The House has approved the measure brokered by the White House and congressional leaders to raise the federal borrowing limit and avoid a default on the national debt. The deal includes no new tax revenue from wealthy Americans and will provide no additional stimulus for the lagging economy. A new joint congressional committee will be mandated to oversee cuts of more than $2.1 trillion in government spending over 10 years, with automatic reductions in place should Congress reject the panel’s proposals. Sixty-six Republicans and 95 Democrats voted against the deal. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she reluctantly gave her support.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: "It’s hard to believe that we are putting our best foot forward with the legislation that comes before us today. I’m not happy with it, but I’m proud of some of the accomplishments contained in it, and that’s why I am voting for it."
The vote came just hours before a Department of Treasury deadline that potentially would have seen the United States run out of cash and default for the first time in its history. The bill is expected to be approved by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama today.
The debt deal proceedings turned emotional when Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona turned up for her first vote since a near-fatal shooting in Tucson, Arizona, in January. Lawmakers responded with a standing ovation in Giffords’ honor.
Before the debt deal vote was held, 22 people were arrested protesting House Speaker John Boehner from the chamber gallery. The protesters unveiled a large banner and shouted chants criticizing Republicans for opposing taxes on the wealthy.
The United Nations continues to issue dire warnings over the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa. On Monday, Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said the famine in two areas of southern Somalia could spread throughout the region unless the humanitarian response grows.
Valerie Amos: "12.4 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti are in dire need of help, and the situation is getting worse. A little less than two weeks ago, we declared a famine in two regions in Somalia. Today we are warning that, unless we see a massive increase in the response, the famine will spread to five or six more regions. Tens of thousands of Somalis have already died, and hundreds of thousands face starvation, with consequences for the entire region."
Syrian forces continue to kill civilians in an escalating crackdown on pro-democracy protests. At least six people were killed earlier today, pushing the toll to at least 150 over the last two days. At least 100 people were killed on Sunday by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in the flashpoint city of Hama, and at least 25 were killed in the gas and oil hub of Deir ez-Zor. Despite falling on the opening of the holy month of Ramadan, the violence persisted Monday as army tanks shelled Hama indiscriminately. Germany has declared an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council in the hopes of reviving a draft resolution condemning the Assad regime. Russia, China and Brazil have opposed the move, arguing it could provide a pretext for military intervention as seen in Libya. Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch said Syrians are now paying the price for the consequences of the NATO assault on Libya.
Reed Brody: "Countries like Russia and China, but also South Africa, India and Brazil, who are stopping the Security Council from acting, who are stopping the International Criminal Court from getting involved, who are allowing Bashar to continue the killing, these countries have blood on their hands. The Syrian people are paying the price for what is perceived as an endless intervention in Libya. And so, China and Russia and these countries are saying, 'Oh, no, we are not signing up again,' but the problem is that by refusing to act, they are allowing the massacres to continue."
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, two Palestinians were killed Monday in an Israeli attack on the occupied West Bank. The victims were shot dead after Israeli forces raided the Qalandiya refugee camp near the temporary Palestinian capital of Ramallah. Israel, meanwhile, has carried out a number of new air strikes on the Gaza Strip after a Palestinian rocket struck a southern Israeli town. In a statement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel is trying to escalate hostilities to subvert the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations next month.
In Israel, tens of thousands of people have joined nationwide protests against high costs of living and growing income inequality. Police estimate as many as 120,000 people turned out nationwide to support a movement that has been picking up momentum in recent weeks. In Jerusalem, some 15,000 gathered outside the home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Thousands also marched in the capital Tel Aviv.
Protester: "I’m here with many other thousands of Israelis to protest against the neoliberal and capitalist government of Bibi Netanyahu that’s choking working-class and middle-class families and young people and old people. Jews and Arabs are choking under economic burden."
The Egyptian army has deployed tanks and troops to disperse the remaining pro-democracy protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. According to witnesses, security personnel stormed the area from several directions, smashing tents and stalls before taking some protesters into military detention. The demonstrators had been occupying the square for three weeks in protest of the slow pace of reform.
New figures show around 159 civilians were violently killed in Iraq last month, matching the previous monthly high recorded in January. The top U.S. oversight official in Iraq says the country is now more violent and dangerous than it was a year ago. In a new report, Stuart Bowen, the head of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, says Iraq is still "an extraordinarily dangerous place to work."
The United States is supposed to begin a full withdrawal from Iraq at the end of the year, but speculation has increased it will maintain thousands of troops in addition to its force of private contractors. Earlier today, the top U.S. military chief, Admiral Mike Mullen, said any agreement to extend the U.S. occupation beyond the year-end deadline will require the Iraqi government to grant U.S. soldiers full immunity from prosecution.
In Iraq news, newly released documents show the oil giant BP has secured a guarantee of compensation from the Iraqi government should production be halted at Iraq’s largest oil site. The clause was inserted into a contract for BP to operate the Rumaila oil field, which accounts for 40 percent of Iraq’s output.
A federal judge has blocked a Kansas law cutting off funding for the group Planned Parenthood and its two clinics statewide. Planned Parenthood had warned the measure would have stopped federal money for cancer screenings, breast exams and birth control for low-income patients.
The Obama administration has ordered health-insurance plans to begin covering birth control without copays as part of a broader expansion of women’s preventive healthcare.
Breast pumps, an annual physical exam and domestic violence counseling will also be included. The rules follow a July report from the U.S. Institute of Medicine, which said all government-approved birth control methods should be included in the U.S. list of preventive health services. The new mandate includes an exemption for religious organizations that morally oppose contraception. Critics argue the exemption may force thousands of women employed by religious institutions to continue paying for birth control out of pocket. The new benefits take effect next year.
The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit seeking to stop Alabama’s new immigration law from taking effect next month. The measure will require police to arrest anyone they suspect of being in the country without legal status and force public schools to determine the immigration status of enrolled students. The law also makes it a crime to knowingly harbor or transport an undocumented immigrant. The Justice Department is seeking an injunction similar to the one that stopped several similar provisions of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law. In a statement, federal prosecutors said: "Alabama’s law is designed to affect virtually every aspect of an unauthorized immigrant’s daily life, from employment to housing to transportation to entering into and enforcing contracts to going to school."
Supporters say a top U.S. climate scientist is being subjected to a political witch-hunt to undermine his work on the threat to polar bears because of global warming. Dr. Charles Monnett, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, was recently placed on administrative leave in connection with an investigation launched by the Department of Interior. U.S. officials have denied the investigation is politically motivated and claim it has nothing to do with Dr. Monnett’s scientific work. But transcripts from a session with investigators in February show Dr. Monnett has been thoroughly questioned about his studies of polar bears. Climate change experts and activists, including former Vice President Al Gore, have cited Dr. Monnett’s work. The group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has filed a misconduct complaint on Dr. Monnett’s behalf.
In media news, Al Jazeera English has begun broadcasting content to New York City television audiences, marking a major achievement for a news outlet that has sought to expand into the United States for years. Al Jazeera English will now broadcast programming 23 hours a day on the Time Warner Cable channel RISE, with plans to come to Verizon FiOS as well.