Talks in Washington are growing increasingly contentious as Democrats and Republicans seek a budget deal that would raise the federal debt limit before an August 2 deadline. On Wednesday, President Obama reportedly walked out of a meeting with House Republicans after the two sides made no headway on an agreement. According to Reuters, Obama said, “I’ve reached my limit. This may bring my presidency down, but I will not yield on this.” Republicans are pushing for massive spending cuts while rejecting Democratic calls to increase revenues in part by raising taxes on corporations and wealthy households. Republican leaders have also begun internal debate over a proposal from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to raise the debt ceiling by requiring President Obama to seek congressional approval for up to $2.5 trillion in three installments. House Republicans say the plan would erode their leverage to ensure spending cuts, while supporters say it would spare Republicans of blame for a perilous credit default before the 2012 elections.
The Obama administration continues to rule out the prospect of cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits under a bipartisan budget deal. At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about President Obama’s campaign vows to protect Social Security.
Reporter: “President Obama in 2008, in a taped addressed to AARP, said 'John McCain’s campaign has suggested that the best answer for the growing pressures on Social Security might be to cut cost-of-living adjustments or raise the retirement age. Let me be clear: I will not do either.' Is that a promise that has gone by the bye, at least regarding cost-of-living adjustments?”
Jay Carney: “Again, I will not get into the specifics of ideas that have been considered. What I will say is that the President has been willing to get outside of his comfort zone to discuss different measures.”
Talks on the federal budget and possibly raising the debt limit are scheduled to continue at the White House today. On Wednesday, the U.S. dollar fell against most major currencies after the Moody’s credit rating agency warned the United States may lose its top credit rating unless the debt ceiling is raised. Testifying in Congress, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said a U.S. default on its debt payments would be “calamitous,” adding that the Fed is prepared to intervene in the economy should it suffer further contraction.
Ben Bernanke: “The possibility remains that the recent economic weakness may prove more persistent than expected and that deflationary risks might reemerge, implying a need for additional policy support. The most recent data attest to the continuing weakness of the labor market. The unemployment rate increased to 9.2 percent in June, and gains in non-farm payroll employment were below expectations for a second month.”
The United Nations has disclosed civilian deaths in Afghanistan are at a new record high. The first half of this year was the deadliest six months for Afghan civilians since the war began in 2001. The U.N.’s director of human rights in Afghanistan, Georgette Gagnon, said deaths rose nearly 30 percent from the same period last year.
Georgette Gagnon: “We at UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan] documented 1,462 civilian deaths for this period, with 80 percent attributed to the anti-government elements, an increase of 28 percent in civilian deaths from the same period in 2010.”
In news from Afghanistan, at least three people have been killed and 13 wounded in an apparent suicide attack on a Kandahar mosque hosting a memorial service for the slain brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Ahmed Wali Karzai was shot to death on Tuesday. The bombing comes one day after Karzai’s funeral in his family’s ancestral village. During the service, Afghan President Karzai addressed the Taliban’s claims of responsibility for murdering his brother.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai: “The Taliban said they were proud to kill my brother. My message for the Taliban is that, my countrymen, my brothers, stop killing your own people. It is easy to kill, and anyone can do it, but the real man is the one who can save people’s lives.”
At least 18 people have been killed in a series of blasts in the Indian city of Mumbai. It was the deadliest attack on the city since 166 were killed in a 2008 mass shooting. Indian officials have blamed the Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba. Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik urged residents to maintain calm.
Arup Patnaik: “We have put the entire city on red alert. There have been all this [inaudible] have been enforced. Sealing has been done. I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to everyone to keep calm. It’s a very unfortunate incident.”
Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has withdrawn his bid for the broadcaster BSkyB as the phone hacking scandal continues to unfold. Murdoch’s decision comes shortly after British lawmakers voted unanimously to urge his media conglomerate News International to drop its takeover attempt. Murdoch and his son James Murdoch have also been summoned to testify before a British parliamentary committee but have so far refused to comply. On Wednesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron called for fundamental changes at Murdoch’s company.
British Prime Minister David Cameron: “There needs to be root-and-branch change at this entire organization, and I think it has now become increasingly clear that while everybody, to start with, wanted in some way to separate what was happening at News International and what is happening with BSkyB, that is simply not possible. What has happened at this company is disgraceful. It’s got to be addressed at every level. And they should stop thinking about mergers when they’ve got to sort out the mess they’ve created.”
Rupert Murdoch is also facing mounting pressure in the United States amidst allegations journalists at his British newspaper, News of the World, hacked into the voicemail of Americans killed in the World Trade Center attack nearly a decade ago. On Wednesday, a number of Democratic and Republican lawmakers joined calls for a Department of Justice probe. At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to weigh in on the prospect of an investigation.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: “It’s not on our radar in the sense that we’re having discussions about it. Everyone reads newspapers and catches—catches the news reports, and so we’re aware of it. But not—it’s not—it’s not—you know, we—we have some other issues we’re dealing with. In terms of the Department of Justice and the SEC, I would just refer you to them.”
Rupert Murdoch owns a number of media outlets in the United States, including the Wall Street Journal, which he purchased in 2007. On Wednesday, a number of members of the Bancroft family, which used to control the newspaper, said they would not have allowed the sale had they known of the phone hacking.
Libyan rebels have retaken control of a key village south of Tripoli in ongoing clashes with forces loyal to Col. Muammar Gaddafi. Rebels had seized Qwalish a week ago, only to lose it Wednesday morning before retaking it again by nightfall.
Libyan rebels are facing calls to halt alleged abuses in a number of seized towns. In a statement, Human Rights Watch cited allegations of attacks on Gaddafi supporters, as well as looting and arson. Meeting with Russia’s foreign minister in Washington, D.C., U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed reports of Gaddafi’s talks with France in a bid to end the violence.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We are still getting contradictory signals from Col. Gaddafi’s camp. He has yet to meet the red lines that are set by the international community to cease violence against his people, withdraw his forces, and step down from power. So, although neither of us can predict to you the exact day or hour that Gaddafi will leave power, we do understand and agree that his days are numbered.”
A British court has deferred a final decision on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s appeal of a court order that he be extradited to Sweden to face questioning over sexual misconduct allegations by two women. Assange’s attorney has argued Assange’s accusers may have found their contact with him “disrespectful,” but say his actions do not amount to crimes in England, and therefore his extradition must be blocked. On Wednesday, a judicial panel said it would decide on the case at a later date.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has acknowledged for the first time he may seek radiation therapy or chemotherapy as part of ongoing treatment for colon cancer. Chávez had a tumor removed during a procedure in Cuba last month.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the University of Michigan professor and Middle East expert Juan Cole over claims the Bush administration tried to smear Cole for criticizing the Iraq War. Last month, a former senior CIA official revealed the Bush White House asked the CIA to uncover damaging personal information about Cole in a bid to discredit him. The lawsuit is asking the government to turn over any information that may have been collected about Cole.