News Wrap: Congress hammers out federal funding bill details

In our news wrap Tuesday, negotiators worked out differences on a $1.1 trillion federal spending bill that would fund the government through September 2015 and avert a shutdown. Also, Secretary of State John Kerry called on lawmakers to authorize new war powers for President Obama to combat the Islamic State group.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Congressional negotiators hammered out a $1.1 trillion spending bill today, as a Thursday deadline loomed. The legislation would keep the government running through next September. Passing it will avert a government shutdown. Late today, Republicans and Democrats reached agreement after working out potential snags. Congressional aides have said that a stopgap measure, funding the government for one or two days, might be necessary to give lawmakers time to process and adopt the main bill.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Secretary of State John Kerry is calling for Congress to grant the president new war powers to battle the Islamic State group.

    At a Senate hearing today, Kerry said it's time to pass a new authorization for military force, or AUMF. He said it shouldn't limit the fight to Iraq and Syria, and shouldn't bar the use of combat forces.

    JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: While the president has been clear he's open to clarifications on the use of U.S. combat troops to be outlined in an AUMF, it doesn't mean that we should preemptively bind the hands of the commander in chief or our commanders in the field in responding to scenarios and contingencies that are impossible to foresee.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Meanwhile, outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Iraq for a first-hand update on the fight against Islamic State. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said his army is taking the offensive, but he asked for more American planes and weapons.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The United Nations' World Food Program has resumed aid to more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees. The agency said today that a social media campaign helped raise more than $80 million, enough to resume its food voucher program at least through January. The vouchers go to Syrian refugees living in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    In Ukraine, government forces and pro-Russian separatists largely pulled back from fighting today. The so-called day of silence was a bid to revive a long-term cease-fire that was signed in September. Since then, more than 1,000 people have been killed in fighting across the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Eastern Ukraine.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Doctors in Sierra Leone spent a second day on strike, demanding better care for medical workers who get Ebola. Three doctors died in just two days last week in that West African nation.

    Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said the virus is spreading rapidly in western Sierra Leone and Central Guinea, and it warned against letting up in the fight to stop the epidemic.

    DR. DAVID NABARRO, UN Special Envoy on Ebola: We can't sit back and say the job is even partially done, because of this fear that we have all the time that, as long as there is infection in a part of the total area, that could easily spread. It could even spread to places where current infection levels are zero.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The Ebola death toll in West Africa now stands at 6,331.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Back in this country, police in Berkeley, California, reported nearly 160 protesters were arrested overnight in a third round of demonstrations against police brutality. They were among hundreds of activists who marched in the city. Demonstrators blocked traffic on a major interstate and even forced an Amtrak train to stop. The rallies were mostly peaceful, with no reports of injuries or looting, after two previous nights of violence.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The president's health care law was back in congressional crosshairs today. Republicans zeroed in on a consultant who's said that supporters relied on — quote — "very tortured language and voter stupidity."

    JONATHAN GRUBER, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: I would like to begin by apologizing sincerely for the offending comments that I have made.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    That became a recurring refrain as Jonathan Gruber faced the House Oversight Committee. The MIT economist helped craft the Affordable Care Act, but was later caught on video saying this:

  • JONATHAN GRUBER:

    Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And, basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but, basically, that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Today, Gruber said he spoke out of inexcusable arrogance.

  • JONATHAN GRUBER:

    In some cases, I made uninformed and glib comments about the political process behind health care reform. I'm not an expert on politics, and my tone implied I was, which is wrong. In other cases, I simply made mean and insulting comments, which are uncalled for in any context.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But Republicans, led by committee Chair Darrell Issa, said, in effect, Gruber was right the first time.

    REP. DARRELL ISSA, (R) California: Professor Gruber, it's often said in Washington to be the definition of a gaffe, that's when somebody accidentally tells the truth. You made a series of troubling statements that was not only — were not only an insult to the American people, but revealed a pattern of intentional misleading the public about the true impact and nature of Obamacare.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The committee's top Democrat, Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings, defended the health care law, but called Gruber's earlier comments absolutely stupid.

    REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) Maryland: I'm extremely frustrated with Dr. Gruber's statements. They were irresponsible, incredibly disrespectful and didn't reflect reality. And they were indeed insulting.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Also on the hot seat today, Medicare and Medicaid administrator Marilyn Tavenner.

    MARILYN TAVENNER, Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: This was an inadvertent mistake, for which I apologize.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Tavenner's agency initially reported 400,000 more people signed up for health coverage last year than actually did. She blamed a double-counting of people who enrolled for both dental and medical coverage.

    President Obama has said the health care law was fully debated, and there was no attempt to mislead the public.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The Federal Reserve voted today to have the country's eight largest banks set aside more reserves in the event of unexpected losses.

    The goal is to prevent the need for future taxpayer bailouts. Requirements will vary, depending on how regulators assess a bank's risk. The banks include J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, on Wall Street, stocks managed to limit their losses, despite earlier sell-offs in China and Europe. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 51 points to close at 17,801. The S&P 500 edged down half-a-point to 2,059. But the Nasdaq rose more than 25 points to close at 4,766.

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