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Jan. 3, 2013 at 11:59 AM
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Allen outlines U.S. options in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Between 6,000 and 20,000 U.S. troops would stay in Afghanistan after 2014, plans submitted by Gen. John Allen, senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, indicated.

A senior military official said Allen offered Defense Secretary Leon Panetta three plans, each with different troop levels -- 6,000, 10,000 and 20,000 -- and risk-factor probabilities, The New York Times reported Thursday.

The 6,000-troop option would probably pose the highest risk of failure for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, the option with 10,000 troops would carry a medium risk and the 20,000-force option would be the lowest risk of the three, the official said.

However, the official told the Times the more important consideration in the success of any post-2014 U.S. mission in the Asian country depended on how well, or whether, the Afghan government could deliver basic services to its citizens.

Defense officials told the Times it wasn't clear if President Obama had studied the options, but said they expect him to discuss them with Afghan President Hamid Karzai next week in Washington.

The Obama administration recently has been considering the size and mission of a U.S. force that would remain after 2014 to help boost Afghan stability. Currently, about 66,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan.

Under an agreement between NATO and the Afghan government, the NATO combat mission ends Dec. 31, 2014, when the Afghan Army and police assume full responsibility for their country's security.

McConnell: Now time to address spending

HONOLULU, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Now that the issue of taxes has been addressed, U.S. lawmakers can address the "real" problem -- federal spending, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

McConnell, R-Ky., negotiated what he called an "imperfect solution" with Vice President Joe Biden to avert the country from going over the "fiscal cliff" of increased taxes and across-the-board spending cuts.

President Obama signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 Wednesday while he was in Hawaii with his family. The law makes permanent lower tax rates passed during President George W. Bush's administration on income up to $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for families; permanently indexes the Alternative Minimum Tax exemption amount to the Consumer Price Index; extends emergency unemployment benefits for one year; continues existing Medicare payment rates for physician services through Dec. 31; extends farm bill policies and programs through Sept. 30, and delays automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts for two months.

Income above $400,000 (individual) and $450,000 (couple) will be taxed at the rate of 39.6 percent, which was effect when President Clinton was in office.

"[Now] that the president has gotten his long-sought tax hike on the 'rich,' we can finally turn squarely toward the real problem, which is spending," McConnell wrote in a commentary published by Yahoo! Wednesday.

"The first day of a new Congress always represents a fresh start," the Republican from Kentucky wrote. This year, it also presents a perfect opportunity to tackle the single-greatest challenge facing our nation: reining in the out-of-control federal spending that threatens to permanently alter our economy and dim the prospects and opportunities of future generations of Americans."

He said the deal shielded more than 99 percent of taxpayers from a massive tax hike "that President Obama was all-too willing to impose."

McConnell said the debate on taxes "is over. Now the conversation turns to cutting spending on the government programs that are the real source of the nation's fiscal imbalance."

New faces, familiar names in new Congress

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- More than 90 new congressional members take their oaths of office Thursday when the 113th Congress convenes.

In the House of Representatives, Joseph Kennedy of Massachusetts brings the Kennedy name back to Congress after a four-year absence, succeeding Rep. Barney Frank, who retired, The Hill reported.

Democrat Donald Payne Jr. of New Jersey will succeed his father, the late Rep. Donald Payne, also a Democrat. Another Democrat keeping a seat in the family is Dan Kildee of Michigan, who replaced his uncle, retiring Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich.

In the Senate, four women were elected, bringing the total to 20 -- four Republicans and 16 Democrats -- a record.

Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren upended incumbent Scott Brown in one of the most followed races.

Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is the first openly gay person elected to the Senate, although she has downplayed the historic aspect of her election.

Six new senators are from the House, including Baldwin, Arizona Republican Jeff Flake and Democrats Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.

Reid to delay filibuster talks

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will delay filibuster reform to give him time to negotiate with Republicans, Democratic lawmakers and aides said.

A senior Democratic aide said Reid will recess the chamber Thursday, the first day of the new Congress, at the end the day's proceedings to extend the legislative day until later this month, preserving his ability to amend the Senate's filibuster rules, The Hill reported.

An aide said Reid, D-Nev., also hopes to negotiate with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., language on a standing order or rules change to improve the chamber's efficiency when it resumes work after President Obama's inauguration.

"I think the conversation is going to continue between McConnell and Harry Reid about this," Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said. "I think they're going to see if there's a way to reach a bipartisan agreement, they're still talking."

"We're going to preserve our rights, we're going to stay in the first legislative day and deal with the rules when we get back after the inauguration," Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., a proponent of reform, told The Hill.

Reid and McConnell are basing their discussion on a bipartisan proposal developed by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman and ranking Republican of the Senate Armed Services Committee, aides said.

The Levin-McCain proposal, among other things, would make it easier for the majority leader to take up new business by allowing him to deny the minority the ability to filibuster motions to proceed, The Hill said. In exchange, the leader must guarantee the minority leader and a bill's minority floor manager each the right to offer an amendment, even if it isn't germane to the bill under consideration.

Liberals said they're not enthused by the Levin-McCain proposal because it doesn't implement their top reform priority, the "talking filibuster."

Udall and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., the leading advocates for filibuster reform, told The Hill lawmakers who filibuster legislation should be required to actively hold the floor and debate, meaning they would have to organize teams to hold the floor if they want to delay consideration of legislation or nominees.

Gang rape suspects charged

DELHI, India, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- The men accused in the rape and death of an Indian woman were charged with murder, rape and kidnapping in a Delhi court Thursday, a police official said.

Deputy Police Commissioner Suman Nalwa said police submitted charges against five suspects in court in Saket, a southern district of Delhi where the attack occurred, CNN reported.

Nalwa said authorities were waiting for results from a bone marrow test before deciding whether to charge a sixth suspect, believed to be a minor, as a juvenile or an adult. The test was conducted to determine the suspect's exact age.

The Dec. 16 attack on the 23-year-old woman, who died from her injuries Saturday, has prompted debate over the way the country handles sexual assaults and the treatment of women in Indian society.

The men are accused of assaulting the woman and her male companion on a private bus, robbing them then throwing them off the bus, police said. The male companion eventually was discharged from a local hospital.

The woman was flown to a Singapore hospital, where she died, for specialized treatment.

Street protests, which have been a daily occurrence since the woman's death, were held again Thursday in the Indian capital.

Authorities said they plan to seek death penalty for the five defendants. If the sixth person is confirmed to be a minor, he could be sent to a children's home for a maximum of three years.

Lawyers who make up the executive board of the Saket Bar Association Wednesday said they wouldn't represent any of the accused because of the nature of the crime, and have encouraged its 7,000 members to follow their lead.

The accused could be represented by attorneys from other districts or ones appointed by the court, CNN said.

Russia plans construction of 50 warships

MOSCOW, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Russia will build more than 50 warships by 2016 in a multibillion-dollar plan to upgrade its military capabilities, defense officials said Thursday.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement six strategic nuclear submarines and special operations support vessels, 18 surface warships, and 30 special-purpose and counter-subversion vessels are planned for construction, RIA Novosti reported.

The statement added that each new vessel will be more technologically advanced, with the "introduction of new technical and modernization solutions into each subsequently built warship."

Officials said Russia expects to spend $659 billion in its current rearmament program by 2020.

The ministry announced Wednesday it will conduct naval drills later this month in Mediterranean and Black seas that will involve the Northern, Baltic, Black Sea and Pacific fleets.

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