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Wednesday, December 15, 2021 10:05 PM

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- The House of Representatives Wednesday passed a bill that would repeal the U.S. military's ban on openly gay and lesbian personnel from serving.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who is openly gay, announced the 250-175 vote to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which enjoys the support of President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen.

"It is never too late to do the right thing," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said during floor debate. "We have the opportunity to accommodate those willing and able to serve this country. Now is the time to act."

Hoyer said Gates was worried that if Congress failed to act, the courts would. If the repeal is ordered through the judiciary, Gates said he doubted there would be an orderly, thoughtful transition.

"Secretary Gates said to me, 'Pass this bill,'" Hoyer said.

Obama said the legislation "allows for a smooth and responsible repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' in a way that maintains good order and discipline in our military ranks."

"Indeed, all of the service chiefs have said that when this law is changed , they will implement an orderly transition effectively and efficiently," the president said in a statement released by the White House. "As the comprehensive study by the Department of Defense clearly shows, we can move to a new policy in a responsible manner that ensures our military strength and our national security."

"I won't ask people willing to die for my country to lie to my country," Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, said to a round of applause during the debate Wednesday.

Republicans speaking against the repeal cited service leader concerns that a repeal, particularly during war, would hurt unit morale and be a distraction to troops on the ground.

"'Don't ask, don't tell' was a successful compromise in 1993" and it remains a success now, said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.

Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., said he thought it was wrong to "dump a policy" on the military when service chiefs said it would be detrimental.

"It's not that young members of the military who face death, who face the destruction their comrades, they're not the ones who are upset by this," Frank said. "It's our colleagues on the other side who are imputing their unease at the presence of gay and lesbian people to the young people in the military, who I think are better than that."

Pence denied that was the case, saying, "Nothing could be further from the truth."

Republicans also faulted a Pentagon-commissioned survey that concluded a repeal wouldn't disrupt the military for not asking the right question and not including a broad enough sample.

"It's not worth the risk to put (forward troops) in greater jeopardy than they are now," said Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif.

The bill heads to the Senate, where identical stand-alone legislation was introduced by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, Ind-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. Republicans have blocked consideration of a repeal that was included in the defense authorization bill.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said in a statement to the Portland (Maine) Press Herald Wednesday she would support repealing the ban.

"After careful analysis of the comprehensive report compiled by the Department of Defense and thorough consideration of the testimony provided by the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service chiefs, I support repeal of the 'don't ask, don't tell' law," Snowe said.

Snowe is the fourth Republican member of the Senate to join supporters of repealing the ban, The Hill reported. The others are Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Scott Brown of Massachusetts.

A test vote on repealing the ban fell three votes short last week of the 60 necessary to overcome a GOP filibuster.

Senate passes tax bill in bipartisan vote

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate, in a rare display of sweeping bipartisanship, approved a tax package Wednesday negotiated by President Obama and congressional Republicans.

The vote was 81-19. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The House schedule for Wednesday released by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., included the item, "Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2010 ... (If amended by the Senate)"

Before the vote the Senate refused to allow consideration of several amendments offered by members of both parties. None of the measures got the required two-thirds majority to be voted up or down by the chamber.

The bill itself required only a simple majority to pass.

The package would extend for two years lower tax rates enacted during George W. Bush's administration that are set to expire Dec. 31, extend unemployment benefits for 13 months, cut the payroll tax by 2 percent for a year, lower a restored estate tax and extend several tax breaks included in the 2009 economic stimulus package.

The defeated measures included one offered by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that would have offset the cost of extending unemployment benefits by reducing duplicated spending.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., offered an amendment that would have ended the tax rate for the wealthiest 2 percent of taxpayers, using half of the savings to pay down the deficit. It also would have given a one-year extension of the "Making America Work" credit in place of the payroll tax holiday, among other things.

Also defeated was a motion by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to permanently extend all of the current tax rates, repeal the estate tax and permanently patch the alternative minimum tax.

Hoyer said the lower chamber ultimately would pass the bill, but may amend the estate tax provision. However, more than two dozen moderate Democrats sent a letter to House leadership, calling for the tax package to be passed unchanged so it can go to Obama for his signature. If the bill is changed, it would have to go back to the Senate for reconsideration.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned House Democratic leaders any partisan changes to the bill would "ensure that every American taxpayer will see a job-killing tax hike on Jan. 1."

Obama, business leaders take up economy

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama met in Washington Wednesday with 20 top business leaders, asking them to focus on moving the U.S. economy forward, the White House said.

The meeting, which went on for more than 4 hours at Blair House, the presidential guest house across the street from the White House, was not open to the public or the media. In a statement, the White House said the session focused on economic growth opportunities, improved workforce training, expanded private sector hiring and global competition.

Before the meeting, Obama told reporters he hoped "to elicit ideas from these business leaders that will help us not only climb out of recession but seize the promise of this moment." Following the meeting, he said, "I feel very confident we made some good progress."

The Washington Post reported several executives who took part said the meeting was constructive but the president was not specific about possible outcomes from the encounter.

"I think at the end of the day the idea is how can business and the White House work hand-in-hand together to create more growth in this country," UBS (NYSE:UBS) Group Americas Chief Executive Officer Robert Wolf said.

Some business leaders have said the administration's focus on financial and healthcare reform has left the private sector uncertain about growth and reluctant to increase hiring, the Post said. In response, the White House has noted that U.S. companies posted record profits from July to September, the newspaper said.

Cheney plea bargains bribery prosecution

ABUJA, Nigeria, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Nigeria says it dropped corruption charges against former Vice President Dick Cheney after his former employer Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) agreed to pay a $250 million fine.

"There was a plea bargain on the part of the company to pay $250 million as fines in lieu of prosecution," said Femi Babafemi, a spokesman for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Britain's The Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday.

Last year Halliburton and subsidiary KBR (NYSE:KBR) pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices act by paying more than $180 million in bribes to Nigerian officials prior to 2007. The companies were fined $579 million, the largest ever under the act, ABC News reported.

But Nigerian authorities wanting to clean their own house conducted their own investigation and decided to prosecute the case in the country where the crime was committed.

On Dec. 7 officials filed 16 counts of bribery charges relating to the construction of a liquefied natural gas (OOTC:LNGLF) plant in the Niger Delta, The Guardian said.

"Monies were taken to offshore accounts at the expense of the poor masses of Nigeria," said Farida Mzamber Waziri, the executive chairman of Nigeria's Economic Financial Crimes Commission. "The monies meant for development projects are the ones that are carted away, so we are the victims."

Cheney was chief executive officer of Halliburton at the time of the company's bribery and corruption practices.

"Dick Cheney was head of Halliburton," Waziri said. "There's no way such amount of money would've been moved to bribe Nigerians without his approval and without his knowledge, this is what we're saying."

Cheney's lawyer, Terrence O'Donnell, issued a statement calling the charges "baseless."

(Source: UPI )
(Source: Quotemedia)
 

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