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March 10, 2013 at 5:00 PM
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Senators encouraged by budget talks

WASHINGTON, March 10 (UPI) -- A pair of U.S. senators expressed optimism Republicans and Democrats will come together to address the nation's ongoing taxation and spending stalemate.

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., said the two sides are inching closer to a deal that averts a government shutdown and settles once and for all questions on tax rates, domestic and military spending and entitlement benefits.

Coburn praised President Barack Obama for reaching out to Republicans last week in personal appeals, including a dinner hosted at a Washington hotel for roughly a dozen senators, where Obama made his pitch in person -- and picked up the check.

"One of the points I'd make is the fact that this is news, it is news in itself because it shouldn't be news that the president is reaching out in a bipartisan fashion to try to solve problems for the country," Coburn said. "And it just shows you -- that he is moving in the right direction. I'm proud of him for doing it and I think it's a great thing."

For his part, Kaine said progress on the federal budget is closer now than at similar points in previous failed negotiations between the two sides -- and that it should include all elements, including Medicare and Social Security, two programs both sides have been loathe to touch given the potential political backlash.

"I do agree with ... what Tom said at the end of the day, we're going to have to find a balanced solution, and it will involve all elements," Kaine said. "It will involve talking about revenues, talking about expenses, talking about entitlements, we have to do that."

Kaine called on senators to forgo their own salaries if a deal isn't in place by mid-April.

Senator: Medicare reform depends on Obama

WASHINGTON, March 10 (UPI) -- A Republican U.S. senator said the table talk at his recent dinner with President Obama focused on healthcare as the crux of the nation's economic issues.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., said Sunday last week's bipartisan White House gathering was productive in setting priorities for the thorny job of crafting economic policy, and healthcare in general and Medicare in particular were a top priority.

"Basically Americans pay in a dollar, but they get more than $3 in benefits," Johnson said on ABC's "This Week." The president "said people generally don't understand that. They think that money is theirs."

Johnson said he told Obama that as president, he was "in a unique position to be able to make sure the American people understand that."

"We're not going to be able to solve these very difficult problems unless we start laying the groundwork, and prepare the American people for some of the solutions," Johnson added.

Rep. Debbie Wassermann Schultz, D-Fla., chair of the Democratic National Committee, added it could be a tall order for Obama to begin forging relationships with congressional Republicans when he visits the Capitol this week given the tense partisan atmosphere on the Hill. "It is really hard to make tough decisions, and reach consensus when there is such a trust gap," she said.

Bush: Immigration reform a priority

WASHINGTON, March 10 (UPI) -- Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he thinks illegal immigrants in America should return to their home countries and wait behind those immigrating legally.

The comments, made on a round of Sunday political talk shows promoting a new book on the topic, come after a week of questions over whether Bush has changed his position on illegal immigration. Bush formerly supported a pathway to citizenship for illegals -- a compromise being debated by a bipartisan group of senators. Now he argues such a pathway would encourage more illegal immigration and shouldn't be a main focus of reform.

Republican senators in the so-called "Gang of Eight" have said they are for creating a citizenship pathway but only after the border is deemed secure enough to fend off a new wave of illegal immigration from those hoping to get in on the deal.

"There is not much light between what we are suggesting in the book and what is being worked on right now, which is very encouraging," Bush said on "Fox News Sunday."

On the larger issue of the Republican party's direction following Mitt Romney's defeat last year, Bush said the GOP must "not just be reacting to what we think is wrong about the president's policies."

"We need to be advocating positive policies as well," he said on "Face the Nation." "And I think there is a growing awareness that that's the case."

Addressing his own political ambitions, Bush -- brother and son of two former U.S. presidents -- said he has not decided whether he will run in the future, and that he won't be deciding any time soon.

"We just had an election. Four years is a long way from now. And I think it's better to stay focused on the things that I'm doing now," he said.

Rape video case headed to trial

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio, March 10 (UPI) -- A rape trial of two Ohio high school football players will center on whether the victim was too drunk to consent to sex acts, lawyers said.

The case involving two Steubenville High School football players, made national news when a 12-minute video of several teens talk and joke about raping the girl went viral on the Internet.

Defense attorneys argue the video amounts to teens joking around and that the girl, who lives in nearby Weirton, W. Va., went against her friends' wishes and left a party with the boys prior to the alleged assault -- signs she consented to the sex acts.

The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer said attendees at the several parties to which the accused brought the girl said she was at various points in the night coherent enough to use her cellphone and nearly passed out drunk. Prosecutors said both suspects penetrated the girl digitally, a sex act that is tantamount to rape if not consensual under Ohio law.

Also at issue, whether the girl, 16, was "substantially impaired" to the point she could not say either yes or no to sex -- and whether the accused should have known she was at that point.

"There's an abundance of evidence here that she was making decisions, cognitive choices," defense attorney Walter Madison said at an October pretrial hearing. "She didn't affirmatively say no."

Prosecutors from the Ohio Attorney General's office argued the video evidence speaks for itself -- just because the girl was too drunk to say "no" doesn't mean she consented.

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