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Senate OKs faster Afghan troop exit
WASHINGTON – Reflecting a war-weary nation, the Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday for an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
The 62-33 vote comes as President Obama and the military discuss the pace of drawing down the 68,000 U.S. troops. Although the vote was on a nonbinding amendment to a defense policy bill, its significance could not be discounted.
Thirteen Republicans, including Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the top GOP lawmaker on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, backed the measure.

‘Fiscal cliff’ talks get testy, still at impasse

– The White House is seeking $1.6 trillion in higher taxes over a decade and an immediate infusion of funds to aid the jobless, help hard-pressed homeowners and perhaps extend the expiring payroll tax cut, officials said Thursday as talks aimed at averting an economy-rattling “fiscal cliff” turned testy.

In exchange, the officials said, President Obama will support an unspecified amount of spending cuts this year, to be followed by legislation in 2013 producing a decade of savings of as much as $400 billion from Medicare and other benefit programs.

The offer drew a withering response from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, after a meeting with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

“Unfortunately, many Democrats continue to rule out sensible spending cuts that must be part of any significant agreement that will reduce our deficit,” he declared.

Democrats countered that any holdup was the fault of Republicans who refuse to accept Obama’s call to raise tax rates on upper incomes.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “There can be no deal without rates on top earners going up.” Taking a confrontational, at times sarcastic tone, he said, “This should not be news to anyone on Capitol Hill. It is certainly not news to anyone in America who was not in a coma during the campaign season.”

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