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Obama agenda: Looking for votes

Politico reports that President Obama is working the phones trying to court Republicans on the three-month extension on unemployment benefits: “Obama spoke with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) about the need to extend the benefits. The White House also reached out to the office of Sen. Mark Kirk, but the senator said he wasn’t able to connect with Obama. The Illinois Republican said Obama’s outreach was evidence that the Senate Democrats don’t have the votes. ‘He doesn’t normally like calling us,’ Kirk said of Obama.” 

“The relentless rise in healthcare spending — which had threatened government budgets and helped pave the way for President Obama's health law — continued to moderate in 2012, the fourth year of a historic slowdown, newly released federal data show,” the L.A. Times reports. “Overall spending on healthcare rose less than 4% in 2012, less than half the rate of a decade ago, independent economists at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services concluded. For only the third time in the last 15 years, health spending grew more slowly than the overall economy as measured by the non-inflation-adjusted U.S. gross domestic product. That meant that healthcare shrank slightly as a share of the U.S. economy, from 17.3% in 2011 to 17.2% in 2012.”

Mark Z. Barabak goes to Kentucky and interviews Gov. Steve Beshear: “Leading one of the nation's poorest, sickest states, Beshear has improbably overseen one of the most successful rollouts of Obama's troubled healthcare overhaul and become, deep in his long public career, a hero to Democrats grasping to find a redeeming figure amid the political wreckage. He's an unlikely champion, not least because Kentucky's two U.S. senators are both implacable opponents of the program.”  

Said Beshear: "I think we've started something here," he later added, "that a generation from now you'll see a very different Kentucky than what you see today."

AP: “Vice President Joe Biden spoke by phone Monday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his frequent parliamentary critic, in a show of U.S. angst about escalating, al-Qaida-linked violence in Iraq two years after the U.S. pulled out of Iraq.”

Mideast peace plan coming soon? “The U.S. ambassador to Israel says a framework proposal on all issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be presented to both sides soon,” AP writes. “Dan Shapiro told Israel Radio on Tuesday that the proposal will include security arrangements, borders, Jerusalem and all the other ‘core issues.’”

AP: “Janet Yellen will take the helm of a Federal Reserve facing a significantly different economic landscape than the one that dominated Ben Bernanke's tenure as chairman, confronting her with different decisions as well.”

Reuters: “Janet Yellen - a skilled economist who likes to hike and cook - made history on Monday as the U.S. Senate confirmed her to be the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve in its 100-year history.” 

AP: “His agenda tattered by last year's confrontations and missteps, President Barack Obama begins 2014 clinging to the hope of winning a lasting legislative achievement: an overhaul of immigration laws. … If successful, an immigration compromise could restore some luster to Obama's agenda, tarnished in 2013 by failures on gun legislation, bipartisan pushback on his efforts to take military action against Syria and the disastrous enrollment start for his health care law.” 

More: “Obama, whose support among Latinos has dropped from nearly 80 percent to 55 percent, has been under increasing pressure to use his executive powers to limit deportations. Obama's Homeland Security Department has deported 1.9 million people during the president's nearly five years in office, prompting protests ranging from a 22-day fast by activists in Washington to outbursts at Obama public events.” 

A CNN/ORC poll finds by a 55%/44% margin, Americans want marijuana legalized.