The Senate passed the president's tax cut deal made with Republicans by a wide margin Dec. 15 despite Democrats' complaints against the package. A few Senate GOPers, like Tom Coburn, objected to the upfront price tag-$858 billion over 10 years. The bill contains not just tax cuts but also extends unemployment benefits and ethanol, wind, and solar subsidies. Because the measure passed so broadly in the Senate, 81-19, it is unlikely to need the support of all House Democrats to reach the president's desk. If the House can't muster the votes for passage before Christmas, tax rates will jump at the beginning of the year, but the incoming House Republican majority has vowed that its first act would be to restore the tax cuts. House Democrats also hoped to change the estate tax provisions-raising the rate or lowering the taxable threshold-which would send the whole measure back to the Senate to approve again.
Another "Jane Roe" is enmeshed in an abortion battle, but this time it's a victory for Ohio's informed consent law. When the 14-year-old Roe asked Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio for an abortion, an employee called the number she gave them to get her parents' consent. The person on the end of the line was really Roe's 22-year-old boyfriend posing as her father. The girl's parents sued Planned Parenthood for failing to notify them, get their daughter's informed consent, and report suspected child abuse. On Dec. 7, a Hamilton County judge ruled that Planned Parenthood breached its duties by failing to meet with Jane Roe privately to ensure her informed consent. The case goes to trial Feb. 7 to resolve the other allegations.
Good news bad news
Highway fatalities dropped in 2009 to 33,963, a 22 percent decline from 43,510 in 2005-and the fastest rate of decline in traffic deaths in peacetime since the dawn of the auto age in 1913, say researchers working with federal highway data at the University of Michigan. But the number of drivers involved in fatal accidents who were eating, talking on a cell phone, or otherwise distracted rose 42 percent from 2005 to 2008. Those fatalities made up 7 percent of fatal car accidents in 2008.
Taking healthcare to court
On Dec. 13 a federal judge ruled unconstitutional the central component of the healthcare law passed by Congress last March, but in striking down the insurance mandate, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson of Virginia did not suspend the law in its entirety. His 42-page ruling, coming after two other judges had ruled in favor of the law, gives new momentum to conservative efforts to repeal the trillion-dollar overhaul. "At its core this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance . . . it's about an individual's right to choose to participate," Hudson wrote. Requiring most Americans to buy insurance or pay a penalty is one of the most controversial elements of the 2,000-page law. The ruling ensures that debate over the law's merits will continue well into the 2012 election season, with nearly two dozen Obamacare lawsuits. Likely last stop: the Supreme Court.
Why not move to the Dominican?
A presidential runoff scheduled for January in Haiti marks the country's first for the top office in 29 years, but a pressing question lingered: Who would be on the ballot? Rioting Haitians said the elections were marred by fraud and chaos, and they protested preliminary election results on Dec. 7 that narrowly eliminated popular musician and candidate Michel "Sweet Mickey" Martelly. The electoral council said President René Préval's handpicked protégé, Jude Celestin, edged Martelly by less than a percentage point for a runoff with former First Lady Mirlande Manigat. After protesters threatened more riots, the council said it would allow candidates to appeal the results. With uncertainty ruling the day, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, charged with post-quake rebuilding, showed one more sign of the country's tenuous condition: It held its December meeting in the Dominican Republic.
Over the last year, more than 100 million people joined Twitter, the social networking site that allows users to post 140-character pronouncements. New users include the Dalai Lama, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, comedian Steve Martin, Jordan's Queen Noor, and music star Joe Jonas. The site became a new communications tool for the magnificent and the mundane-when Russian President Dmitri Medvedev sent out his first tweet, the White House responded with a tweet of welcome. President Obama noted, "We may finally be able to throw away those red phones that have been sitting around for so long."
Dominating the Twitter conversation in 2010:
• Gulf oil spill
• World Cup in South Africa
• Haiti earthquake
Lighter threads formed around tagged topics, like #pakistanirealityshows (tweets included ideas like "Jihadis Got Talent" and "So You Think You Can Dance?").
In 2007, Twitter users collectively posted about 5,000 tweets per day. Now they post 95 million a day.
The year began with President Barack Obama promising Congress that he would fight to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that prevents gay troops from serving openly in the military. New Pentagon rules in March relaxed enforcement of the policy, and in May the House voted for repeal. A Senate vote was the last hurdle, but in the Senate it bogged down: On Dec. 9 supporters came up three votes short of the 60 needed for repeal. Congressional Democrats hoped for yet another vote before Christmas, as 2010 may be the repeal movement's only hope. A new Republican-led House in January does not have revisiting this policy on its 2011 agenda.
Federal authorities arrested a Navy intelligence specialist Dec. 1 after a sting operation caught him selling secret documents to an undercover FBI agent posing as a foreign intelligence officer. Bryan Minkyu Martin, 22, allegedly exchanged the files for $3,500 and told the agent "that over his prospective 15 to 20 year career, he could be very valuable." The incident comes as federal agencies are strengthening security measures after Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, also 22, allegedly obtained classified material and passed it to WikiLeaks.