Counteroffer: Medicare, Social Security on the table as GOP issues new 'fiscal cliff' offer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans put forth a $2.2 trillion "fiscal cliff" counteroffer to President Barack Obama on Monday, calling for raising the eligibility age for Medicare, lowering cost-of-living hikes for Social Security benefits and bringing in $800 billion in higher tax revenue -- but not raising rates for the wealthy.
The White House declared the Republicans still weren't ready to "get serious" and again vowed tax rate increases will be in any measure Obama signs to prevent the government from the cliff's automatic tax hikes and sharp spending cuts. Administration officials also hardened their insistence that Obama is willing to take the nation over the cliff rather than give in to Republicans and extend the tax cuts for upper-income earners.
With the clock ticking toward the year-end deadline, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other Republicans said they were proposing a "reasonable solution" for negotiations that Boehner says have been going nowhere. Monday's proposal came in response to Obama's plan last week to raise taxes by $1.6 trillion over the coming decade but largely exempt Medicare and Social Security from budget cuts.
Though the GOP plan proposes to raise $800 billion in higher tax revenue over the same 10 years, it would keep the Bush-era tax cuts -- including those for wealthier earners targeted by Obama -- in place for now. Dismissing the idea of raising any tax rates, the Republicans said the new revenue would come from closing loopholes and deductions while lowering rates.
Boehner called that a "credible plan" and said he hoped the administration would "respond in a timely and responsible way." The offer came after the administration urged Republicans to detail their proposal to cut popular benefit programs like Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.
US officials: US, allies weighing military options if Syria uses chemical weapons
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House and its allies are weighing military options to secure Syria's chemical and biological weapons, after U.S. intelligence reports show the Syrian regime may be readying those weapons and may be desperate enough to use them, U.S. officials said Monday.
President Barack Obama, in a speech at the National Defense University on Monday, pointedly warned Syrian President Bashar Assad not to use his arsenal.
"Today I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command: The world is watching," Obama said. "The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Prague for meetings with Czech officials, said she wouldn't outline any specifics.
"But suffice it to say, we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur," Clinton said.
10 Things to Know for Tuesday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and stories that will be talked about Tuesday:
1. SYRIA'S CHEMICAL WEAPONS GET FRESH SCRUTINY
Obama warns Assad not to use them -- or "there will be consequences."
William and Kate are expecting their first child, duchess hospitalized with morning sickness
LONDON (AP) -- Britain doesn't have to wait any longer: Prince William's wife, Kate, is pregnant.
St. James's Palace made the announcement Monday, saying that the Duchess of Cambridge -- formerly Kate Middleton -- has a severe form of morning sickness and is currently in a London hospital. William was at his wife's side.
The news drew congratulations from around the world, with the hashtag "royalbaby" trending globally on Twitter.
The couple's first child will be third in line to the throne -- behind William and his father, Prince Charles -- leapfrogging the gregarious Prince Harry and possibly setting up the first scenario in which a female heir could benefit from new gender rules about succession.
The palace would not say how far along the 30-year-old duchess is, only that she has not yet reached the 12-week mark.
CDC says US flu season arrives early, could be bad, but one-third of Americans are vaccinated
NEW YORK (AP) -- Flu season in the U.S. is off to its earliest start in nearly a decade -- and it could be a bad one.
Health officials on Monday said suspected flu cases have jumped in five Southern states, and the primary strain circulating tends to make people sicker than other types. It is particularly hard on the elderly.
"It looks like it's shaping up to be a bad flu season, but only time will tell," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The good news is that the nation seems fairly well prepared, Frieden said. More than a third of Americans have been vaccinated, and the vaccine formulated for this year is well-matched to the strains of the virus seen so far, CDC officials said.
Higher-than-normal reports of flu have come in from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. An uptick like this usually doesn't happen until after Christmas. Flu-related hospitalizations are also rising earlier than usual, and there have already been two deaths in children.
Navy honors member of Marine special operations team with Navy Cross; 3 given Silver Stars
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) -- Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on Monday honored four members of a Marine special operations team in a rare public ceremony for those who have served in the covert forces.
In a ceremony at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Mabus awarded Marine Sgt. William Soutra Jr. the Navy Cross, the Navy's highest honor and the military's second highest honor, for tending to the wounded while guiding the platoon to safety during an attack in Afghanistan's Helmand Province in July 2010 that spanned over two days.
Three others on his team, including a Navy corpsman, were given Silver Stars.
Often the heroic actions of those on special operations teams are only known to each other and the leadership because of their covert work on classified missions.
"This is a chance to recognize people who don't get recognized much," Mabus said.
Military appeals court ousts judge from Fort Hood case, tosses order to forcibly shave suspect
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- The military's highest court ousted the judge in the Fort Hood shooting case Monday and threw out his order to have the suspect's beard forcibly shaved before his court-martial.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled that Col. Gregory Gross didn't appear impartial while presiding over the case of Maj. Nidal Hasan, who faces the death penalty if convicted in the 2009 shootings on the Texas Army post that killed 13 people and wounded more than two dozen others.
But the court said it was not ruling on whether the judge's order violated Hasan's religious rights. Hasan has argued that his beard is a requirement of his Muslim faith, although facial hair violates Army regulations.
"Should the next military judge find it necessary to address (Hasan's) beard, such issues should be addressed and litigated anew," judges wrote in the ruling.
Hasan appealed after Gross ordered that he must be clean-shaven or be forcibly shaved before his court-martial, a military trial.
Israel feels heat from European and US allies over settlement announcement
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel rejected a wave of American and European condemnations Monday over plans to build thousands of new homes in West Bank settlements, vowing to press forward with the construction in the face of widespread international opposition.
The announcement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office was likely to deepen a rift that has emerged between Israel and some of its closest allies following the U.N.'s recognition of a Palestinian state last week. The U.N. decision appears to be fueling a tougher international line against Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Israeli ambassadors were summoned for consultations in five European capitals, and European officials warned of other potential measures against Israel. In Washington, the U.S. said the Israeli actions were "especially damaging" to peace prospects.
Italian Premier Mario Monti and French President Francois Hollande issued a joint statement saying they were "deeply worried" by Israel's settlement plans. The two men, meeting in Lyon, France, called the Israeli decisions "serious and illegal" and a "serious obstacle" to Mideast peace.
Netanyahu, however, showed no signs of bending. His office said Israel would continue to stand up for its interests "even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision taken."
Software founder John McAfee says he's still free, but has left Belize
MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Software company founder John McAfee said Monday he has fled from Belize using a bizarre ruse, adding yet another chapter in what threatens to become one of the biggest media fugitive frenzies since O.J. Simpson led police on a low-speed chase in 1994.
McAfee claimed in a blog posting he had evaded authorities by staging an elaborate distraction in neighboring Mexico.
In an email to The Associated Press, McAfee confirmed a posting to his website in which he described, in what appeared to be joking tones, how he mounted the ruse.
"My 'double,' carrying on (sic) a North Korean passport under my name, was detained in Mexico for pre-planned misbehavior," McAfee wrote in the posting, "but due to indifference on the part of authorities (he) was evicted from the jail and was unable to serve his intended purpose in our exit plan."
It was a turn typical of the bizarre saga of the eccentric anti-virus company founder wanted for questioning in connection with the killing of fellow American ex-pat Gregory Viant Faull, who was shot to death at the Belize island where they both had homes in early November.
Families of Chiefs linebacker Belcher, slain girlfriend Perkins grieve in wake of tragedy
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Breaking their silence for the first time, the family of the woman shot and killed by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher said Monday their "hearts are truly broken" and asked for privacy while they grieve the loss of two loved ones.
Belcher shot and killed his 22-year-old girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, at their Kansas City home Saturday before driving to Arrowhead Stadium, where Belcher committed suicide in the practice facility's parking lot, police said. The couple had a 3-month-old daughter, Zoey.
"Our hearts are truly broken for Kasi was a beloved daughter, granddaughter, sister, mother, cousin and friend," the family said in an emailed statement. The family also asked that the media "respect our privacy during this difficult time."
"Please keep us in your hearts and prayers as well as the Belcher family," the statement said.
Kansas City police Sgt. Marisa Barnes said Monday that authorities hope to deliver an investigative report to prosecutors on Tuesday.