Friday, December 17, 2010

War Room "Good Morning America's" painfully friendly interview with Sarah Palin

Sarah PalinSo today's "Good Morning America" had a lengthy packaged interview with Sarah Palin, the famous former governor of Alaska and book author. Poor Robin Roberts had to trek all the way to Wasilla in mid-December to sit in a room at what appears to be the Great Northern Hotel and listen to free-associative demagoguery in a singsongy tone. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

But I quickly lost my sympathy for the reporter once the interview began. An early question was about how much John Boehner cries, for some reason.

The interview was basically split into a couple of distinct sections: How awesome is your family, how bad is Barack Obama, how awful are people who criticize you, and how awesome is America?

In the awesomeness of America/badness of Barack Obama section, Palin basically just repeated the thesis of her most recent book. She loves America, but she is worried about keeping it awesome. She says (and I am distilling about 400 stalling words down to a succinct statement here) "there are things we can do as individuals to allow America to remain exceptional."
Why are hardcore American exceptionalists so insecure about American exceptionalism? America doesn't need anyone's permission to remain exceptional! (Also I feel like in the past American exceptionalists didn't specifically use the word "exceptional" so much.)

Robin Roberts lobbed the softest ball in the world when she asked Palin about recent (stupid) comments by Aaron Sorkin regarding Palin's televised hunting exploits. She literally used the phrases "the lower 48" and "Hollywood producer" when asking the question.

Palin's response: "I think he's got some high-powered rifles in some of his movies and TV shows, and those are aimed at human beings." I never thought I'd step in to defend Aaron Sorkin from anything, but the guy created "The West Wing," "Sports Night," "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," and wrote the film "The Social Network." There are very, very few action scenes in Aaron Sorkin productions. He writes about high-powered talkers, aiming words at the audience's sense of self-satisfaction.

(Then Palin did that thing where she pretended not to know Sorkin's name: "Is his name Alan or Aaron?" She did the same thing with Maureen Dowd earlier this year, and it's the most transparently phony bit of nastiness in her repertoire. Seriously, it's hackier than an Aaron Sorkin monologue. Cut it out, Susan Railing, Mayor of Canada, or whoever you are!)

One last question: Sarah, why is your marriage so awesome and perfect? Let us answer that question with a backyard "snow machine" ride!

The whole thing was more than a bit ... "sympathetic." If this is Palin's new mainstream media strategy, she doesn't have much to worry about.

Alex Pareene Salon

Grim Sleeper case brings major response

Release of photos in Grim Sleeper case brings major response
LAPD is flooded with calls, e-mails and other tips after images of women found on the suspect's property are made public. Five tentative identifications have been made.

The Los Angeles Police Department was inundated with hundreds of phone calls, e-mails and other tips a day after detectives released photographs of unidentified women found in a trailer belonging to alleged serial killer Lonnie Franklin Jr.

"The information coming in is voluminous," said Det. Dennis Kilcoyne, who headed the task force that searched for Franklin. Officers, he said, have fielded "hundreds upon hundreds" of phone calls, as well as e-mails and text messages that flooded in through various hotlines and online accounts the department uses.

When Franklin, who is accused of sexually assaulting and murdering 10 African American women in South L.A., was arrested in July, authorities found a disturbing trove of about 1,000 photographs and hundreds of hours of video of women. Some of the images appeared to be innocent snapshots, but most showed the women in various states of undress and striking sexual poses.

Fearing that some of the women could be additional victims, detectives set out to identify them. Some of the material dated back to the 1980s and included video and digital camera images, Polaroids, conventional prints and even undeveloped film. The LAPD estimates that it is trying to identify about 160 people.

Attempts to find the women in missing persons databases and coroner's photographs went nowhere. With no other options, detectives began considering releasing the images to the public in hopes that the women themselves, family members or acquaintances would recognize them and contact investigators.

The decision to do so was not made lightly. Detectives said they were concerned about how the images should be presented to the public given the explicit nature of the material, and understood that the photo release could force the women to revisit encounters with Franklin from periods in their lives they would rather forget.

In the end, the LAPD opted to release closely cropped versions of the images that show the women's faces. Detectives also wanted to be sensitive to the families of the 10 women Franklin is alleged to have killed. Before the announcement, they invited members of the victims' families to LAPD headquarters to view the images that would be released.

Kilcoyne acknowledged that some might be offended by the decision to go public with the pictures and video stills. In the end, though, the need to know the fate of the women and how Franklin had come to collect the images outweighed the potential embarrassment to the women. For similar reasons, The Times has published the images.

"We are just trying to do what is right and decent," Kilcoyne said. "We are very cognizant of not causing embarrassment or anguish to the people depicted in the photographs."

Franklin has pleaded not guilty and is in custody awaiting trial.

The release of the images appeared to pay off. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said at a news conference Friday that information gathered from callers had led to tentative identifications of five of the women.

"We are working to verify that. I cannot give you any update on their well-being or status, but we have names to connect to some faces," Beck said. "I encourage the public to continue to bring us names."

Franklin is charged with killing seven women from 1985 to 1988 and three more between 2002 and 2007. He is linked to the killings through a combination of ballistics and DNA evidence, police and prosecutors have said.

It is the 14 years of apparent dormancy between the two sets of killings that has most confounded police and that led the LA Weekly to dub Franklin the Grim Sleeper. Before identifying Franklin as the alleged Grim Sleeper, Kilcoyne and others said it was unlikely the killer stopped preying on women during this period.
More likely, they said, is that police did not find any evidence to link him to the bodies. So the discovery of the photos and videos was all the more unsettling, as detectives wondered whether they were looking at an eerie montage of women Franklin encountered during the period.

Beck said the photos may address the apparent gap in the killings. "One of the things Dennis [Kilcoyne] is hoping to determine from the public's response to these photos is what he was doing during the 14 years. Obviously we have a hole in his history, and we are trying to fill that hole," the chief said.

The new comeback kid Charles Krauthammer

If Barack Obama wins reelection in 2012, as is now more likely than not, historians will mark his comeback as beginning on Dec. 6, the day of the Great Tax Cut Deal of 2010.

Obama had a bad November. Self-confessedly shellacked in the midterm election, he fled the scene to Asia and various unsuccessful meetings, only to return to a sad-sack lame-duck Congress with ghostly dozens of defeated Democrats wandering the halls.

Now, with his stunning tax deal, Obama is back. Holding no high cards, he nonetheless managed to resurface suddenly not just as a player but as orchestrator, dealmaker and central actor in a high $1 trillion drama.

Compare this with Bill Clinton, greatest of all comeback kids, who, at a news conference a full five months after his shellacking in 1994, was reduced to plaintively protesting that "the president is relevant here." He had been so humiliatingly sidelined that he did not really recover until late 1995 when he outmaneuvered Newt Gingrich in the government-shutdown showdown.

And that was Clinton responding nimbly to political opportunity. Obama fashioned out of thin air his return to relevance, an even more impressive achievement.

Remember the question after Election Day: Can Obama move to the center to win back the independents who had abandoned the party in November? And if so, how long would it take? Answer: Five weeks. An indoor record, although an asterisk should denote that he had help - Republicans clearing his path and sprinkling it with rose petals.

Obama's repositioning to the center was first symbolized by his joint appearance with Clinton, the quintessential centrist Democrat, and followed days later by the overwhelming 81 to 19 Senate majority that supported the tax deal. That bipartisan margin will go a long way toward erasing the partisan stigma of Obama's first two years, marked by Stimulus I, which passed without a single House Republican, and a health-care bill that garnered no congressional Republicans at all.

Despite this, some on the right are gloating that Obama had been maneuvered into forfeiting his liberal base. Nonsense. He will never lose his base. Where do they go? Liberals will never have a president as ideologically kindred - and they know it. For the left, Obama is as good as it gets in a country that is barely 20 percent liberal.

The conservative gloaters were simply fooled again by the flapping and squawking that liberals ritually engage in before folding at Obama's feet. House liberals did it with Obamacare; they did it with the tax deal. Their boisterous protests are reminiscent of the floor demonstrations we used to see at party conventions when the losing candidate's partisans would dance and shout in the aisles for a while before settling down to eventually nominate the other guy by acclamation.

And Obama pulled this off at his lowest political ebb. After the shambles of the election and with no bargaining power - the Republicans could have gotten everything they wanted on the Bush tax cuts retroactively in January without fear of an Obama veto - he walks away with what even Paul Ryan admits was $313 billion in superfluous spending.

Including a $6 billion subsidy for ethanol. Why, just a few weeks ago Al Gore, the Earth King, finally confessed that ethanol subsidies were a mistake. There is not a single economic or environmental rationale left for this boondoggle that has induced American farmers to dedicate an amazing 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop - for burning! And the Republicans have just revived it.

Even as they were near unanimously voting for this monstrosity, Republicans began righteously protesting $8.3 billion of earmarks in Harry Reid's omnibus spending bill. They seem not to understand how ridiculous this looks after having agreed to a Stimulus II that even by their own generous reckoning has 38 times as much spending as all these earmarks combined.

The greatest mistake Ronald Reagan's opponents ever made - and they made it over and over again - was to underestimate him. Same with Obama. The difference is that Reagan was so deeply self-assured that he invited underestimation - low expectations are a priceless political asset - whereas Obama's vanity makes him always needing to appear the smartest guy in the room. Hence that display of prickliness in his disastrous post-deal news conference last week.

But don't be fooled by defensive style or thin-skinned temperament. The president is a very smart man. How smart? His comeback is already a year ahead of Clinton's.

STUDY: Watching FOX News Makes You Stupid

A new study shows that viewers who get their news from Fox News are the most misinformed in the country.

World Public Opinion, a project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, conducted a survey of American voters that shows that Fox News viewers are significantly more misinformed than consumers of news from other sources.
What’s more, the study shows that greater exposure to Fox News increases misinformation.

So the more you watch, the less you know. Or to be precise, the more you think you know that is actually false.

Got that?

It should be noted that the cablesphere did not do terribly well in general: "CNN and the broadcast network news operations fared only slightly better in many cases.
Even MSNBC, which had the best record of accurately informing viewers, has a ways to go before it can brag about it."

It should also be noted that the focus of this study was how much misleading information was presented to the public "following the first election since the Supreme Court has struck down limits on election-related advertising."

Answer: a whole lot.

Voters Say Election Full of Misleading and False Information
Poll Also Finds Voters Were Misinformed on Key Issues

Questionnaire with Findings, Methodology

Following the first election since the Supreme Court has struck down limits on election-related advertising, a new poll finds that 9 in 10 voters said that in the 2010 election they encountered information they believed was misleading or false, with 56% saying this occurred frequently. Fifty-four percent said that it had been more frequent than usual, while just three percent said it was less frequent than usual, according to the poll conducted by, based at the University of Maryland, and Knowledge Networks.

Equally significant, the poll found strong evidence that voters were substantially misinformed on many of the key issues of the campaign. Such misinformation was correlated with how people voted and their exposure to various news sources.

Voters' misinformation included beliefs at odds with the conclusions of government agencies, generally regarded as non-partisan, consisting of professional economists and scientists.

• Though the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concluded that the stimulus legislation has saved or created 2.0-5.2 million jobs, only 8% of voters thought most economists who had studied it concluded that the stimulus legislation had created or saved several million jobs. Most (68%) believed that economists estimate that it only created or saved a few jobs and 20% even believed that it resulted in job losses.
• Though the CBO concluded that the health reform law would reduce the budget deficit, 53% of voters thought most economists have concluded that health reform will increase the deficit.
• Though the Department of Commerce says that the US economy began to recover from recession in the third quarter of 2009 and has continued to grow since then, only 44% of voters thought the economy is starting to recover, while 55% thought the economy is still getting worse.
• Though the National Academy of Sciences has concluded that climate change is occurring, 45% of voters thought most scientists think climate change is not occurring (12%) or that scientists are evenly divided (33%).

Other key points of misinformation among voters were:

• 40% of voters believed incorrectly that the TARP legislation was initiated under Barack Obama, rather than George Bush
• 31% believed it was proven true that the US Chamber of Commerce spent large amounts of money it had raised from foreign sources to support Republican candidates
• 54% believed that there were no tax cuts in the stimulus legislation
• 86% assumed their taxes had gone up (38%) or stayed the same (48%), while only 10% were aware that their taxes had gone down since 2009
• 53% thought that the bailout of GM and Chrysler occurred only under Obama, though it was initiated under Bush

Clay Ramsay, of commented, "While we do not have data to make a clear comparison to the past, this high level of misinformation and the fact that voters perceived a higher than usual level of false and misleading information, suggests that the increased flow of money into political advertising may have contributed to a higher level of misinformation."

The poll also found significant differences depending how people voted. Those who voted Republican were more likely than those who voted Democratic to believe that: most economists have concluded that the health care law will increase the deficit (voted Republican 73%, voted Democratic 31%); the American economy is still getting worse (72% to 36%); the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (67% to 42%); most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (62% to 26%); and it is not clear that Obama was born within the United States (64% to 18%)

On the other hand those who voted Democratic were more likely to incorrectly believe that: it was proven to be true that the US Chamber of Commerce was spending large amounts of foreign money to support Republican candidates (voted Democratic 57%, voted Republican 9%); Obama has not increased the level of troops in Afghanistan (51% to 39%); and Democratic legislators did not mostly vote in favor of TARP (56% to 14%).

In most cases those who had greater levels of exposure to news sources had lower levels of misinformation. There were, however, a number of cases where greater exposure to a particular news source increased misinformation on some issues.

Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely), most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points), the economy is getting worse (26 points), most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points), the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points), their own income taxes have gone up (14 points), the auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points), when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points) and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points). The effect was also not simply a function of partisan bias, as people who voted Democratic and watched Fox News were also more likely to have such misinformation than those who did not watch it--though by a lesser margin than those who voted Republican.

There were cases with some other news sources as well. Daily consumers of MSNBC and public broadcasting (NPR and PBS) were higher (34 points and 25 points respectively) in believing that it was proven that the US Chamber of Commerce was spending money raised from foreign sources to support Republican candidates. Daily watchers of network TV news broadcasts were 12 points higher in believing that TARP was signed into law by President Obama, and 11 points higher in believing that most Republicans oppose TARP.

The poll of 848 Americans was fielded from November 6 to 15, 2010. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percent. It was conducted using the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Initially, participants are chosen scientifically by a random selection of telephone numbers and residential addresses. Persons in selected households are then invited by telephone or by mail to participate in the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®. For those who agree to participate, but do not already have Internet access, Knowledge Networks provides a laptop and ISP connection. More technical information is available at is a project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland and funded by the Calvert Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

The F-Word Network keeps on turning out the BS! If you watch Please see your doctor NOW!!

Media Matters: The Fox News divide that never was

The internal divisions at Fox News are notorious. There is the Fox News primary, in which no fewer than five potential Republican presidential candidates and their varied supporters and detractors -- all on the Fox News payroll -- duke it out on a near-daily basis.

There are typical ego-driven competitions between on-air personalities, and an increasingly public divide at the network over dangerously unhinged host Glenn Beck.

But there is one divide that -- contrary to the insistence of Fox News executives -- simply does not exist: the one between its "news" and "opinion" shows.

Last year, The New York Times reported, "Fox argues that its news hours -- 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays -- are objective," and quoted Michael Clemente, the channel's senior vice president for news, as saying: "The average consumer certainly knows the difference between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page."

This is apparently an argument that works only on the very gullible, and on advertisers who want to pretend that by confining their ad buys to the channel's "news hours" they are not financially supporting very damaging conservative lies and smears.

How telling it will be to see who attempts to maintain this charade, now that Media Matters has published internal emails from Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon to his news staff directing them to call into question indisputable scientific facts in Fox's climate change reporting, and eschew "public option" for variations of "government option" in Fox's health care reform reporting, echoing advice from a prominent Republican pollster on how to help turn the public against reform.

The recently-released emails confirm what sources told Media Matters months ago: Pressure on Fox News journalists to "distort" straight reporting comes right from the top.

In October, one source with knowledge of the situation explained: "[There is] more pressure from Sammon to slant news to the right or to tell people how to report news, doing it in a more brutish way. A lot of the reporters are conservative and are glad to pick up news. But there is a point at which it is no longer reporting, but distorting things. ... [I]f you come in to say, 'ignore points of view and ignore facts,' then you are straying away from being a legitimate news reporter."

The problem, of course, is not just that the reporting on Fox News is wildly dishonest -- after all, a supermarket tabloid can be wildly dishonest, too -- it's that the lies and smears on Fox News have very real policy implications.

For example, following the release of Sammon's email ordering his news staff to cast doubt on climate science, Zoe Tcholak-Antitch, vice-president of the Carbon Disclosure Project, told Media Matters: "It is very disturbing to hear of this e-mail because it just goes further to sow seeds of doubt among the American population then makes it more difficult for the politicians to stand up for any type of legislation on climate change if they want to get elected."

Tcholak-Antitch added: "It obviously does have an impact on the American public. We are facing an issue that needs to be dealt with in a timely fashion. The danger is that this delays action. While it exists, it delays action and it hinders politicians from passing laws and regulations that will help a clean energy economy and create jobs for American people."

The irony is that News Corp. -- Fox News' parent company and (the blind eye it turns towards Fox notwithstanding) a recognized corporate leader in raising climate change awareness -- cites Tcholak-Antitch's Carbon Disclosure Project as an expert resource on the issue.

New York Congressman John Hall -- a Democratic member of the House global warming committee -- called Sammon's email "regrettable" and warned about the effects this sort of "slanted" coverage has on legislation:

The window of time we have left for action to prevent the worst case scenario may still be closing. ... We can't afford to waste two years if the changes are already happening. It is really important that the public gets educated. I do think Congress responds to public pressure. If the public is being misinformed, we have very little chance of reversing the trend.

Similarly, after Media Matters released Sammon's "government option" email, health care reform advocate Health Care for America Now issued a statement saying: "At a time when right-wing extremists were trying to make the case that the health care reform bill was a government takeover plot, Fox News incorporated politically charged language into its day-to-day reporting to mislead its audience into thinking the public option was something that it wasn't."

Indeed, the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact announced this week that its "Lie of the Year" is the false claim that the health care reform law is "a government takeover of health care." And yet, Fox News' "objective" reporters were ordered to play directly into that damaging narrative.

To be sure, many advertisers have taken a step in the right direction by refusing to support some of Fox News' deplorable "opinion" and "entertainment" shows -- after all, who wants to drag a hard-earned (and valuable) brand identity through the mud by associating it with people who call the president racist, or repeatedly claim "all terrorists are Muslim," or promote anti-Semites, or engage in bizarre conspiracy theories?

In fact, just this week, Omaha Steaks pulled its ads from Beck's show, joining a growing list of over 100 advertisers that have done the same.

But while that may mean that Fox is forced to air "Foundation for a Better Life" commercials -- courtesy of conservative Phillip Anschutz -- five times in a row during Beck's show, it doesn't stop advertisers from subsidizing the lies on dozens of other Fox programs.

When asked several months ago about the Beck advertising boycott, Rupert Murdoch claimed, "We have not lost any business at all; some [advertisers] may have moved to other programs," but "it has not affected the total revenues or the profits."

Last year, Paul Rittenberg, a Fox advertising executive, made the same point to the Times. The Beck boycott "caus[ed] headaches" for Rittenberg's team, the Times reported, but "he said Fox 'hasn't lost a dime' because the ads were moved to different hours" -- presumably hours filled with so-called "objective" news reports that skittish advertisers thought were safely non-controversial.

A year ago, these advertisers may have been able to take false comfort in the Fox News canard that there exists any sort of division between Fox news and Fox opinion programming, but with the release of the Sammon emails, how long will they keep kidding themselves?

"Government Takeover" of Health Care Called "Lie of the Year"

The health care bill, passed in March, was surrounded by public claims that it would be a "government takeover" of the health care system. has found this to be the biggest "lie of the year."

The claim that the health care overhaul bill reflects a "government takeover of healthcare" has won the "lie of the year" award from the fact-checking website

The Pulitzer Prize winning website, which is associated with the St. Petersburg Times, noted in announcing the award that "it is inaccurate to call the plan a government takeover because it relies largely on the existing system of health coverage provided by employers."

"It is true that the law does significantly increase government regulation of health insurance. But it is, at its heart, a system that relies on private companies and the free market," the site said.

Politifact noted that it is not weighing in on the validity or effectiveness of the health care law itself, but rather on the truthfulness of the characterization of it. It noted that under the bill a majority of Americans will continue to get health coverage from their employers through private insurance companies, that the government did not take control over hospitals or doctors, and that the law did not include a public option, whereby a government run insurance plan would compete with private companies.

PolitFact editor Bill Adair appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" Friday morning to discuss the award, saying that the health care claim is "ridiculously false."

"The plan relies on private insurance companies (and) in fact private insurance companies are actually going to end up with more business because of the law. It was definitely the most pervasive falsehood of the year," he told NPR's Steve Inskeep.

According to the Politifact report, the claims was first pushed by Republican consultant Frank Luntz, as early as the spring of 2009. In a 28-page memo calling for Republicans to use the phrase, Luntz wrote, "Takeovers are like coups. They both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom."

According to PolitiFact, this phrase "government takeover of health care" was "uttered by dozens of politicians and pundits, it played an important role in shaping public opinion about the health care plan and was a significant factor in the Democrats' shellacking in the November elections." The phrase appears on incoming House speaker John Boehner's website at least 90 times and shows up more than 200 times on the Repbulican National Committee's website.

"Republicans who maintain the Democratic plan is a government takeover say that characterization is justified because the plan increases federal regulation and will require Americans to buy health insurance," added PolitiFact.

Slate, and the New York Times have also deemed the claim false.

"Yes, there would be a substantial government-mandated reorganization of this relatively small corner of the private health insurance market," the Times wrote. "But that hardly constitutes a government takeover of American health care."
PolitiFact argues the false claim was reinforced by media coverage, with "government takeover" mentioned 28 times in the Washington Post, 77 times in Politico and 79 times on CNN in 2010. It suggests part of the success of the phrase was tied to the fact that Democrats did not offer a resonant catchphrase of their own.

PolitiFact's 2009 Lie of the Year was the suggestion that the bill included "death panels." The site also offered runners up this year, including claims by Democrats that Republicans were calling for the privatization or phasing-out of Social Security.

Congress Sends Unchanged Bipartisan Bill to Avert Jan. 1 Tax Rises to President Obama for a Signature

Acting with uncommon speed, Congress sent President Barack Obama sweeping, bipartisan legislation late Thursday to avoid a Jan. 1 spike in income taxes for millions and renew jobless benefits for victims of the worst recession in 80 years.

The measure also will cut Social Security taxes for nearly every wage-earner and pump billions of dollars into the still-sluggish economy. CBS News Capitol Hill correspondent Nancy Cordes reports, it's essentially an early Christmas present for every American tax payer.

The 277-148 vote came less than 24 hours after the Senate cleared the bill, 81-19.

The legislation was the result of a reach across party lines between Obama and top Republicans in Congress - stubborn adversaries during two years of political combat that ended when the GOP emerged the undisputed winner in midterm elections on Nov. 2.

CBS Radio News correspondent Bob Fuss reports that House Democrats tried but fell short of the votes to change the bill and trim back the generous benefits to those inheriting multi-million dollar estates.

Tax Cut Bill: A Guide to the Extensions, Cuts and Credits
What Deficit? Tax Deal Comes With Major Costs
Obama Tax Cuts: Winners and Losers

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla., called it "a bipartisan moment of clarity" as the House moved toward a vote.

After forcing a delay in the House early in the day, Democratic critics settled for a separate vote in their bid to toughen an estate tax rovision they attacked as a giveaway to the very rich. They were defeated, 233-194, with one vote of "present."

"The president will be able to sign it as soon as he likes," said Rep. Rob Andrews of New Jersey, who added later on the House floor he was supporting "an imperfect bill" in hopes of stimulating job creation.

House Republicans who will move into powerful posts when the GOP takes control in January urged passage of the bill.

Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, in line to become majority leader, said the measure, while not perfect, marked a "first step" toward economic recovery.

Largely marginalized in the negotiations leading to the bill, Democrats emphasized their unhappiness with Obama.

"We stand today with only one choice: Pay the ransom now or pay more ransom later," said Rep. Brad Sherman of California. "This is not a place Democrats want to be. But, ultimately, it is better to pay the ransom today than to watch the president pay even more, and I think he'd be willing to pay a bit more next month."

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said the White House "could have gotten a better deal" in secretive talks.

Policy differences aside, the legislation stood on the brink of enactment an astonishingly quick 10 days after the president announced at the White House he had agreed on a framework with Republicans.

With the economy performing poorly and a year-end tax increase looming, there were none of the customary congressional hearings that normally precede debate on major legislation, and few if any complaints that lawmakers had not had enough time to review the legislation.

The bill provides a two-year extension of tax cuts enacted when George W. Bush was president, avoiding an increase at all income levels that would otherwise occur on New Year's Day.

It would also renew an expiring program of benefits for the long-term unemployed, and enact a reduction in Social Security taxes for 2011 that would amount to $1,000 for an individual earning $50,000 a year. The bill's cost, $858 billion over two years, would be tacked on to the federal deficit, a sore spot with deficit hawks in both parties.

Obama urged the House to approved the measure unchanged, calling the bill a good compromise with Republicans that would help the economy recover from the worst recession in decades.

But his pleas have failed to satisfy critics in the House who adamantly opposed a provision that would allow $5 million of each spouse's estate to pass to heirs without taxation, with the balance subjected to a 35 percent rate.

Many Democrats favor an alternative to reduce the amount that can be inherited tax free to $3.5 million, and tax the balance at 45 percent.

Supporters said that, if approved, the change would expose an additional 6,600 estates to taxes in 2011, and the government would collect $23 billion over two years as a result.

Democratic leaders have spent the past few days trying to satisfy liberals inside the party who wanted to kill - or at least change - the bill, without running the risk of having taxes rise for millions on Jan. 1.

Republicans have left them little maneuvering room, warning they may walk away from their agreement with Obama if the measure is changed.

Nor was the tax bill the only priority that the White House and congressional leaders worked on as the year - and their control of both houses of Congress - neared an end.

Temporary funding for the federal government expires over the weekend, and Democrats want to enact a pork barrel-stuffed spending measure before conservatives take over the House in January.

Obama still hopes to push ratification of a new arms control treaty with Russia through the Senate, and the White House and party leaders seek legislation to let openly gay servicemen and servicewomen remain in the military.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., one of the critics of the Obama-GOP agreement, said it is important for opponents to have the opportunity to vote on alternatives, even if they have no chance of passing.

"This is the last opportunity we have," he said, noting that Congress will soon adjourn for the year and Republicans will control the House in January.

Other tax cuts, enacted in the past decade, include a more generous child tax credit, breaks for college students, lower taxes on capital gains and dividends and a series of business tax breaks designed to encourage investment. All would be extended if the legislation passes.

The jobless benefits that would be renewed would go to individuals who have been laid off more than 26 weeks but less than 99. Checks average about $300 a week.

Numerous business tax breaks that are due to expire would also be extended, as would a series of provisions relating to energy taxes.

Among them is the federal subsidy for ethanol, supported by many veteran lawmakers from Midwestern states but targeted for cuts or possible extinction by conservatives who will take office in January.

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