Geithner warns clock is ticking on debt
WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner warned Congress Tuesday workarounds allowing the government to pay its bills are not sustainable for much longer.
In a letter to legislative leaders, Geithner said the extraordinary measures he has been employing since the U.S. debt hit its limit of $16.4 trillion Dec. 31 will run out between mid-February and early March.
"For this reason, Congress should act as early as possible to extend normal borrowing authority in order to avoid the risk of default and any interruption in payments," Geithner urged. "If the extraordinary measures were allowed to expire without an increase in borrowing authority, Treasury would be left to fund the government solely with the cash we have on hand on any given day. As you know, cash would not be adequate to meet existing obligations for any meaningful length of time because the government is currently operating at a deficit."
Geithner noted the government makes about 80 million payments a month, including Social Security, disability, Medicare and Medicaid, veterans benefits and payments to defense contractors.
"If Congress does not act to extend borrowing authority, all of these payments would be at risk," Geithner warned. "This would impose severe economic hardship on millions of individuals and businesses across the country."
The letter came as Fitch Ratings said it would lower the U.S. credit rating if Congress stalls on raising the debt ceiling as it did in August 2011 -- when Standard & Poor's and other ratings agencies downgraded the U.S. credit rating.
N.Y. Legislature passes gun control law
ALBANY, N.Y., Jan. 15 (UPI) -- The New York state Assembly gave final legislative approval to the toughest U.S. gun-control law and sent it to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for signature.
Cuomo, a Democrat who pressed hard for the sweeping bill's passage, was expected to sign the measure within hours.
The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act passed the Democratically controlled Assembly 104-43 Tuesday afternoon after passing the Senate, controlled by a coalition of Republicans and some Democrats, 43-18 Monday night.
Some Republican Assembly members accused Cuomo during Tuesday's debate of rushing the law to passage through secret meetings.
Many Democrats in the Assembly spoke out in favor of the measure.
"I am proud ... New York is taking the lead on this issue because we must prevent and protect our public from the mass destruction that can now take place in literally seconds," The Buffalo News quoted Assembly Codes Committee Chairman Joseph Lentol, D-Brooklyn, as saying as the body began debate on the bill.
NRA releases target practice video game
WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- The National Rifle Association has released a cellphone target practice game it says is appropriate for ages 4 and older.
The NRA has been critical of the video game industry for marketing violent video games to children as leaders in Washington debate stricter gun control laws in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting that claimed 20 children and six faculty members, Politico said Tuesday.
Vice President Joe Biden has led a task force making policy recommendations to President Barack Obama. Biden's group met with the NRA last week to little progress, with NRA officials slamming Biden for "attacking the Second Amendment." The NRA said better mental health laws and fewer violent video games will help prevent mass shootings like in Newtown.
Their own shooting video game includes three versions: indoor, outdoor and skeet. The video game is free to download but users can pay 99 cents to upgrade the weapon from a free M9 to a more powerful Beretta, Browning or Colt. It also reminds users of safe gun owner rules such as avoiding using drugs or alcohol before shooting.
"[NRA: Practice Range] strikes the right balance of gaming and safety education, allowing you to enjoy the most authentic experience possible," the lobbying group told PC magazine.
$51B Sandy aid bill advances in House vote
WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- A U.S. House vote Tuesday brought a $51 billion aid bill for Superstorm Sandy closer to passage while opponents insisted the bill is a "grab bag" of spending.
The House voted 367-52 in favor of a rule for further debate on the Disaster Relief and Appropriations Act, clearing the way for a vote on the bill later Tuesday, The Hill reported.
Although most Republicans and Democrats urged support for the bill, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., argued against it, saying billions of dollars in the measure are to be spent on longer-term storm mitigation matters, rather than on immediate relief from the storm that struck the region in October, The Hill reported.
"According to the Congressional Budget Office, more than 90 percent of this money won't even be spent this year," McClintock said. "That's not emergency relief."
Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., said the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut had been very specific in describing their states' needs.
At least 50 dead as Syria shells cities
DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- At least 82 people were killed in explosions Tuesday at Aleppo University in Syria as students were taking exams, opponents of the Assad regime said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 192 people were injured in a series of blasts at the university, which is in a part of Aleppo controlled by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad. The attacks appeared to be part of an accelerated battle for control of Syria's largest city, The New York Times reported.
Rebel groups posted photographs and video online showing bodies, burned-out vehicles and property damage at the university, the Times reported.
Elements of the Free Syrian Army in Damascus were engaged in new fighting with government forces, following Syrian Air Force attacks on rebel positions, the report said.
Earlier reports said at least 50 people had been killed across Syria Tuesday as regime forces shelled major cities and government warplanes assaulted the nation's capital.
The rebel Local Coordination Committees of Syria said at least 15 people, including eight children, were killed in Houla by regime shelling, CNN reported.