WASHINGTON, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- Democrats' insistence on maintaining lower U.S. tax rates for 98 percent of taxpayers is a reversal of their initial stance on the rates, experts said.
With the Jan. 1 deadline approaching, R. Glenn Hubbard, dean of the Columbia Business School who designed the tax cuts enacted during the administration of George. W. Bush, told The Washington Post he finds it "deeply ironic" Democrats want to preserve the lower tax rates for the first $250,000 of income. He noted Democrats strongly opposed enactment of the cuts when they first were proposed a decade ago.
The tax cuts, which have been extended several times, are set to expire and coincide with across-the-board spending cuts imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011, pushing the economy over the so-called "fiscal cliff" economists say could throw the country back into recession.
Though efforts to avoid the cliff so far have fizzled -- the latest last week's "Plan B" offered by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, but rejected by his caucus -- investors still are hopeful a deal can be reached, Julia Coronado, chief North American economist at BNP Paribas, told The New York Times, noting markets have been "incredibly complacent."
"The longer this goes on, the more nervous I get about first-quarter growth. If negotiations were to linger into March, then the first quarter could be much weaker," said Dean Maki, chief U.S. economist for Barclays Capital. Maki told the Times it's likely no agreement will be reached before the Jan. 1 deadline although something is possible after that.
Steven Elmendorf, chief of staff to former House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., said economic conditions have changed and that's why Democrats want to preserve the tax cuts in part.
Poll: More fearing 'fiscal cliff'
PRINCETON, N.J., Dec. 26 (UPI) -- Nearly half of U.S. taxpayers doubt President Obama and Congress will reach a deal to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" before Jan. 1, a poll indicates.
The Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire and a series of massive budget cuts are scheduled to kick in Jan. 1, producing what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke dubbed the "fiscal cliff" and which some economists say could push the U.S. economy back into recession.
A Gallup poll released Wednesday indicated 50 percent of those polled believe a deal will be reached while 48 percent said they doubted it. Sixty-eight percent advised negotiators to compromise.
Fifty-four percent of those polled said they approved the way Obama has handled the negotiations, up from 48 percent the week before. Democrats also received a boost, with 45 percent saying they approved of Democrats' performance, compared with 34 percent earlier in the month; Republican approval fell to 26 percent from 29 percent.
Sixty-four percent of those polled said they are following the negotiations very or somewhat closely while 36 percent said they're not paying much or any attention.
Gallup polled 1,076 adults across the country Dec. 21-22. The poll had an error margin of 4 percentage points and a 95 percent confidence rating.
Police probe Gregory's use of magazine
WASHINGTON, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- A Washington, D.C. police spokesman said authorities are investigating whether NBC's David Gregory violated laws when he showed a 30-round gun magazine on air.
Gregory displayed the magazine Sunday during a Washington interview with the head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre.
Politico said Gregory asked LaPierre whether fewer children would have died during the Sandy Hook elementary massacre if the gunman had access to fewer bullets.
The Washington Metropolitan Police spokesman wouldn't comment specifically on what they are investigating, but cited Washington code violations and restrictions on guns.
A section in the city's code says that no one "shall possess, sell, or transfer any large capacity ammunition feeding device regardless whether the device is attached to a firearm."
Head Syrian military policeman defects
ANKARA, Turkey, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- One of Syria's highest-ranking officials fled to Turkey Wednesday, saying the army had failed to protect the people from "gangs of murder."
Lt. Gen. Abdulaziz al-Shalal issued a video statement after crossing into Turkey, accusing the military of massacring villagers instead of protecting them, the BBC reported.
"I declare my defection from the army because of its deviation from its fundamental mission to protect the nation and transformation into gangs of murder and destruction," the statement, posted online, said.
The BBC said al-Shalal had been suspected of aiding rebels since the uprising against Bashar Assad's government began in March 2011.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights said its daily count of casualties listed 156 people killed across Syria Tuesday, including 10 children and eight women. The violence was the heaviest in the Damascus area, where 55 fatalities were reported. An estimated 40,000 people have died since the uprising began.
5 Christians fatally shot in Nigeria
POTISKUM, Nigeria, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- Suspected Boko Haram militant gunmen in Nigeria fatally shot five Christian worshipers who were praying, police said.
The shooting happened in the city of Potiskum at about 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday, Xinhua reported.
"They opened fire on the worshipers while praying and observing the Christmas celebration at about 2 a.m. local time on Tuesday, " a security official said.
"Five of the worshipers died and some were injured. The gunmen also burnt down the church after the killing," Barnabas Musa, a Potiskum resident who also lost a relative in the attack.
The pastor of the church was among those killed, Musa said.
No arrests have been made; police are investigating the incident.