National editor's pick of the top news stories in the nation and world at this hour:
With fiscal calamity averted by passage of a bill locking in tax cuts for the middle class, President Barack Obama flew to Hawaii early Wednesday to resume a vacation with his family -- adding $3 million to the cost of his holiday, critics noted. Although 85 House Republicans voted to pass the Senate's "fiscal cliff" deal Tuesday, it was a bitter pill seen as a major setback for those demanding spending cuts to balance tax increases on the rich. And despite the deal, most Americans will see their taxes go up substantially because the Social Security payroll tax is rising from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent. The agreement put off tough decisions on spending by delaying for two months billions of dollars in mandatory "sequester" cuts. And it adds nearly $4 trillion to the deficit compared to what would have happened had all the Bush-era tax cuts expired. "I'm embarrassed for this generation," said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas. "Future generations deserve better." The measure divided the GOP House leadership, with Speaker John Boehner voting in favor, along with 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, but other top leaders Eric Cantor of Virginia and Kevin McCarthy of California voting against.
New York and New Jersey lawmakers of both parties blasted House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday for adjourning without acting on a bill that would provide relief for victims of superstorm Sandy. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said Boehner should come to Staten Island and the Rockaways to explain his actions, adding, "But I doubt he has the dignity nor the guts to do it." Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said it was a "cruel knife in the back" to storm victims, and the New York and New Jersey governors called it a "dereliction of duty." In response to the uproar Wednesday, Boehner promised lawmakers that he would put $9 billion in aid up for a vote Friday, and $51 billion in additional aid on Jan. 15. Boehner reportedly canceled a vote on storm aid because of how it would appear to approve billions in spending at a time when he was pushing a fiscal cliff deal that does nothing to cut spending.
The nearly two-year war between the Syrian government and the opposition has claimed more than 60,000 lives, the U.N. estimates -- a toll one-third higher than anti-government activists have estimated. "The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement. In one of the bloodiest attacks in weeks, a regime airstrike on a gas station in suburban Damascus on Wednesday ignited an inferno and killed dozens of people. Amateur video captured the gruesome trail of charred bodies, with black smoke billowing from the fire.
More than 30 truckloads of soldiers from Chad are making a show of force in the Central African Republic, vowing to attack rebels if they advance to the city of Damara in a push toward the capital of Bangui. "For us, Damara is the red line that the rebels cannot cross," Gen. Jean Felix Akaga, head of a multinational force called FOMAC, said Wednesday. "If they attack Damara, we will attack." The turbaned fighters displayed rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons to dissuade rebels from advancing. Rebels, who have captured much of the northern part of the country, are trying to overthrow President Francois Bozize, who seized power in a 2003 coup. Bozize announced on state radio that he was dismissing his son, Francis, as defense minister, and replacing his chief of staff. Bozize has signaled the precariousness of his position by agreeing to form a coalition government with rebels, but he says he will not leave office before his term ends in 2016.
According to multiple sources, when House Speaker John Boehner arrived at the White House on Friday for fiscal cliff talks, he pointed at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and told him, "Go f--- yourself." Reid, who had just accused Boehner in televised remarks of running a dictatorship and caring more about keeping his job than making a deal, asked, "What are you talking about?" "Go f--- yourself," Boehner repeated. The harsh exchange took place in the White House lobby, a few steps from the Oval Office. The soft-spoken Reid also appears to get on people's nerves in his own chamber. The breakthrough that allowed the Senate to pass a fiscal cliff deal came from negotiations between GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden -- whom McConnell asked to get involved because he despaired of getting anywhere with Reid.
The Wire, a summary of top national and world news stories from the Associated Press and other wire services, moves weekdays. Contact Karl Kahler at 408-920-5023; follow him at twitter.com/karl_kahler.