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Dec. 19, 2012 at 5:10 PM
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White House rejects Boehner's 'Plan B'

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- The White House rejected U.S. House Speaker John Boehner's "fiscal cliff" backup plan that would raise tax rates on incomes above $1 million if talks collapse.

The proposal, which the Ohio Republican dubbed "Plan B," would leave in place military and domestic spending cuts that Republicans have said could have horrible consequences, especially to national defense.

Lawmakers from both parties gave the proposal little chance of passing. Some told The Wall Street Journal they saw the offer as a largely tactical maneuver on Boehner's part.

The White House immediately rejected "Plan B," with spokesman Jay Carney saying it could not pass the Senate and "therefore will not protect middle-class families" from large tax increases scheduled to start Jan. 1.

"The president has put a balanced, reasonable proposal on the table that achieves significant deficit reduction and reflects real compromise by meeting the Republicans halfway on revenue and more than halfway on spending from where each side started," Carney said in a statement.

President Barack Obama will not accept a deal "that doesn't ask enough of the very wealthiest in taxes and instead shifts the burden to the middle class and seniors," Carney said.

Speaking with reporters at the White House Wednesday, Obama said he and Boehner are close to agreement, and urged Republicans to "take the deal."

Teacher who tried to shield kids buried

NEWTOWN, Conn., Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Newtown, Conn., continued to bury its dead Wednesday with funerals for a teacher who tried to shield students and for three children.

Victoria "Vicki" Soto, 27, a first-grade teacher at the Sandy Hook Elementary School received a police honor guard at her funeral in Stratford, Conn., CNN reported. Chairs were set up outside the Lordship Community Church to handle the overflow crowd.

Soto's cousin, James Wiltsie said she "instinctively went into action when a monster came into her classroom and tried to protect the kids that she loved so much."

"We just want the public to know that Vicki was a hero," he said.

In Newtown, three children, Daniel Barden, 7, Caroline Previdi, 6, and Charlotte Bacon, 6, were also to be buried Wednesday. A single gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, who had already killed his mother, cut down 20 children and six adults at the school Friday before taking his own life.

The 911 tapes, posted on YouTube by a police scanner buff, show responders believed at first there were two shooters in the building. NBC reported the tapes have been authenticated by police.

The first call reports "somebody shooting in the building" followed two minutes later by a call that the gunfire has continued. An early report says a teacher saw "two shooters running past the gym."

Three in State Dept. resign after report

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Three State Department officials have resigned after a report found "systemic failures" in the attack on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, an official said.

Citing a senior State Department official it did not identify, CNN reported Eric Boswell, assistant secretary of diplomatic security, and Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary of state for international programs, submitted their resignations. The official said a State Department employee in the Near East Affairs bureau also resigned, CNN reported.

Boswell and Lamb were responsible for security at the Benghazi mission.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she accepts all 29 proposals in a highly critical report on the fatal U.S. mission attack in Benghazi, Libya.

The independent Accountability Review Board report said parts of the State Department suffered from "systemic failures" in their response to the Benghazi terrorist threat and had "grossly" inadequate security, relying on local militias, which left U.S. diplomats and other personnel highly vulnerable, an unclassified summary of the report posted on the State Department's website indicated.

Wind slams SoCal; blizzard in Midwest

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Heavy wind blew through California as a storm system made its way north to the upper Midwest where blizzard-like conditions are expected, forecasters said.

About 50,000 people lost power when high winds downed trees and power lines in the Los Angeles area, where winds gusted to 35-40 mph around the city and 50 mph in higher elevations, KTLA-TV, Los Angeles, reported Wednesday. High wind warnings were posted until 2 p.m. PST Wednesday.

Weather contributed to a 60-car pileup Tuesday evening that resulted in the closure of northbound lanes along Interstate 5 near the Oregon-California border, after a tractor-trailer skidded on an icy portion of the roadway and crashed into a concrete wall, the California Highway Patrol said.

Northbound lanes of the freeway were reopened at 5 a.m. Wednesday, the Medford (Ore.) Mail Tribune reported.

Two people were hospitalized with injuries, six were treated and released and an undetermined number of stranded motorists were taken to the Siskiyou County Fairgrounds for shelter from frigid overnight temperatures, the newspaper said.

Russian ships near for Syrian evacuation

MOSCOW, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Russia is sending warships to the Mediterranean for a potential evacuation of diplomats if the Syrian regime falls, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Russia acknowledged rebel forces fighting against President Bashar Assad, who is closely allied with Russia, have taken as hostages two Russian diplomats and an Italian working with them. Rebels are demanding a ransom for their return, Voice of America said Wednesday.

Should the larger civil war lead to Assad's grip on power slipping, Russian diplomats may need to be rescued, defense officials said. Ships from the nation's fleet in the Baltic have been dispatched to the region to assist in that effort should it be necessary, officials said.

Four U.N. members to condemn Israeli plan

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Four European members of the U.N. Security Council say a joint condemnation of Israel's plan to build settlements in East Jerusalem is being prepared.

The statement, expected this week from the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Portugal, follows criticism by the United States of the planned expansion of construction in the Ramat Shlomo area -- which would make a two-state solution, with Jerusalem as a shared capital between Israel and the new Palestine, difficult to achieve -- the British newspaper The Guardian said Wednesday.

"Plans of new construction run counter to the cause of peace. Israel's leaders continually say they support a path towards a two-state solution, yet these actions only put that goal further at risk," said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

The U.N. General Assembly, in a non-binding resolution Tuesday, condemned Israel's plans by a vote of 196 to six.

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