Morning Briefing: December 21, 2011

House members decided to go on holiday break yesterday, leaving behind an impasse on the payroll tax holiday that is set to expire on Jan. 1. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) called on President Obama to call back the Senate in order to negotiate, but refused to hold an up-or-down vote on the bipartisan Senate compromise because he lacked support from his own caucus for his favored outcome.

More than 3 million people could lose unemployment benefits if Congress fails to reach a deal, as the benefits are tied up with the payroll tax cut. The maximum duration of benefits would be reduced and strict new requirements would be placed on people applying for unemployment benefits.

Unemployment rates dropped in 43 states in November from a month earlier, according to new date from the Labor Department, showing another glimmer of hope for the ailing economy. Just three states reported increases in their unemployment rates, while four were unchanged.

A federal judge sentenced white supremacist Kevin Harpham to 32 years in prison for the attempted bombing of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Spokane, Washington. Harpham was honorably discharged from the Army and had no criminal record, but the judge said Harpham had been influenced by “shrill and caustic and vitriolic” culture fueled by talk media.

After struggling to rise in the polls as a Republican presidential candidate, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson told supporters he will seek the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination. He has been running for Republican nomination since April.

Former President Bill Clinton said Newt Gingrich is “not really” responsible for balancing the budget in the 1990s, as the former House speaker claims. “He did work with me to pass some good budgets,” Clinton acknowledged, however, in an interview with the NBC’s Today show.

In a high-profile editorial, the Washington Post slams Newt Gingrich today for his unconstitutional broadside on the judicial branch, saying he is proposing “to undermine the rule of law as a bulwark of freedom.” Newt Gingrich has a love-hate relationship with the Founding Fathers,” they write.

The Department of Homeland Security told Congress yesterday that it will cut the number of National Guard troops at the U.S. Southwest border from 1,200 to 300 with greater air support. The change is possible “because of a jump in the number of Border Patrol officers in the region, an increase in technology and a drop in apprehensions at the border.”

And finally: The new president of the University of Texas college Republicans is even more offensive than the last one, who stepped down for tweeting about President Obama’s assassination. The new president tweeted, “My president is black, he snorts a lot of crack,” and made a stereotypical remark about Asian students on her Facebook page.

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