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Jan. 15, 2013 at 8:21 AM
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Bernanke: Raise debt ceiling, no strings

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Congress must raise the debt ceiling and not use a potential U.S. debt default as leverage to get spending cuts.

"Raising the debt ceiling, which Congress has to do periodically, gives the government the ability to pay its existing bills -- it doesn't create new deficits, it doesn't create new spending," Bernanke said at the University of Michigan.

"Not raising the debt ceiling is sort of like a family, which is trying to improve its credit rating, saying, 'Oh, I know how we can save money -- we won't pay our credit card bills,'" he said.

Bernanke, a registered Republican first appointed as Fed chairman by President George W. Bush in 2006, said policymakers face "difficult and contentious decisions" about spending and tax policies. But those decisions should not be made "in the context of the debt ceiling," he said.

"The right way to deal with this problem is for Congress to do what it is supposed to do and what it needs to do," he said.

Bernanke's comments came a few hours after President Barack Obama at the White House demanded Congress unconditionally increase the legal limit on the government's authority to borrow money to pay its bills, while Republican leaders on Capitol Hill insisted they would require government-spending cuts in exchange for a debt-limit increase.

France to send additional troops to Mali

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- France will send nearly 2,000 additional troops to Mali to assist the country's army until African troops arrive, President Francois Hollande said Tuesday.

During a visit to the United Arab Emirates, Hollande estimated it would take African troops a "good week" to arrive in Mali to help the country's army combat al Qaida-linked rebels, the Financial Times reported.

France has carried out four days of bombing against the well-armed Islamists in Mali's north at the request of the Mali government. The French intervention was prompted by a rebel advance last week and growing fear that Mali has become a haven for terrorists.

Euronews.net reported Tuesday that militant Islamists have fled from several towns they had occupied in the north.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he expects Gulf states to assist with the operation to oust the Islamic rebels. A donor meeting for the Mali campaign will be held at the end of the month.

The United States, Canada, Denmark, Germany and Belgium all offered logistical support for France's military operation following a Monday night meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

Reports: SC orders arrest of Pakistani PM

ISLAMABAD, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- The Pakistani Supreme Court Tuesday ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and 15 others in an alleged kickback case.

The news of the arrest came as Islamabad was in the midst of a huge anti-corruption political rally led by a Pakistani-Canadian Islamic cleric, raising concerns about political stability in the country, CNN reported. Elections are scheduled after March when the current term of the civilian government of Ashraf and President Asif Ali Zardari ends.

CNN and local television channels reported the Supreme Court order resulted from allegations of kickbacks going back to when Ashraf had been water and power minister.

Geo News, quoting sources, said after the Supreme Court order Ashraf called a meeting of his ministers. The sources were quoted as saying he was waiting for the full text of the court order before talking to Zardari.

The Zardari government and the Supreme Court have not seen eye to eye in recent months in other cases related to graft. Ashraf became prime minister after the Court dismissed his predecessor, Yousaf Raza Gilani, following reopening of old graft cases against Zardari.

Fawad Chaudhry, an adviser to Ashraf, was quoted as telling a local broadcaster the latest court's decision is "a soft coup" against democracy, adding the prime minister has repeatedly denied the allegations, CNN reported.

King: Amendments could kill $51B Sandy aid

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- A Northeastern U.S. House Republican said amendments by GOP colleagues could kill $51 billion in Superstorm Sandy aid set for a vote Tuesday.

"We were told the bill was coming up as is," Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who represents hard-hit central Long Island, told The Hill.

But instead, conservative House Republicans outside the Northeast submitted 92 amendments to the package to either cut spending they saw as non-essential or demand budget cuts in popular programs elsewhere to offset the Sandy package.

Congress has historically not offset disaster relief with spending cuts, and lawmakers from states hit by Sandy expressed outrage by proposals to do so now.

The White House Monday urged the House to steer clear of requiring offsets.

At least 15 of the 92 amendments would likely make it to the House floor Tuesday, King told The Hill, adding, "Some of them would kill the bill."

Adding to King's anger is that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, promised him Jan. 2 the disaster-relief measure would receive expedited treatment, King told The Hill.

Rubio, Villaraigosa air immigration plans

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- Two men, rising stars in their political parties, offered proposals for U.S. immigration reform that address the 11 million undocumented workers already here.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., pushing to take the lead on the flashpoint issue, previewed a plan that includes measures to give legal status in some instances.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for comprehensive immigration legislation that includes a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people already in the United States illegally, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Rubio outlined his proposals last week with The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Among other things, Rubio said any legislation should ensure fair treatment for immigrants who play by the rules, as well as recognize that legal immigration has been good for the United States in the past and is "critical to our future."

Under Villaraigosa's plan, illegal immigrants would undergo background checks, demonstrate skills and knowledge of the English language, U.S. civics and pay back taxes before they could be processed for legal status.

Villaraigosa, who is Mexican-American, also said immigration overhaul should include effective employment verification and "smart enforcement."

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