Essential Reads

Essential Reads is your one-stop source for the top stories of the day as reported by your favorite Washington Week panelists. It's a simple way to save time and stay informed about the news you need to know. Check it out every day!

Dec 11, 2013

  • AP-GfK poll: Low approval of Congress, Obama

    By Charles Babington and Jennifer Agiesta, Associated Press

    Heading into a congressional election year, Americans hold Congress in strikingly low regard, and nearly two-thirds say they would like to see their House member replaced, a new poll finds.

    Even though Americans are feeling somewhat better about the economy — and their personal finances — elected officials in Washington aren't benefiting from the improved mood, the Associated Press-GfK poll found.

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  • The Republican Primary to End All Republican Primaries

    By Molly Ball, The Atlantic

    John Cornyn, the senior senator from Texas, is nobody's idea of a liberal. He once compared gay marriage to the "union of man and box turtle." He has a solid 'A' rating from the National Rifle Association. He has opposed both of President Obama's Supreme Court nominees and briefly threatened to block the nomination of Hillary Clinton for secretary of state. He is considered one of the oil industry's most reliable votes in Congress and once suggested there might be a connection between murders of judges and public anger at liberal judicial activism. When most of the Texas GOP establishment lined up behind David Dewhurst in his Senate primary against a newcomer named Ted Cruz, Cornyn remained pointedly neutral. Last year, National Journal rated him the second most conservative senator.

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  • The Tea Party Has Already Won

    By Beth Reinhard, National Journal

    Seven tea party challengers are running against Republican incumbents in next year's Senate primaries, and it's entirely possible that every last one of them will lose.

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  • Kerry Defends Iran Deal as Senate Considers New Sanctions

    By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan and Kathleen Hunter, Bloomberg News

    Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew will brief U.S. senators today on the nuclear accord reached with Iran last month, in an effort to derail a congressional push for new sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

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Dec 10, 2013

  • Ex-Clinton Aide Expected to Join Obama

    By Jackie Calmes, The New York Times

    President Obama, after a rocky year that leaves him at the lowest ebb of his presidency, is bringing into his White House circle the longtime Democratic strategist John D. Podesta, a former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton.

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  • Negotiators near budget deal

    With John Harwood, CNBC

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  • Congress, with the clock ticking, nears deals on defense and budget bills

    By Ed O’Keefe and Lori Montgomery, Washington Post

    After compiling a reed-thin record of achievement for 2013, the House and Senate began their final week of the year together in Washington on the verge of breakthroughs on a new defense policy bill and budget agreement, deals that could permit lawmakers to boast of modest year-end successes and enjoy their first extended Christmas break since at least the start of the Obama presidency.

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  • Congress extends plastic gun ban

    By Susan Davis, USA Today

    The U.S. Senate approved a 10-year extension of a federal law banning guns that can go undetected by metal detectors or X-ray machines. The law was scheduled to expire at midnight Monday.

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  • Expiring sales tax deductions could cost taxpayers big in these states

    By Reid Wilson, Washington Post

    Taxpayers who itemize state taxes on their federal taxes could find themselves out of luck if those deductions fall victim to congressional budget talks. Without congressional action, which appears unlikely, those deductions will expire at the end of the year.

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Dec 09, 2013

  • Can Democrats Make 2014 About the Minimum Wage?

    By Beth Reinhard, National Journal

    A prominent liberal think tank dubbed it a "political goldmine." The New Republic called it "the issue that could take down Mitch McConnell." The issue is raising the federal minimum wage, and President Obama's sweeping speech on income inequality has thrust it to the center of his party's platform in 2014.

    Democrats increasingly view championing the pay of hourly workers as a can't-lose issue that revs up their base of liberal, black, and Hispanic voters. Perhaps more important, it also resonates with the white, blue-collar workers who overwhelmingly side with Republicans.

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  • Obama and the politics of economic inequality

    By Dan Balz, The Washington Post

    Weakened by problems with his health-care initiative, President Obama turned back to the economy last week to rebalance his presidency with a speech about income inequality. He said he would devote much of his remaining time in office to the issue, calling it the “defining challenge of our time.” The bigger issue is how much he can or will do about it.

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  • As Obama Turns

    By John Dickerson, Slate Magazine

    hen President Obama said this week that ending income inequality was "this generation's task," his aides noted he was consciously echoing themes he'd raised in a speech two years earlier in Osawatomie, Kan. The trail actually goes back even farther than that. The president has given several significant economic speeches since becoming a national politician. The first was a commencement address at Knox College in 2005, five months after he joined the Senate. Two others include a September 2007 speech he gave at Nasdaq and one he gave three years ago Friday at Forsyth Technical Community College.

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  • NSA Defends Global Cellphone Tracking as Legal

    By Kimberly Dozier, Associated Press

    The National Security Agency on Friday said its tracking of cellphones overseas is legally authorized under a sweeping U.S. presidential order. The distinction means the extraordinary surveillance program is not overseen by a secretive U.S. intelligence court but is regulated by some U.S. lawmakers, Obama administration insiders and inspectors general.

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  • Spies’ Dragnet Reaches a Playing Field of Elves and Trolls

    By Mark Mazzetti and Justin Elliot, The New York Times

    Not limiting their activities to the earthly realm, American and British spies have infiltrated the fantasy worlds of World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and scooping up data in the online games played by millions of people across the globe, according to newly disclosed classified documents.

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  • John Kerry's high-wire diplomacy

    By Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times

    Has John F. Kerry turned into the unexpected star of President Obama's second term?

    He was Obama's second choice as secretary of State (after Susan Rice). He's the same windy, stiff Bostonian who ran unsuccessfully for president a decade ago. And he's taken on a list of assignments that looked distinctly unpromising: nuclear negotiations with Iran, peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the civil war in Syria.

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Dec 06, 2013

  • Barack Obama Marks 'Fierce Dignity and Unbending Will' of Nelson Mandela

    By Mary Bruce and Jeff Zeleny, ABC News

    President Obama tonight offered a deeply personal reflection on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, a man he described as "one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth."

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  • Obama Praises Mandela as Model of Leadership

    By Alexis Simendinger, Real Clear Politics

    President Obama hailed Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday in South Africa at age 95, as a leader who showed uncommon courage and mercy, and set an example for the world.

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  • Obama credits Nelson Mandela with his own political transformation

    By Kathleen Hennessey and Christi Parsons, Los Angeles Times

    A somber President Obama paid tribute Thursday to the man he credits with his political awakening, saying Nelson Mandela’s dignity and sacrifice “transformed South Africa and moved all of us.”

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  • Possible budget deal would end 'fiscal cliff' cycle

    By Susan Davis, USA Today

    Congress' top budget negotiators are nearing agreement on a short-term budget deal that could end Washington's cycle of fiscal cliffs, government shutdowns and unpopular across-the-board spending cuts.

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  • What Obama should do if he wants young people to sign up for Obamacare

    By Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times

    Will young, healthy people sign up for Obamacare?

    That may be the single most important question for the success of the new insurance program. If young people sign up, the pool of customers will be relatively healthy and rates may stay reasonable. If they don’t, the pool could include a disproportionate number of sick people running up big bills, leading to potentially crippling rate increases.

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