Today's Headline News from Associated Press
POPE RECALLS 'JOY,' DIFFICULTIES IN FINAL AUDIENCE
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI bid an emotional farewell Wednesday to his flock on the eve of his retirement, recalling in his final speech as pontiff moments of "joy and light" during his papacy but also times of difficulty when "it seemed like the Lord was sleeping."
An estimated 150,000 people flooded St. Peter's Square for Benedict's last general audience, eager to show their support and bear witness to the final hours of a papacy that will go down in history as the first one in 600 years to end in resignation rather than death.
Benedict clearly enjoyed the occasion, taking a long victory lap around the square in an open-sided car and stopping to kiss and bless half a dozen babies and infants handed to him by his secretary. Seventy cardinals, some tearful, sat in solemn attendance - then gave him a standing ovation at the end of his speech.
NO RUCKUS ABOUT MEDICARE CUTS IN SEQUESTER
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Hospitals, doctors and other Medicare providers are on the hook for a 2 percent cut under looming government spending reductions. But they're not raising a ruckus. Why?
The pain could be a lot worse if President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans actually did reach a sweeping agreement to reduce federal deficits.
Automatic cuts taking effect Friday - the "sequester" in Washington-speak - would reduce Medicare spending by about $100 billion over a decade. But Obama had put on the table $400 billion in health care cuts, mainly from Medicare. And Republicans wanted more.
FATHER OF NEWTOWN VICTIM: BAN ASSAULT WEAPONS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Battling tears, the father of one of the first-graders slain at the December elementary school massacre in Connecticut pleaded with senators on Wednesday to ban assault weapons like the gun that killed his 6-year-old son.
"I'm not here for sympathy," Neil Heslin, a 50-year-old construction worker who said he grew up with guns and had been teaching his son, Jesse, about them. "I'm here because of my son."
Heslin spoke for 11 minutes, his voice barely audible and breaking at times, to the Senate Judiciary Committee that is deeply divided over the issue of curbing guns.
The panel was holding a hearing on a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines that can carry more than 10 rounds.
OBAMA, TOP LAWMAKERS TO MEET FRIDAY ON BUDGET CUTS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House conceded Wednesday that efforts to avoid automatic budget cuts are unlikely to succeed before they kick in and is initiating new talks with congressional leaders to confront seemingly intractable tax-and-spend issues.
President Barack Obama will meet at the White House Friday with House and Senate leaders of both parties several hours after the deadline for averting the cuts, known in Washington-speak as a "sequester," has passed. This would put the White House and Congress essentially in the position of looking past the cuts to the next looming fiscal showdown: A March 27 deadline to continue government operations or force a government shutdown.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the White House talks, arranged Tuesday, are designed to be a "constructive discussion" about how to keep the cuts from having harmful consequences. Obama has been calling for a mix of spending cuts and tax increases to achieve deficit reduction goals.
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