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Jan. 3, 2013 at 5:00 PM   |   Comments

Boehner, Pelosi remain House party leaders

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, at times overcome by emotion, urged lawmakers to tackle the nation's debt so it won't be passed on to future generations.

"We're sent here not to be something, but to do something," Boehner said Thursday after he was re-elected speaker on the first day of the new Congress.

Saying the country was weighed down by the "anchor of debt," he said lawmakers have the chance to "secure for our children freedom and opportunity; nothing is more important."

"Our government has built up too much debt. Our economy is not producing enough jobs. These are not separate problems," the Republican from Ohio said. "At $16 trillion and rising, our national debt is draining free enterprise and weakening the ship of state."

"That burden is ours and so is the opportunity," he said. "We know it's wrong to pass this debt on to our kids and grandkids. We have to be willing, truly willing, to make this right."

Quoting the Bible, Boehner said there was a time for every purpose.

"For the 113th Congress, it is a time to rise," he said. "When the day is over, and the verdict is read, may it be said that we well and faithfully did our duty to ensure freedom will endure and prevail."

His oath of office was administered by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the dean of the chamber.

Boehner was introduced by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who was re-elected the Democratic leader.

"Each of us here today is truly a representative ... of the best hopes and aspirations of the American people," Pelosi said.

Noting the two parties won't always agree, Pelosi, D-Calif., said she hoped they could "find common ground" for the good of the country.

"This is the people's house," Pelosi said before handing the gavel to Boehner. "This is the people's gavel -- it represents a sacred trust."

After withstanding withering criticism over legislation to avert the "fiscal cliff" of tax hikes and across-the-board spending cuts and the decision not to take up relief for Superstorm Sandy victims before the 112th Congress adjourned, Boehner received 220 votes Thursday.

Pelosi received 192 votes and 15 representatives either voted "present" or for someone else.

The House of Representatives has 233 Republicans and 200 Democrats. Special elections will be conducted in April and May for the vacant seats held by Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., who resigned, and Tim Scott, R-S.C., who was named by Gov. Nikki Haley to succeed Sen. Jim DeMint, who resigned to lead the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

The 12-member freshmen class in the Senate includes Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., the first openly gay person elected to the Senate; and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, the first Buddhist, the first Asian-American woman and the first Japanese-born person elected to the Senate, Roll Call said.

Vice President Joe Biden, as president of the Senate, conducted a ceremonial swearing-in with each member just outside the Senate chamber.

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., returned to the Senate Thursday after suffering a stroke in January 2012. After re-learning how to walk in the last year, Kirk climbed the steps of the Capitol, accompanied by Biden, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., among others.


Obama signs defense act, but has doubts

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- President Obama said portions of the defense bill he signed Thursday may be unconstitutional congressional intrusions but he will implement them.

Obama particularly objected to provisions of the bill that restrict his ability to transfer prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and a detention center in Afghanistan.

"Several provisions in the bill ... raise constitutional concerns. Section 1025 places limits on the military's authority to transfer third country nationals currently held at the detention facility in Parwan, Afghanistan," Obama said in a statement released by the White House.

"That facility is located within the territory of a foreign sovereign in the midst of an armed conflict. Decisions regarding the disposition of detainees captured on foreign battlefields have traditionally been based upon the judgment of experienced military commanders and national security professionals without unwarranted interference by members of Congress.

"Section 1025 threatens to upend that tradition," he added, "and could interfere with my ability as commander in chief to make time-sensitive determinations about the appropriate disposition of detainees in an active area of hostilities. Under certain circumstances, the section could violate constitutional separation of powers principles. If section 1025 operates in a manner that violates constitutional separation of powers principles, my administration will implement it to avoid the constitutional conflict."

Obama also said Congress has designed and renewed some sections of the act "in order to foreclose my ability to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. I continue to believe that operating the facility weakens our national security by wasting resources, damaging our relationships with key allies, and strengthening our enemies.


Clinton 'raring' to return to work

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is "raring to go" and return to work next week after being hospitalized for a blood clot, a department spokeswoman said.

Clinton was resting at home after being discharged Wednesday from New York Presbyterian Hospital, where she was being treated for a blood clot on her brain, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday.

"Some of the senior staff who spoke to her ... say that she's sounding terrific, upbeat, raring to go," Nuland said.

Clinton is looking forward to returning to the office and "is very much planning to do so next week," Nuland said.

The spokeswoman said she didn't know when Clinton would return.

Clinton also remained committed to testifying before Congress about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Nuland said.

"[We] are working with the committees on an appropriate set of dates," she said.

In December, a stomach illness forced Clinton to cancel her appearance on Capitol Hill. She suffered a concussion when she fainted after becoming dehydrated from the bug, her office said.

Clinton, 65, checked into New York Presbyterian Hospital Sunday with a blood clot, which apparently developed after her fall and concussion. She was treated with blood thinners during her hospital stay and was expected to make a full recovery, doctors said.


Effort under way to move beached oil rig

SEATTLE, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Efforts are under way to salvage a beached oil rig in the waters off Alaska, maritime officials said Thursday.

The massive mobile Kulluk oil rig, owned by Shell, beached after a tow line snapped in a raging storm while it was being hauled to Seattle for maintenance. Veteran sailors questioned whether it was wise to attempt towing the buoy-shaped rig that towers 230 feet over the ocean's surface in January, a time where fierce weather is commonplace in the north Pacific, the Seattle Times said.

Shell officials said weather models showed a positive two-week window for the tow and pointed to a Coast Guard review that gave them the go-ahead. They told the Times a series of unforeseen mechanical problems with one of the two tugboats was primarily to blame.

The rig is beached off Alaska's Sitkalikdak Island. It contains 143,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 12,000 gallons of lubricant, though the hull of the rig has not been breached.

Salvage workers from the Dutch company Smit Salvage have arrived at the rig and are inspecting it for leaks prior to developing a plan to dislodge it, the Anchorage Daily News said. No immediate leaks were found, but weather prevented the team from completing a full inspection, a Coast Guard official said.

"What we wanted to know immediately was, were any of the fuel tanks breached, and what we got from that initial report, was no. However there were other voids that they felt they had concern," Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler said.

He added a plan to dislodge the rig is still likely weeks away.


Poll: Personal optimism about 2013 high

PRINCETON, N.J., Jan. 3 (UPI) -- A majority of Americans say they're optimistic about how they and their families will fare in 2013, results of a Gallup poll released Thursday indicate.

Sixty-nine percent expressed such optimism, while 27 percent said they were pessimistic, the USA Today-Gallup poll indicated.

In a poll released Wednesday, a majority of Americas generally expressed pessimism about the prospects for the U.S. economy.

Americans' personal optimism about 2013 is tied to political and ideological orientation, results of the Princeton, N.J., polling agency indicated. Democrats and liberals are the most personally optimistic about the coming year while Republicans and conservatives are the least.

Personal optimism about 2013 also varied by demographics, Gallup said.

Results showed little significant difference in personal optimism across socio-economic segments. However, the poll found optimism fell by age, from 80 percent among 18- to 29-year-olds to 54 percent among those 65 and older.

The poll indicated women were more optimistic than men, 71 percent to 66 percent.

By 79 percent to 65 percent, non-whites were more optimistic than whites, Gallup said.

Results are based on nationwide telephone interviews with 1,025 adults conducted Dec. 14-17. The margin of error is 4 percentage points.

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