Morning Briefing: December 16, 2011

Last night House and Senate leaders reached a deal on a $1 trillion omnibus spending bill that will avert a government shutdown, if passed. Republicans agreed to drop travel restrictions to Cuba, but succeeded in stopping an administration rule on light bulb energy efficiency standards.

In separate negations, according to a senior Senate aide, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and GOP leaders are about $90 billion apart on a deal to reauthorize the payroll tax holiday that is set to expire at the end of the year. To save middle-class families from having to pay an extra $1,000 in taxes next year, Senate leaders are also working on a two-month back-stop measure.

Newly-minted GOP front runner Newt Gingrich came under withering attack at last night’s debate as the rest of the Republican field concentrated their fire on the former House speaker. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) said that even if Gingrich was not technically a lobbyist, he engaged in “influence peddling” on behalf of Freddie Mac.

The FBI once considered running a sting operation against then-Speaker Gingrich after allegations from an arms dealer that Congress could be bribed into lifting an Iraqi arms embargo, the Washington Post reports. The FBI called off its investigation in June 1997 due to a lack of evidence that Gingrich was involved.


Mitt Romney got permission to destroy 150 boxes of paper records of his tenure in his final weeks in office as governor of Massachusetts, Reuters reports. While it’s unclear if Romney’s staff ever actually destroyed the documents, his office led a systematic campaign to obliterate their electronic records.

Sheriff Joseph Arpaio accused the U.S. Department of Justice of leading a “witch hunt” against the Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff’s Office after the DoJ released a damning report detailing systemic patterns of civil rights abuses under Arpaio. Republican Arpaio alleged the report was politically motivated , saying, “everyone I’m talking about happens to be Democrat.”

Cameron International, a BP contractor involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, has agreed to pay $250 million to settle claims related to the spill. The agreement with Cameron, which designed and built the “blowout preventer” on the oil rig, is BP’s fourth settlement with contractors related to the incident.

British-American journalist and polemicists Christopher Hitchens died yesterday after a battle with esophageal cancer. He was 62. Brilliant, vexing, and controversial, Hitchens was known for his political transformation from Marxist to neoconservative and his willingness to deploy his acerbic wit against anyone and everyone, including Mother Teresa.

And finally: In honor of Hitchens, a quote of his about a former president: “[George W. Bush] is lucky to be governor of Texas. He is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things.”

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