Political Summary

Healthcare and global warming impede budget deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Healthcare, global warming, birth control and other hot-button political issues are threatening to derail a compromise over U.S. spending cuts, lawmakers and aides said on Friday. The dispute again raises the possibility of a government shutdown that would force thousands of layoffs and rattle financial markets, even as Republican and Democratic negotiators began to bridge a $50 billion gap between their rival spending plans.

Huckabee leads Republicans for president: poll

BOSTON (Reuters) – Mike Huckabee holds a small lead in the field of potential Republican presidential candidates, while Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin have slipped, according to a Gallup Poll released on Friday. Gallup’s survey of 1,000 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents taken on March 18-22 put support for former Arkansas Governor Huckabee at 19 percent.

Healthcare reform helping businesses: government data

CHICAGO (Reuters) – When President Barack Obama signed his healthcare overhaul into law a year ago, some U.S. companies were quick to flag — and write down — the millions of dollars they stood to lose as a result of one aspect of the measure. A year later, data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows the business community is one of the biggest beneficiaries of a separate provision of the overhaul, which provides billions of dollars in assistance to employers that maintain medical coverage for early retirees.

Obama seeks to assure lawmakers on Libya strategy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama told U.S. lawmakers on Friday American military forces are not seeking to topple Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi from power but are engaged in a limited effort to protect civilians. After days of complaints that he had not properly consulted Congress, Obama and top aides held an hour-long conference call from the White House Situation Room and briefed Democratic and Republican leaders.

Gates first U.S. defense chief to visit Palestinians

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Robert Gates on Friday became the first U.S. Defense Secretary to visit the West Bank, meeting Palestinian leaders keenly aware of every little nod to their hopes of achieving statehood. Children in Ramallah stared as the long motorcade of U.S. cars wound through the streets of the city north of Jerusalem.

Wisconsin Republicans say anti-union law in effect

MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) – Wisconsin Republicans said on Friday a measure stripping state public employees of most collective bargaining rights was now in effect after it was published by a legislative agency despite a judge’s order against publication. The move looked certain to stir fresh controversy over the legislation, which in recent weeks sparked huge demonstrations and ignited a national struggle over efforts by several budget-strapped state governments to rein in union power.

NATO deal leaves U.S. still commanding Libya strikes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A NATO decision to take charge of a no-fly zone over Libya does not include conducting air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi’s ground forces, a mission that will remain in U.S. hands until a new command deal is reached, Vice Admiral Bill Gortney said on Friday. Gortney, chief of the U.S. military’s Joint Staff, said the U.N.-backed operation against Gaddafi’s forces involved three different missions — an arms embargo, a no-fly zone and protecting Libyan civilians.

Former President Jimmy Carter to visit Cuba

HAVANA (Reuters) – Former President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn will visit Cuba next week to meet with President Raul Castro and discuss ways to improve U.S.-Cuba relations, a Carter spokeswoman said on Friday. The visit, made at the invitation of the Cuban government, raised the possibility that Carter would get involved in the case of U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross, recently sentenced to 15 years in prison for providing illegal Internet access to Cuban groups.

U.S. says sanctions possible in China copyright spat

GENEVA (Reuters) – China said on Friday it complied with “most measures at issue” in an international trade ruling made against its restrictions on copyright-intensive goods such as films, books and music. But the United States, which filed the case against China years ago, took a dimmer view of Beijing’s action to date and said the two sides had begun discussions of how to proceed if Washington decides to pursue a request to impose sanctions.

U.S. develops “panic button” for democracy activists

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some day soon, when pro-democracy campaigners have their cellphones confiscated by police, they’ll be able to hit the “panic button” — a special app that will both wipe out the phone’s address book and emit emergency alerts to other activists. The panic button is one of the new technologies the U.S. State Department is promoting to equip pro-democracy activists in countries ranging from the Middle East to China with the tools to fight back against repressive governments.