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  |   Nov. 17, 2012 at 12:41 PM
Geithner: Temp fiscal cliff plan no help

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said a temporary plan to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff would take Washington's budget talks a step backward.

Adopting a plan that extends tax rate cuts enacted during the administration of former President George W. Bush until Congress and the White House agree on a target for new tax revenues would add uncertainty to the marketplace and reduce the incentive both sides have for reaching an agreement, Geithner said.

Geithner believes a budget plan could be adopted "within several weeks," The Hill reported.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, formally proposed a two-step process for negotiations, starting with setting targets for revenue and savings and then determining specific steps to reach the targets.

"Once we settle on those targets the Speaker proposed, we can create simple mechanisms, in statute, that would achieve those revenue and spending goals. They would be in place unless or until more thoughtful policies replace them," Boehner's office said.

The "fiscal cliff" is a term first used by U.S. Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke to describe a half a trillion dollars in tax increases and spending cuts that are set to kick in Jan. 1.

Economists have said the combination of spending cuts and tax rate hikes would send the economy back into a recession. The plan, which was agreed to after Republicans balked at raising the federal debt ceiling in 2011, includes several politically unpopular policies, including cuts in defense spending and raising taxes for the poor, The New York Times reported.

Allowing the budget plan to proceed would cut the federal deficit from 7 percent of the gross domestic product in 2012 to 1 percent in the fiscal year 2015, the Congressional Budget Office said.

By that measure, the fiscal cliff would be a sizable step toward reaching a balanced budget. But many economists question whether the economy can survive such strong medicine.


Bus-train crash kills 50 schoolchildren

CAIRO, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Egypt launched an investigation of top transportation officials Saturday, after 50 children were killed when a school bus and a train collided.

The bus was traveling over a crossing where lights and a siren warned of the approaching train, Ahram Online and the Middle East News Agency reported.

The crash occurred near the village of Manfalout in the Assiut governorate of Upper Egypt.

Eighteen school children were injured, seven critically, Assiut's governor said.

All of the children on the bus were reported to be between the ages of 4 and 6.

The bus driver, who was among the dead, drove over the crossing despite the warnings and in full view of a crossing guard and a traffic policeman, the railway authority said in a statement.

Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, Egypt's prosecutor-general, has ordered an investigation of Mohamed Rashad El-Metiny, the minister of transportation; Mostafa Qenawi, the head of the railway authority; and the crossing guard.

Metiny and Qenawi have submitted their resignations.

An eyewitness, Osama Seddik, said it took police 2 hours to arrive at the scene and only one ambulance was sent.

Recovery of the bodies was hampered by people blocking the road, looking for their children, he said.

Seddik charged that the crossing guard was asleep as the train approached.


Recount ordered in West's Fla. House race

PALM BEACH, Fla., Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Florida elections officials ordered a partial recount to begin Saturday in the race for the House seat held by Rep. Allen West, R-Fla.

The St. Lucie County Canvassing Board decided late Friday to count early-voting ballots cast in the 18th congressional district one more time.

West was trailing by 1,900 votes at last count and had been rebuffed by a judge when he asked for a recount of about 37,000 ballots. The judge said he did not have the authority to order the recount.

The Canvassing Board later decided on a 2-1 vote to take another look just to be certain, the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post reported.

"We have the responsibility to try to restore trust in an elections process that's been shrouded with uncertainty," said board member Todd Mowery.

The Washington Post said Democrat Patrick Murphy's lead over West was just slightly wider than the 0.6-percent margin that would automatically trigger a recount.


Rep. Barber wins full term in Arizona

TUCSON, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., who succeeded Gabrielle Giffords when she left Congress, has been declared the winner of his race for election to a full term.

The Arizona Republic said Saturday its analysis of the vote count, which was still under way, showed Barber had enough votes to clinch the 2nd Congressional District race against Republican challenger Martha McSally.

Barber had won an earlier special election to fill Giffords' seat after she was shot during an appearance in Tucson in 2011. Barber -- a former Giffords aide -- was among those wounded in the shooting spree that left six people dead.

KPHO-TV, Phoenix, said Barber ran on a short track record of protecting Medicare and Social Security and keeping middle class taxes low. McSally, a former Air Force pilot, focused on GOP goals of reducing taxes and federal regulations on businesses.

Barber's victory gives Arizona's congressional delegation a Democratic majority for only the second time in 45 years, the Republic said.

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