Supercommittee: Cuts won't be 'fun'
WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- Members of the deficit-cutting supercommittee emerged from their first closed-door meeting in Washington Thursday offering positive vibes but no details.
"There was good camaraderie. We sensed it was historic," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., told Politico. "Everybody still wants to work together. It was big moment for us and the country. Failure is not an option."
"No comment," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said after the 12 lawmakers' hourlong breakfast meeting, with Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., saying only that the meeting was "great."
"I am convinced that everyone knows there is a moment in history that can be seized, a moment in history that must be seized," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, chairman of the House Republican Conference and one of the panel's co-chairmen. "The American people are watching. They wish to see their government work. And every member today is ready to roll up their sleeves and get about the tough, arduous business of deficit reduction.
"We know it will not be fun. We know it will not be easy. We know it will not be popular with any current political constituency. But it is critical to our republic and critical to the next generation," Hensarling added.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the panel's other co-chair, said: "This is a committee, bicameral, from all walks of life, from every side of the country, that understands the importance and the weight of the decisions we need to make. We stand ready to get to work and show the country we can work."
President Obama called for the establishment of the supercommittee, tasking it with finding $1.5 trillion in budget cuts over the next 10 years. Legislators on both sides of the aisle have pushed for the panel to find even more cuts.
White House: No Social Security cuts
WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama will protect Social Security from cuts in his latest plan to reduce the deficit, the White House said Thursday.
There was no similar pledge for Medicare.
The new position on Social Security negates what was a major concession in earlier unsuccessful "grand bargain" negotiations with Republicans and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, Politico reported.
The White House said the president's decision means changes to the inflation calculator for Social Security will not be in the new deficit-reduction package.
But the decision also will allow Obama to avoid a fight with his Democratic base over Social Security when he needs all the help he can get for his proposed $447 billion jobs program, Politico said.
White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said in a statement: "The president's recommendation for deficit reduction will not include any changes to Social Security because, as the president has consistently said, he does not believe that Social Security is a driver of our near and medium term deficits. He believes that both parties need to work together on a parallel track to strengthen Social Security for future generations rather than taking a piecemeal approach as part of a deficit reduction plan."
Politico said the administration may have to revisit unpopular Medicare cuts included in earlier failed negotiations with Boehner. In those negotiations, Obama infuriated Democrats by agreeing to slice more than $250 billion from Medicare, in part by raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67 and raising premiums for the wealthy.
Those ideas remain under discussion, officials familiar with the White House deliberations told Politico, but some Democrats are pushing the president to avoid addressing Medicare entirely.
Boehner to tax panel: No increases
WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- U.S. House Speaker John Boehner Thursday took a hard line on the economy, calling on the special debt committee to focus on spending cuts, not tax increases.
In remarks prepared for delivery to the Economic Club of Washington, Boehner, R-Ohio, said it will take a bipartisan effort to fix the economy and get spending under control.
"When it comes to producing savings to reach its $1.5 trillion deficit reduction target, the Joint Select Committee has only one option: spending cuts and entitlement reform," Boehner said.
Boehner said he is aware many people have expressed doubt the newly appointed panel will be unable to come up with a plan to trim the deficit by $1.5 trillion.
"The skepticism is understandable. A Joint Select Committee is, after all, no substitute for a president who continues to control most of the arms of government," he said.
Boehner said while it is unlikely the committee will be able to rewrite the tax code by its November deadline, it can lay the groundwork for tax reform that will lower rates for individuals and corporations while closing deductions, credits and "special carveouts."
"Making short-term fixes in exchange for long-term flawed policy is not tax reform," Boehner said. "Tax reform should deal with the whole tax code, both the personal side and the corporate side, and it should result in a code that is simpler and fairer to everyone."
Boehner took a swipe at the jobs bill offered up by President Obama, calling it "a poor substitute for the pro-growth policies that are needed to remove barriers to job creation in America."
Boehner said Washington just doesn't understand economics, saying private employers need the right incentives to hire workers.
"I can tell you the American people -- private-sector job creators in particular --- are rattled by what they've seen out of this town over the last few years," Boehner said.
"My worry is that for American job creators, all the uncertainty is turning to fear that this toxic environment for job creation is a permanent state.
"Job creators in America are essentially on strike."
Boehner said action must be taken to restore confidence in the U.S. government.
"There are a few other things I want to mention that we can do in the weeks and months ahead to free our economy and bolster confidence among our job creators," he said.
"One is very simple. Both parties can boost confidence and reassure job creators by being clear: there will be no shutdown of the federal government, and we aren't willing to default on our debt. The United States will meet its obligations to its citizens and to its creditors."
Judge allows Abdulmutallab statements
DETROIT, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- A federal judge in Detroit says incriminating statements made by a Nigerian man after allegedly trying to blow up an airliner are admissible in court.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds said Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 24, was not under the influence of painkillers when he told agents he was an al-Qaida operative following the Christmas Day 2009 incident. The judge also said a national security exception excused investigators from giving Miranda warnings before his questioning, the Detroit Free-Press reported.
"I'm satisfied based on the testimony ... that he was in fact lucid, not confused and fully oriented," Edmunds said Wednesday. "There was no reason to believe he didn't understand the questions being asked or circumstances under which he was being asked those questions."
Abdulmutallab is accused of trying to blow up Flight 253, carrying 300 people from Amsterdam to Detroit, by igniting explosives concealed in his underwear.
Pakistan: Top al-Qaida terror leader dead
WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- A U.S. official says the death of al-Qaida's chief of operations in Pakistan is a "blow" to the global terror organization.
Sources told CNN Thursday Abu Hafs al-Shari, the terror network's suspected new operational head in Pakistan, was killed in the Waziristan tribal region, but no information on his death was released. The former al-Qaida operations chief in Pakistan, Atiyah abd al-Rahman, was killed in a drone attack in late July.
Undersecretary for Defense Intelligence Michael Vickers said in Washington Tuesday eight of al-Qaida's top 20 leaders have been killed this year and Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus told a congressional hearing al-Qaida's ranks could splinter under pressure and abandon Pakistan.
"The loss of their chief of operations in Pakistan, an individual who played a key operational and administrative role for the group, will pose a challenge" for al-Qaida head Ayman al-Zawahiri, the unidentified official told the U.S. broadcaster.
With the killing May 2nd of Osama bin Laden, Zawahiri is the lone top al-Qaida leader from 2001 still alive.
Cooler temps, rain slow Minn. wildfire
ISABELLA, Minn., Sept. 15 (UPI) -- Cooler temperatures and rain helped slow the spread of a massive wildfire that has engulfed more than 100,000 acres in northeast Minnesota, officials said.
The U.S. Forest Service said firefighters Thursday were attacking the southern perimeter of the Pagami Creek fire, which had pushed about a mile outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Bulldozers, engines and tankers were being used to build fire lines and attack spot fires.
Officials said the acreage of the fire increased Wednesday, mainly because the smoke cleared enough to conduct a more thorough mapping.
The National Guard has sent in four Blackhawk helicopters and Manitoba, Canada, was sending two water bombers and an air attack plane, the forest service said in a release.
The fire, which was started by a lightning strike, is the largest the region has seen in about 100 years, Minnesota Public Radio said.