Obama reported backing new assault weapons ban

House speaker outlines plan
to prevent tax increases

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner is proposing a backup plan in case he and Democratic President Barack Obama fail to reach agreement on a deal that would prevent massive tax increases and spending cuts from automatically taking effect on Jan. 1, a combination of measures economists are calling the fiscal cliff.

As negotiations between the most powerful Republican in Washington, Boehner, and the president have intensified and appeared to be making progress. Boehner met Tuesday with his Republican caucus members. He told reporters afterwards that he is preparing to introduce a bill on the floor later this week in case the talks falter.

“So at the same time that we are going to continue to talk with the president, we are also going to move Plan B. I think we all know that every income tax filer in America is going to pay higher rates come Jan. 1 unless Congress acts,” he said.

“Our Plan B would protect American taxpayers who make a million dollars or less, and have all of their current rates extended,” he said.

Boehner stressed that he is still hopeful his talks with the president will lead to an agreement, but said the president is asking Republicans to agree to $1.3 trillion in tax increases, while only offering them $850 billion in spending cuts. During the negotiations, Democrats have insisted on raising taxes for the highest income earners, while Republicans are calling for substantial cuts in social spending programs.

The Senate, which is controlled by a Democratic majority, already has passed a bill that would extend Bush-era tax cuts for Americans earning less than $250,000 a year. Analysts say the Senate would probably not accept Boehner’s bill, which puts the income level exempt from tax hikes at $1 million a year.

In a written statement, the White House responded quickly to Boehner’s backup plan, saying the president has put a balanced, reasonable proposal on the table, and that the speaker’s Plan B cannot pass the Senate. The statement said the plan does little to address the nation’s fiscal challenges because it has zero spending cuts.

Asked about the threat of automatic spending cuts, known as the sequester, set to take effect Jan. 1, Boehner conceded his bill does not address them. Economists have warned that the combination of spending cuts, tax hikes and other measures could send the U.S. economy spiraling back into a recession.

For now, both the president and the speaker say they are still hoping to reach an agreement in negotiations, but both are calling on each other to give up more ground.

Obama reported backing
new assault weapons ban

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The White House says President Barack Obama is actively supportive of planned legislation reinstating a national ban on assault weapons — one of several demands by gun control supporters revived in the wake of last week’s school massacre in Connecticut.

White House spokesman Jay Carney spoke Tuesday, as the shattered community of Newtown, Connecticut, continued the grim task of burying its dead. Twenty-six people, including 20 young children, died Friday when a 20-year-old gunman barged into a crowded elementary school and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle.

Funerals were held Tuesday in the small town for two 6-year-old classmates who died in the shootings. The first two victims, 6-year-old boys, were laid to rest Monday. More services are planned throughout the week.

Outside Washington, the powerful National Rifle Association — the nation’s largest gun rights organization — broke its silence on the carnage. In a written statement, the NRA said its members were “shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders.” It also said it wanted to give families of the dead time to mourn before making additional statements.

Pressure also mounted Tuesday on Capitol Hill, where U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — a staunch ally of gun rights groups — said for the first time that Congress should pursue a legislative response to mass shootings. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the author of an assault weapons ban that lapsed in 2004, said she will introduce new legislation at the start of the next Congress in January.

All the adult victims were women and included the school’s principal, who is widely credited with efforts to stop the gunman, and a teacher who tried to save lives by throwing herself between students and the gunman. The gunman, the son of a teacher, died at the scene from a self-inflicted gunshot.

Friday’s attack was the second-worst school shooting in U.S. history — topped only by the 2007 rampage that killed 32 people at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, known widely as Virginia Tech.

Leahy put in succession
after death off Inouye

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A long-time U.S. senator, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, is now third in the line of presidential succession in the country.

Leahy, a Democrat who has served in the Senate since 1975, was sworn in Tuesday as the president pro tempore in the upper chamber of Congress. It is a largely ceremonial position he is assuming after the death Monday of Hawaii’s Sen. Daniel Inouye.

But the position, by law, also puts the 72-year-old Leahy third in line to the U.S. presidency, behind Vice President Joe Biden, another Democrat, and House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican.

In the U.S., no one below vice president has assumed the presidency upon the death or resignation of the president.

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