WASHINGTON (AP) — Jack Lew, President Barack Obama's likely nominee for treasury secretary, is a premier federal budget expert who would take the helm of the government's main agency for economic and fiscal policy just as the administration girds itself for a new confrontation with congressional Republicans over the nation's debt and deficits.
Obama is expected to nominate Lew as early as Thursday, continuing to put a second-term imprint on his Cabinet by choosing yet another close ally for a key government post.
A year ago, almost to the day, Obama appointed Lew as his chief of staff, taking him from his perch as director of the Office of Management and Budget into the White House's tight inner circle.
In selecting Lew to replace Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Obama not only would be picking an insider steeped in budget matters but also a tough bargainer. Some Republicans complain that Lew has been unyielding in past fiscal negotiations.
If confirmed, Lew would assume the post in time for the administration to tangle anew with Republicans over a confluence of three looming fiscal deadlines — raising the $16.4 trillion federal borrowing limit, averting automatic spending cuts to defense and domestic programs, and renewing a congressional resolution that has been keeping the government operating. Those three events, if unresolved, would have a far greater negative effect on the economy than the "fiscal cliff" Obama and Congress avoided a week ago.
Biden to meet with NRA as gun violence taskforce nears deadline
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is sitting down with gun owners groups — including the National Rifle Association — as officials look at ways to curb gun violence.
Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading an administration-wide review of gun safety laws, has vowed urgent action in the wake of last month's massacre at a Connecticut elementary school.
The meeting with the NRA is one of three Biden has scheduled for Thursday, as he prepares to make recommendations on gun policy by the end of the month. Besides the NRA, Biden and other officials are meeting with sportsmen and wildlife interest groups, as well as people from the entertainment industry.
The NRA, the nation's largest gun-rights group, has blocked gun-control efforts in the past and is opposing any new ones.
Shortly after last month's shooting in Newtown, Conn., President Barack Obama tasked Biden with heading a commission to come up with recommendations on gun policy by the end of January. Obama supports steps including reinstating a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and closing loopholes that allow many gun buyers to avoid background checks.
Attack on Benghazi drives US demand for enough troops to guard diplomats in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (AP) — The attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya last year has become a factor driving the White House decision on how large a force to leave in Afghanistan after 2014 — and a specter hanging over talks between the Afghan president and the U.S.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has publicly called for a near-total drawdown of U.S. forces, with a surge of U.S. and international aid to make up for their exit.
But after losing a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, U.S. officials insist they need enough troops to protect their diplomats, and the legal authority to target those who might come after them, a senior U.S. official said.
The State Department wants five diplomatic posts in Afghanistan, but U.S. planners are weighing every potential post against how many troops would be needed to guard it and, if need be, get personnel out, said one current and one former U.S. official. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the White House deliberations publicly.
The administration does not want to risk another Benghazi situation, the senior official said, where diplomatic posts are only lightly guarded by U.S. contractors and local forces and the host country can deny the U.S. the right to send in troops. The Libyans denied U.S. special operations teams entry to hunt al-Qaida-linked militants suspected in the killings of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11.
Google's Schmidt urges NKorea to shed isolation, allow Internet access or risk falling behind
BEIJING (AP) — Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said Thursday it's up to North Korea to shed its self-imposed isolation and allow its citizens to use the Internet and connect with the outside world, or risk remaining way behind other countries.
Schmidt was returning from a private trip to North Korea with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson that was not sanctioned by the U.S. government and has been criticized for appearing to boost Pyongyang's profile after its widely condemned rocket launch put a satellite into space last month.
"As the world is becoming increasingly connected," Schmidt said, "their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world, their economic growth and so forth. It will make it harder for them to catch up economically. We made that alternative very, very clear."
The nine-member delegation, which also included Jared Cohen, director of the company's Google Ideas think tank, was greeted at the Beijing airport by a throng of reporters at the end of their four-day trip.
"The government has to do something," Schmidt said. "It has to make it possible for the people to use the Internet. It is their choice now. It's in my view time for them to start, or else they will remain behind."
Despite efforts against scalping, inauguration tickets offered online with steep markups
WASHINGTON (AP) — Tickets to President Barack Obama's inauguration are supposed to be free, but they're being peddled on eBay and Craigslist for up to $2,000 apiece.
Congressional offices and the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which are both distributing tickets to inaugural events, are trying to clamp down on the black market. So far, their efforts haven't stopped online entrepreneurs.
"These tix are going like hot cakes, and for FAR more than I am listing them for on here," boasted one anonymous seller in a post Wednesday on the website Craigslist.
The seller, who did not return an email from The Associated Press, offered two seats to the Jan. 21 swearing-in at the Capitol for $4,000. Those tickets are supposed to be free from congressional offices. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies issued some 250,000 for lawmakers to dole out however they see fit.
Scalping the tickets is not illegal. But the committee's chairman, Sen. Chuck Schumer, says he is encouraging members of Congress to distribute them fairly and to discourage scalpers. Schumer said he conducted a lottery for the tickets his own office received.
New federal mortgage rules aim to reduce risky lending, ensure that borrowers can afford loans
WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators for the first time are laying out rules aimed at ensuring that mortgage borrowers can afford to repay the loans they take out.
The rules being unveiled Thursday by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau impose a range of obligations and restrictions on lenders, including bans on the risky "interest-only" and "no documentation" loans that helped inflate the housing bubble.
Lenders will be required to verify and inspect borrowers' financial records. They generally will be prohibited from saddling borrowers with loan payments totaling 43 percent of the person's annual income.
CFPB Director Richard Cordray, in remarks prepared for an event Thursday, called the rules "the true essence of 'responsible lending.'"
The rules, which take effect next year, aim to "make sure that people who work hard to buy their own home can be assured of not only greater consumer protections but also reasonable access to credit," he said.
Settlement reached in Boston lawsuit claiming mom's pregnancy drug caused 4 daughters' cancer
BOSTON (AP) — Eli Lilly and Co. has settled a lawsuit brought by four sisters who contended their breast cancer was caused by a drug their mother took during pregnancy in the 1950s, a move some believe could trigger financial settlements in scores of other claims brought by women around the country.
A total of 51 women, including the Melnick sisters, filed lawsuits in Boston against more than a dozen companies that made or marketed a synthetic estrogen known as DES.
The Melnick sisters' case was the first to go to trial. The settlement was announced Wednesday on the second day of testimony.
DES, or diethylstilbestrol, was prescribed to millions of pregnant women over three decades to prevent miscarriages, premature births and other problems. It was taken off the market in the early 1970s after it was linked to a rare vaginal cancer in women whose mothers used it. Studies later showed the drug didn't prevent miscarriages.
Attorney Aaron Levine, representing the Melnick sisters, told the jury during opening statements that Eli Lilly failed to test the drug's effect on fetuses before promoting it as a way to prevent miscarriages.
Venezuelan government plans show of support for Chavez as ailing leader's swearing-in delayed
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's government has organized what seems an alternative inauguration outside the presidential palace Thursday and is hosting regional leaders in an unusual show of support for ailing President Hugo Chavez, whose swearing-in ceremony has been indefinitely postponed.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro urged supporters to gather on a street outside Miraflores Palace to demonstrate their solidarity with Chavez, who remains in Cuba fighting complications after cancer surgery and hasn't spoken publicly or been seen in more than a month.
"Everyone to the street," Maduro said at a televised Cabinet meeting Wednesday night. "We're going to have a great function in honor of President Chavez."
Leaders from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean were invited, as they normally would be for a formal inauguration. President Jose Mujica of Uruguay arrived Wednesday, and other presidents expected to attend included Bolivia's Evo Morales and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega.
Maduro said heads of state, foreign ministers and other officials from 19 countries had come to Caracas. The vice president, whom Chavez designated his chosen successor last month, said that even though it wasn't an official swearing-in, Thursday's event still marks the start of a new term for the president following his re-election in October.
'Lincoln,' 'Les Miserables,' 'Zero Dark Thirty,' 'Argo' look for big Oscar hauls
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Crusaders for good, old-fashioned Western democracy look to be the key figures vying for this year's Academy Awards.
Best-picture favorites for Thursday morning's Oscar nominations include "Lincoln," Steven Spielberg's portrait of the great emancipator who abolished slavery and reunified the United States; "Zero Dark Thirty," Kathryn Bigelow's chronicle of the hunt for U.S. public enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden; and "Les Miserables," Tom Hooper's musical epic set against an uprising of freedom fighters in 19th century France.
Among other prospects are "Argo," Ben Affleck's thriller about a CIA scheme to save Americans from Iran amid the 1979 hostage crisis; "Django Unchained," Quentin Tarantino's bloody revenge saga about a former slave hunting white oppressors just before the Civil War; and "Life of Pi," Ang Lee's story of a free-thinking Indian youth cast adrift on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger while traveling to a new life in North America.
This year's nominations come earlier than usual in Hollywood's long awards season, leaving the awards picture a bit murkier. By the time Oscar nominations come out most years, the Golden Globes already have given their trophies, helping to sort out prospective front-runners for show business' biggest night.
The nominations this time precede the Golden Globes ceremony, which follows on Sunday.
Keep 'em out! Hall of Famers happy to see Bonds, Clemens, Sosa denied entry to Cooperstown
NEW YORK (AP) — Nobody was happier about the Hall of Fame shutout than the Hall of Famers themselves.
Goose Gossage, Al Kaline, Dennis Eckersley and others are in no rush to open the door to Cooperstown for anyone linked to steroids.
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa: Keep 'em all out of our club.
"If they let these guys in ever — at any point — it's a big black eye for the Hall and for baseball," Gossage said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "It's like telling our kids you can cheat, you can do whatever you want, and it's not going to matter."
For only the second time in 42 years, baseball writers failed to elect anyone to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday, sending a firm signal that stars of the Steroids Era will be held to a different standard.