNER: I was hopeful we’d see a specific plan for cutting spending. We sought to find out today what the president really is willing to do. Listen, I remain hopeful that productive conversations can be had in the days ahead, but the White House has to get serious.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed that complaint. In a statement, he said — quote — “Today, they took a step backward and significantly closer to the cliff.”
Conversely, White House spokesman Jay Carney charged Republicans failed to provide any details on what they could tolerate in the way of tax increases.
JAY CARNEY, White House: The president has always engaged in this with real numbers. When you talk about flexibility on revenue, all we have heard so far — and it’s welcomed, don’t get me wrong — but we have heard that, yes, revenue is on the table, but we need more than that.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Away from the microphones, there were reports of possible movement. An account in the journal Politico said the contours of a deal are emerging. The report cited unnamed sources who said the deal could include $1.2 trillion in tax increases over 10 years. It also said entitlement programs, mainly Medicare, will be cut by no less than $400 billion.
And on the sidelines, the president hosted his defeated rival, Mitt Romney, at a private lunch today. Mr. Obama travels to suburban Philadelphia tomorrow, pressing to raise taxes on top earners, but keep tax cuts for everyone else.
Wall Street initially fell after House Speaker Boehner said there’d been no progress on a fiscal cliff deal. But stocks rose later on news that the economy grew at an annual rate of 2.7 percent in the third quarter. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 36 points to close well above 13021. The Nasdaq rose 20 points to close at 3012.
The United Nations General Assembly voted today to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state. The tally was 138-9, with 41 abstentions. The U.S. voted no. It came after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appealed to the world body to issue — quote — “the birth certificate of Palestine.”
MAHMOUD ABBAS, Palestinian Authority president: We didn’t come here seeking to delegitimize a state established years ago, and that is Israel. Rather, we came to affirm the legitimacy of a state that must now achieve its independence, and this is Palestine.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Palestinians said the vote would strengthen their hand in future peace talks with Israel. But the Israeli ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor, warned that the Palestinians are turning their backs on peace.
RON PROSOR, Israeli ambassador to the United Nations: For as long as President Abbas prefers symbolism over reality, as long as he prefers to travel to New York for U.N. resolutions, rather than travel to Jerusalem for genuine dialogue, any hope of peace will be out of reach.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators said today they will push to cut off U.S. aid if the Palestinians use their new status to bring Israel before the International Criminal Court.
In Iraq, a wave of attacks today killed at least 43 people. Most of the victims were in the city of Hillah, south of Baghdad. Back-to-back explosions targeted Shiite pilgrims and emergency responders. The force of the blasts left twisted wreckage of cars outside shops in a busy commercial area. A third bombing killed six people near a shrine in the city of Karbala.
A yearlong inquiry into British media practices ended today with a call for new regulation. Lord Justice Brian Leveson led the investigation. It was triggered by a scandal over a tabloid newspaper owned by the Murdoch conglomerate that hacked voice-mails of hundreds of people.
We have a report from Gary Gibbon of Independent Television News.
GARY GIBBON: Well, Justice Leveson says the body that regulates newspapers, their ethics and apologies can’t be run by newspapers alone anymore. It needs to be more independent and overseen by a government watchdog.
LORD JUSTICE BRIAN LEVESON, Great Britain: This is not and cannot reasonably or fairly be characterized as statutory regulation of the press. I am proposing independent regulation of the press organized by the press.
GARY GIBBON: But David Cameron said the judge had got it wrong; laws controlling newspapers could mushroom into censorship. He said he wanted changes to the way newspapers regulate themselves, but not new laws.
PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON, Great Britain: The issue of principle is that for the first time we would have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land. We should, I believe, be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press.
LAWMAKERS: Hear, hear!
GARY GIBBON: Describing the phone hacking and other intrusions suffered by innocent victims like Milly Dowler, Lord Justice Leveson depicted a press that was out of control, showed “significant and reckless regard for accuracy, would resist or dismiss complainants almost a matter of course, and showed a recklessness in prioritizing sensational stories, almost irrespective of the harm caused, heedless of the public interest.”
QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. Murdoch. Any thoughts today on Leveson today?
GARY GIBBON: Rupert Murdoch in New York today.
The judge also said there was no evidence to support allegations that there was a grand bargain between the Tory leadership and the Murdochs, exchanging newspaper support for policies ahead of the last election.
Lord Justice Leveson said he was now passing the ball on to the politicians. They are far from agreed what they want to do with it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: NASA had a major announcement of its own today. The planet closest to the sun, Mercury, has ice at its poles. The findings came from MESSENGER, the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury. The ice was found in the permanently shadowed region of the north pole. Scientists said they believe there’s ice at the planet’s south pole as well.
And, in Washington, one of those scientists, David Lawrence, said it’s no small amount.
DAVID LAWRENCE, MESSENGER: If you add it all up, you have on the order of 100 billion to one trillion metric tons of ice. Now, of course, those numbers are big. It’s hard to know what to do with them. So we can bring it down to Earth, and, in fact, here in this town. If you take the amount of ice that we consider to be at Mercury right now, stack up the entire area of Washington, D.C., by about two to two-and-a-half miles of ice, that is what is present currently at Mercury’s poles.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The MESSENGER team said the ice likely came from comets and asteroids that crashed into Mercury. Those impacts may also account for dark material that could be the remnants of organic matter.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.