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  |   March 13, 2013 at 5:00 PM
Latin American becomes new pope

VATICAN CITY, March 13 (UPI) -- Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, a Jesuit, is the new pope, the first Latin American in history, taking the papal name of Francis.

The fact that he chose a reformer's name was seen as a signal he might make great changes in the church. Like St. Francis of Assisi, Bergoglio has been known for his simplicity, humility and rejection of material comforts.

He is also the first non-European pope in history, and is an Argentinian, though of Italian ancestry. He is known to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage, and has spent his entire career in Argentina. He also is a member of the Jesuits, sometimes known as the pope's "shock troops."

The 76-year-old pope appeared on the balcony above a packed St. Peter's Square before more than 100,000 cheering people who braved cold and rainy weather.

"Dear brothers and sisters, good evening," the new pope told the crowd. "You know the duty of the conclave was to appoint a bishop of Rome and it seems to me that my brother cardinals have chosen one from far away. But here I am.

"I want to thank you for your embrace."

Francis asked the crowd to pray for his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who resigned last month.

After leading the crowd in the Our Father and Hail Mary, Francis said before he would bless the crowd he would ask members to bless him in silent prayer.

"Let us begin this journey together ... it is a journey of friendship, of love, of faith, of trust between us," Francis told the crowd.

"Let us pray for the whole world."

Francis said his blessing was "to you and to the world, to men and women of good will," and called on "the Holy Spirit to descend on you and remain with you always."


Obama eyes 'common sense caucus' on budget

WASHINGTON, March 13 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama says he is trying to identify a "common sense caucus" of members of Congress who can reach a compromise on the budget crisis.

In an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Obama was asked whether his current series of meetings with members of Congress was designed to "go around" GOP leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who has insisted Republicans will not accept any new revenues as part of deficit reduction.

"I don't think it's to break or go around them," Obama said. "I think it is to identify -- members, particularly in the Senate, but I think also in the House, who are just tired of havin' the same argument over and over again. And -- what I call the common-sense caucus, which says -- we can do sensible deficit reduction with a combination of entitlement reform, some judicious spending cuts, closing some tax loopholes that nobody really defends on their own."

With this group, "we can do sensible deficit reduction with a combination of entitlement reform, some judicious spending cuts, closing some tax loopholes that nobody really defends on their own," the president said.

Rather than the arbitrary cuts created by the sequestration, the president said, "we can actually put in place a growth strategy that creates jobs and protects the middle class and helps them thrive and grow."

He said there were only "a finite number of changes that could be made to deal with our deficit."

The interview aired hours before Obama met on Capitol Hill with House Republicans, telling them balancing the federal budget is not his top priority.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., one of several Republicans who left the meeting before it concluded, said Obama told Republicans he is concerned balancing the budget would require spending cuts so deep they would slow the economic recovery, Roll Call reported.

In recent dinner meetings with congressional leaders, Obama said he had discovered that "people don't always know what I've actually proposed. And it's a lot easier to have a conversation when there's something specific."

Obama downplayed the consequences should Congress not come to a budget agreement.

There is no "immediate crisis," he said, but failing to find a solution "means that we will have missed an opportunity."

White House press secretary, asked at Wednesday's daily briefing with reporters about the president's contention that there is no immediate debt crisis, said the economy has stabilized since the financial meltdown of 2008 and is "back on the path of growth and job creation."

"Once that stabilization began to take hold, he turned towards the task of reducing our deficit, which he believes is also a worthy and necessary goal when it is part of the overall project, the overall number-one priority which is growth and job creation," Carney said.

Carney said the deficit as a share of gross domestic product has fallen each year since 2010.

"We need to make decisions that affect the long term, and the long term not just in terms of deficit reduction, but in terms of economic growth," Carney said.

He also noted Obama has signed into law "with Democratic support more than $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction, more than four to one, four dollars to one dollar in spending cuts. That represents compromise."


4 dead in New York State shooting spree

HERKIMER, N.Y., March 13 (UPI) -- Police in upstate New York said they were searching Wednesday for a suspect in at least four deaths in shootings at a barber shop and a car wash.

Two people were killed and two were wounded in a shooting at John's Barber Shop in Mohawk and two were shot and killed at Gaffey's Car Wash in the neighboring town of Herkimer, WKTV-TV, Utica, reported.

The Utica Observer reported police were searching for Kurt Myers, 64, of Mohawk, described as having white hair and a white beard.

Police described Myers as "armed and extremely dangerous."

Investigators said they were "familiar" with Myers, but would not discuss whether he had a criminal record, the newspaper reported.

Witnesses said the suspect fled a shooting scene in a red Jeep with a black top that police said had been found shortly after 10 a.m. EDT in Herkimer. A librarian at the Herkimer public library said she saw the jeep drive through the parking lot shortly after the shootings.

Police said they believe the suspect set fire to his home in Mohawk just before 9:30 a.m., before going to the barber shop where he allegedly used a long gun to shoot several people before moving on to the car wash, the Observer reported. He then allegedly drove across the Mohawk River to Herkimer on the north side.

Schools in the area were locked down while police searched for the gunman, but classes proceeded as normal, school district officials said.

The identities of the victims were not released.


Gabrielle Giffords' husband buys AR-15

TUCSON, March 13 (UPI) -- Mark Kelly, husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, R-Ariz., says he bought a military-style assault weapon in Tucson to show how easy it is.

Kelly said he plans to surrender the AR-15 to Tucson police, KTVK-TV, Phoenix, reported.

"It's important for me to have first-hand knowledge about how easy it is or difficult it is to buy a weapon like that," Kelly said. "For a weapon that's so deadly, and really designed for the military especially with the high capacity magazines, it's a pretty easy thing to do, even with a background check."

Giffords suffered a traumatic head injury Jan. 8, 2011, when Jared Loughner, a community college student, opened fire at a meet-and-greet outside a Tucson supermarket. She and her husband, a Navy officer and NASA shuttle commander, have founded Americans for Responsible Solutions, a group that pushes for expanded background checks for gun buyers.

Kelly said he bought a handgun he intends to keep from the store and then decided to purchase an AR-15.

Douglas MacKinlay, the store owner, told KTAR, Phoenix, he checked that Kelly was an Arizona resident when he produced only a Texas license, making him return with additional proof of residency. MacKinlay said he recognized Kelly.

"We were certainly wondering what his intent was," MacKinlay said. "But it is not for us to question a customer, other than to question that they are a lawful purchaser and that they don't have any criminal intent to use that firearm."


Gov. Brewer sets push to expand Medicaid

PHOENIX, March 13 (UPI) -- Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has unveiled a proposal to expand Medicaid to 400,000 more people that faces opposition within her own Republican party.

In a rally at the state Capitol in Phoenix, Brewer said expansion would bring in billions in federal dollars while saving the lives of people who otherwise would have no health coverage, The Arizona Republic reported Tuesday.

While stating that "I've always been proud to be a member of a pro-life party," the governor said "I refuse to stand by and let this many people needlessly suffer, especially when we have a solution."

Brewer said without expansion 50,000 people would be dropped from Medicaid when a federal waiver expires at the end of the year.

Six GOP lawmakers, including House Health Committee chairwoman Heather Crane, stood with Brewer at the rally.

Chris Herstam,, a lobbyist and former GOP lawmaker, described the legislation as "very basic, easy to understand," and said it was a testament to Brewer's "political courage."

Grass-roots Republican officials are among the critics blasting the proposal. They argue the federal government can't afford to expand Medicaid and that it goes against GOP principles to grow entitlements.

Republican legislators fear the federal government could reverse course on its willingness to pay for most of the expansion and stick the state with the additional Medicare costs.

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