House votes to deny Obama more borrowing authority

Posted Jan. 18, 2012, at 11:16 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Republican-led House launched its first full legislative day of the New Year by reigniting one of last year’s pivotal partisan fights — the debt ceiling debate that helped to define the “tea party”-powered majority.

The House voted largely along party lines Wednesday to deny President Barack Obama an increase in new borrowing authority — a political exercise that is not expected to curtail federal spending or threaten a federal default. The tally was 239-176.

Because the measure is expected to stall in the Senate, which Democrats control, and is opposed by Obama, it is unlikely to prevent the $1.2 trillion debt ceiling increase.

Wednesday’s vote was part of the summer deal to increase the nation’s debt limit. The GOP had demanded that Obama request the increase in three increments, and that each chamber of Congress get the chance to vote no.

The national debt stands at $15.2 trillion, as much as the gross domestic product. The $1.2 trillion increase is expected to cover the nation’s obligations through the November election, ending, for now, the GOP’s ability to leverage the issue to extract other legislative priorities.

US Army burns off final chemical weapons in Utah

STOCKTON, Utah — The U.S. Army has destroyed about 90 percent of its aging chemical weapons after it wraps up work this week in Utah, where it has kept its largest stockpile — a witches’ brew of toxins, blister and blood agents that accumulated through the Cold War.

The Army’s Deseret Chemical Depot in Utah’s west desert burned its last hard weapons in a 1,500-degree furnace on Wednesday — projectiles that contained mustard agent, which can produce painful skin blisters. The last tray of 23 projectiles came out of a furnace at 2:11 p.m. after baking for two hours, a process that rendered the mustard agent harmless.

The depot — which at its peak held some 13,600 tons of chemical agents, making it the world’s largest — expects to complete the job by the weekend when it incinerates bulk supplies of Lewisite, a powerful skin, eye and lung irritant.

The U.S. is part of an international treaty to rid the world of chemical weapons, a campaign taking place with spotty success around the globe. The goal was supposed to be accomplished by April 29 but will take years longer.

Suicide bomber kills, hurts dozens in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — Dozens of civilians, NATO coalition troops and Afghan security forces were killed and wounded Wednesday when a suicide attacker blew himself up in a bazaar, according to the top commander of international troops in Afghanistan, who alleged that the Taliban’s leader had “lost all control” of his foot soldiers.

U.S. Gen. John Allen condemned the attack in Kajaki district of Helmand province and said it was evidence that the insurgents had “declared outright war” on the Afghan people. While the Taliban work to intimidate civilians and kill anyone aligned with the Afghan government, the U.S.-led coalition emphasizes that civilian deaths should weaken the Taliban’s appeal.

Daud Ahmadi, a provincial spokesman, said a suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed 12 Afghans, including two policeman, and wounded at least 23 other people.

A statement released late Wednesday by NATO headquarters in Kabul said the explosion killed and injured dozens of Afghan civilians, Afghan national security forces and coalition troops. The statement did not disclose further details about how many foreign troops had been killed or wounded.

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