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 16, 2011

  • Number of Death Sentences Hits a 35-Year Low

    By Joan Biskupic, USA TODAY

    The number of state executions continued to decline in 2011, according to an annual report issued Thursday, and for the first time in 35 years, the number of new death sentences meted out fell to below 100. The Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment and puts out an annual tally of executions based on state and federal information, asserts that recent developments reflect "the growing discomfort that many Americans have with the death penalty."
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  • Unruly Republicans

    By Beth Reinhard, National Journal

    Members of Congress are shaking in their boots about the possibility of Newt Gingrich as the Republican presidential nominee. GOP operative Karl Rove wrote of the campaign, “It’s embarrassing to be so poorly organized.” Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker’s recent piece on Gingrich was headlined “The GOP’s Death Wish.” National Review went so far as to say that nominating Gingrich “would be to blow this opportunity” to defeat President Obama. And the crowds chant, “Newt! Newt! Newt!”
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  • As Romney Steps Cautiously, Gingrich Duels With Others

    By Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny, New York Times

    The leading Republican presidential candidates largely shelved their contentious attacks on one another to deliver their closing arguments on Thursday night at the final debate before the nominating contests begin, but Newt Gingrich did not escape sharp questions about his record in and out of government and his ability to defeat President Obama.
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Dec 15, 2011

  • Rogers Reopening Spending Package; Could Break Legislative Logjam

    By Major Garrett, National Journal

    House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., has agreed to reopen the pending nine-bill spending package and rewrite language that sought to reinstate the Bush-era travel ban to Cuba, a move designed to address White House concerns and win the backing of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, according to senior Republican and Democratic staffers.
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  • Get Me Re-Write: Gingrich Site Mentions '3 Wives'

    By Charles Babington, Associated Press

    Rick Perry isn't the only one to have an "oops" moment in the Republican presidential contest. An article on Newt Gingrich's official website is headlined "A Tale of Three Wives: Life on the Campaign Trail."
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  • This Could Be Ron Paul's Moment

    By Beth Reinhard, National Journal

    He’s got the best campaign organization in Iowa, hands down, and running second or third in the polls. His hard-hitting campaign video accuses front-running rival Newt Gingrich of “serial hypocrisy." Campaign offices opening Thursday in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Washington signal that he’s in it for the long haul. But Ron Paul is rarely, if ever, described as a first-string Republican contender on par with Gingrich or Mitt Romney.
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  • Government Opens Gulf Of Mexico For Oil Business

    By Eamon Javers, CNBC

    The Obama administration auctioned off oil and gas leases in the western Gulf of Mexico Wednesday for the first time since the BP oil spill wreaked havoc on the Gulf coast of Louisiana in 2010. The sale, held by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in a conference room in the Louisiana Superdome, attracted 241 bids from 20 companies for 161 tracts off the Texas coast.
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  • Paul Ryan to Announce New Approach to Preserving Medicare

    By Lori Montgomery, Washington Post

    House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who has been castigated by Democrats and hailed by Republicans for his plan to privatize Medicare, will on Thursday unveil a new approach that would preserve the 46-year-old federal health program. Working with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the Wisconsin Republican is developing a framework that would offer traditional, government-run Medicare as an option for future retirees along with a variety of private plans.
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  • GOP Tries To Reign In Spending On Jobless Benefits

    by Andrea Seabrook, NPR

    One of the year-end fights going on in Congress is about unemployment insurance. Democrats want to extend benefits for people who have been out of work for a long time. Republicans say it's time to change the program and lower its cost. The Labor Department estimates that if Congress doesn't act soon, some 2.5 million people could stop receiving checks by March.


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  • Inside Congress’s End-of-Session Follies

    By Major Garrett, National Journal

    Faced with a House Republican bill that extends the payroll-tax holiday but doesn't raise taxes on millionaires, President Obama and Senate Democrats are considering financing the extension with budget cuts. And as House Republicans attempted an end-run around the effort by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to stall passage of a massive, almost $1 trillion spending package, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer called for passage of another short-term funding measure.
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  • In a Tactical Shift, Romney Trains Sights on Gingrich

    By Jeff Zeleny, Michael Barbaro, and Ashley Parker, New York Times

    Mitt Romney, his presidential aspirations suddenly endangered by Newt Gingrich’s rapid resurgence, is employing aggressive new arguments in an effort to disqualify Mr. Gingrich as a credible choice to Republicans, calling him “zany” in an interview on Wednesday and questioning his commitment to free enterprise.
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Dec 14, 2011

  • Poll: Republicans Shrug at Romney's Business Past

    By Charles Babington, Associated Press

    Mitt Romney says his business background makes him a better presidential candidate than Newt Gingrich, who has spent decades in Washington. But the argument is not moving Republicans his way, underscoring Romney's challenge in finding a way to stem Gingrich's rise three weeks before the Iowa caucus, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds.
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  • Romney Blasts Gingrich as ‘Extremely Unreliable’ Conservative Leader

    By Philip Rucker and Dan Balz, Washington Post

    Mitt Romney blasted Republican presidential rival Newt Gingrich on Tuesday as an “extremely unreliable leader in the conservative world” who has taken positions in the campaign that should give GOP voters pause as they consider their choices for the party’s nomination. Romney, in an interview with The Washington Post, offered some of his toughest criticism to date of the politician whose sudden rise in the polls has made him, at least for now, the front-runner for the nomination.
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    Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich appear at recent campaign events. (CNN)

  • Deal on Payroll Tax Cut Extension Still Elusive

    By Susan Davis, USA TODAY

    There is broad agreement in Congress to extend the payroll tax cut for one year and overhaul the federal unemployment benefit system, but a partisan divide over how to pay for it and whether to fast-track an oil pipeline has threatened Congress' ability to adjourn for the year and reignited the prospect of a government shutdown.
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  • Sen. Blunt Wins Leadership Post

    By Naftali Bendavid, Wall Street Journal

    Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) has defeated Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) in a race to join the five-member Senate Republican leadership, following a 25-22 vote by GOP senators in a closed-door session at their Tuesday policy lunch in the Capitol. Mr. Blunt was seen by many of his fellow Republicans as more of an establishment choice. He served for 14 years in the House, including in the GOP leadership there, before coming to the Senate in January, and is close to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
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  • Why Team Obama Is Bullish on Re-election in 2012

    By Alexis Simendinger, RealClearPolitics

    President Obama will win a second term because of his incumbency and his political track record, not in spite of those facts, his campaign team told reporters Tuesday. While the president's critics predict that a weak economy and voter disappointment in Obama -- after 2008's sky-high expectations -- will prove his undoing, his campaign strategists arrived in Washington this week ready to explain why they see the election landscape so differently.
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  • Obama’s Re-Election Path May Be Written in Will St. Clair’s Code

    By Julianna Goldman, Bloomberg

    Will St. Clair, wearing semi-rimless glasses, a plaid buttoned-down shirt, jeans and Adidas sneakers, can usually be found sitting on an exercise ball in the back of President Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters, his eyes trained on his computer screen. The 23-year-old’s job is a mystery even to some senior staff in Chicago, yet they say they hope the skills he brings are a secret weapon: he’s a software engineer. St. Clair is among more than a dozen developers hired by the campaign to leverage technology to wring out more votes in what Obama’s advisers say may be an election as close as the contested 2000 race between George W. Bush and Al Gore.
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  • Drill, Drill Drill: Feds Lease Offshore Oil Fields

    With Eamon Javers, CNBC

    CNBC's Eamon Javers has the details on the federal government auctioning off land for oil drilling in New Orleans.

    Watch on CNBC

  • Trump Fires Himself as Debate Moderator

    By Nia-Malika Henderson, Washington Post

    Donald Trump, the real estate mogul and reality-television star, has pulled the plug on his own debate after top GOP candidates declined his invitation and several party leaders said the event was a bad idea since Trump was considering a presidential bid of his own. Trump, in canceling the Dec. 27 Iowa debate, said that he reserved his right to mount an independent presidential campaign.
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  • Medium Cool

    By Todd S. Purdum, Vanity Fair

    The list of President Obama’s potential problems in getting re-elected is almost too long to enumerate: job-approval ratings that hover in the low 40s, a stubbornly stagnant economy, a dysfunctional political culture in Washington that his election was supposed to have changed, and a personality so even-keeled as to make him sometimes seem dead in the roiling waters around him.
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