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News Wrap: Senate gives final approval to two-year budget agreement

December 18, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: The Federal Reserve is ready to begin winding down its economic stimulus. Chairman Ben Bernanke announced today the Central Bank will start reducing the bond-buying program next month. He said the economy has strengthened enough to make it possible. We will hear some of what Bernanke said, and dig into what it means, right after the news summary.

The Fed’s finding of economic progress sent Wall Street soaring. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 292 points to close near 16,168, a new record. The Nasdaq rose 46 points to close at 4,070.

The Senate gave final approval today to a two-year budget agreement 64-36. It erases $63 billion in automatic spending cuts, and replaces them with targeted cuts and additional revenues. Nine Republicans joined 55 Democrats and independents in voting aye, after supporters and opponents jousted over the measure.

SEN. ANGUS KING, I-Maine: I think one of the problems we have around here often is that we don’t know how to declare victory. We don’t celebrate our successes. I’m not prepared to declare victory in the fight for fiscal responsibility, but I am prepared to declare progress.

SEN. TOM COBURN, R-Okla.:  We have before us a bill today that is a purported compromise. But I want to describe who it’s a compromise for. It’s a compromise for the politicians. It’s not a compromise for the American people, because what it really does is increase spending and increase taxes.

GWEN IFILL: The budget bill now goes to President Obama for his signature.

An outside review board presented a raft of recommendations to the president on curbing the government surveillance programs. The proposals today target the National Security Agency’s sweeping collection of phone and Internet data here and abroad. We will get the details later in the program.

The prime minister of Ukraine insisted today that a Russian-financed bailout will ensure his country’s economic stability. Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to buy $15 billion worth of Ukrainian bonds and slash the price of Russian gas. In Kiev overnight and today, anti-Russian demonstrators again accused the Ukrainian government of selling out. They have been camped out in Independence Square for weeks.

Ethnic fighting is threatening to tear apart the world’s newest country, South Sudan. Government officials in the African nation said today at least 500 people have been killed since Sunday.

This report is narrated by Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The foreigners are fleeing. Aid workers and diplomats gathered at Juba Airport this morning trying to get on flights to neighboring countries. Few South Sudanese have that option.

The U.N. says that up to 20,000 people have sought protection in their two compounds in Juba, where they hope there will be safe. But, although fighting eased today, just running for shelter has at times been deadly.

Government forces appear to have retained control after fighting broke out between two factions of the presidential guard on Sunday. The government calls this was a coup attempt, but it seems to be more a political and ethnic power struggle. President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, appeared on TV on Sunday and again today, offering to talk to his enemies, specifically the former Vice President Riek Machar, whom he sacked in July.

Machar, an ethnic Nuer, denies that he has tried to overthrow his former boss. He has reportedly returned to his home area north of Juba.

Today, the U.N. secretary-general spoke to the president.

BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General: I also impressed on him the need to resume dialogue with the political opposition. I welcome the reports this morning that President Salva Kiir is willing to enter into such talks.

LINDSEY HILSUM: On the streets of Juba and now in other towns, South Sudanese fear what will come next. Already, some Nuer say they’re being targeted by Dinka soldiers loyal to the government.

In 2011, South Sudan celebrated independence from the North after decades of war. Citizens wept in joy, but they could equally have shed tears of rage. Their leaders are dragging them back into conflict, condemning them to endless poverty and strife.

GWEN IFILL: In Egypt, prosecutors brought new charges against ousted President Mohammed Morsi today. He’s accused of plotting with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon to wage a campaign of violence after he was overthrown. Morsi is already on trial for allegedly inciting the murders of protesters last December.

The U.N. and European Union aid agencies are calling for a humanitarian cease-fire in Syria. They said today they need to deliver critical supplies to people facing another harsh winter. Meanwhile, a government assault on the besieged city of Aleppo continued with a fourth day of airstrikes. Activists say more than 100 people have been killed in that time.

A main figure in the Great Train Robbery 50 years ago died today in Britain. Ronnie Biggs was part of a gang that held up the Glasgow-to-London mail train in 1963. They got away with more than $50 million in today’s currency. Biggs was caught, but escaped and spent 35 years at large. He returned to England in 2001 and won his release from prison in 2009. Ronnie Biggs was 84 years old.

A Georgia woman will get half of last night’s huge prize of $648 million in the Mega Millions lottery. Officials identified the woman today as Ira Curry of Stone Mountain. She bought her ticket at a tiny newsstand in Buckhead. The other winning ticket was sold at a gift shop in San Jose, Calif.. Ticket holders have 180 days left to claim the prize.