VIDEO: Today's Headline News from Associated Press
SHORT-TERM DEBT DEAL, BIG BARRIERS AHEAD
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Hold the champagne.
Even after lawmakers complete their pending deal to avert a federal default and fully reopen the government, they are likely to return to their grinding brand of brinkmanship - perhaps repeatedly.
Wednesday's self-congratulations notwithstanding, congressional talks are barely touching the underlying causes of debt-and-spending stalemates that pushed the country close to economic crises in 2011, last December and again this month.
At best, lawmakers and the White House will agree to fund the government and raise the debt limit for only a few months. They also will call for yet another bipartisan effort to address the federal debt's major causes, including restricted revenue growth and entitlement benefits that rise automatically.
And yet, top advocates say they've seen virtually no change in the political dynamics that stymied past efforts for a compromise to end the cycle of brinksmanship and threats to harm the economy.
Republicans still adamantly oppose tax increases. Powerful interest groups and many Democrats still fiercely oppose cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits. And congressional rules still tempt lawmakers to threaten economic havoc - by sending the nation into default - if the opposing party doesn't yield to their demands.
"We're probably going to have to go through this a few more times," said Bob Bixby of the bipartisan Concord Coalition, which advocates budget reforms. Even if a compromise plan this month wins House, Senate and White House approval, Bixby said, it will leave fundamental problems that "they haven't done anything to address."
US SHUTDOWN THREATENS HOPES FOR ANTARCTIC RESERVE
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- The U.S. government shutdown is threatening a long-awaited deal to create the world's largest marine sanctuary in Antarctica. Americans are among the most enthusiastic proponents, but they might not make it to the negotiating table.
The U.S., New Zealand and other countries have sought a sanctuary in the pristine waters of the Ross Sea for the past decade, and there are hopes that previous objectors Russia and Ukraine will agree to a new, smaller proposal when the nations that regulate Antarctic fishing meet next week in Hobart, Australia.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry joined his counterparts from other nations in calling for the sanctuary to proceed. But the U.S. had apparently already suspended travel plans for its delegation. If they don't make it, the proposal probably will be put on hold until next year at least.
Gerry Leape, a senior international policy expert at Pew Charitable Trusts, said he's spoken to members of the U.S. delegation and he understands that their travel has been suspended because of the shutdown.
David Edginton, a spokesman with the U.S. Embassy in Wellington, said he was unable to comment on whether the U.S. delegation will be traveling to Australia.
MICROSOFT RELEASING WINDOWS 8.1, A YEAR IN MAKING
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Microsoft is releasing its long-awaited Windows 8.1 upgrade as a free download starting Thursday. It addresses some of the gripes people have had with Windows 8, the dramatically different operating system that attempts to bridge the divide between tablets and PCs.
Windows 8.1 still features the dual worlds that Windows 8 created when it came out last October. On one hand, it features a touch-enabled tile interface resembling what's found in tablet computers. On the other, there's the old desktop mode where the keyboard and mouse still reign. The update adds some new finger- and gesture-friendly shortcuts for touch-based apps, while restoring some respect for the desktop mode that a billion PC users have become accustomed to.
The release comes as sales of traditional desktop and laptop computers continue to decline because consumers are spending money instead on the latest smartphones and tablets. It also comes at a time of transition for Microsoft as the Redmond, Wash., company focuses on devices and services, not just software. Earlier this month, Microsoft struck a deal to acquire Nokia's phone business and patent rights for more than $7 billion. Microsoft is also searching for a new CEO to replace Steven A. Ballmer, who announced last month that he plans to retire within the next year.
The Window 8.1 update is free for current owners of Windows 8. It's available starting at 7 a.m. Thursday in New York, which corresponds to the start of Friday in New Zealand. Simply go to the Windows Store app to find it. It may take a few hours for updates to reach everyone. Computers with Windows 8.1 already installed will go on sale Friday local time. That's also when people will be able to buy stand-alone copies of Windows 8.1.