Good morning! Here’s what you need to know:
1. A shutdown of the United States government looms. Negotiators on Capitol Hill and at The White House have so far been unable to reach a final FY 2011 budget accord. The deadline for reaching a deal is tonight.
2. The parties are fighting over about $7 billion in differences in this year’s budget, which is about 0.2 per cent of the $3.5 trillion federal budget. As Matt Cooper points out, this is like a family making $100,000 falling apart over $200.
3. Retiring defence Secretary Robert Gates, on what he said would be his last official trip to Iraq, told soldiers serving there that they would be paid, he just couldn’t tell them exactly when they would be paid in the event of a government shutdown.
4. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai plans to replace his Cabinet ministers for defence and finance, a move that will likely alarm the international community and enrage the United States.
5. Major protests are expected in Syria today in towns near Damascus that have come to be called “the revolution belt.”
6. General Carter Ham, who led the initial phases of the Allied military intervention into Libya, told a Congressional Committee yesterday that the Qaddafi regime appears to be “consolidating its position rather than collapsing on the ground,” according to Time magazine.
7. As expected, the European Central Bank yesterday raised interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point. The era of cheap money is over in Europe, says the Wall Street Journal. The big question now is whether the United States will follow suit. Gillian Tett has a good overview.
8. Martin Wolf argues that the Central Bank of England made the right decision in not raising its interest rate. “I see no decisive case for the Bank to follow the ECB. But if inflation does not fall back soon and if inflation expectations deteriorate, tightening will, alas, have to occur. The economy will then go from nasty to nastier. It is a dire prospect.”
9. The WSJ reports: “The migration wave unleashed by North African unrest has prompted France to resurrect its border with Italy—a barrier that was supposedly consigned to history’s dustbin with Europe’s unified economy.”
10. President Obama has seen his support among white voters decline after more than two years on the job. Well-educated white women like him. Virtually every other sub-group of white voters is decidedly chilly.
11. New vote totals from Wisconsin changed the results of Tuesday’s election. Incumbent State Supreme Court Justice Richard Prosser now leads his Democratic challenger by roughly 7500 votes. More to follow.
12. Rory McIlroy and some guy you’ve never heard of took the early lead at The Masters golf tournament. Both men shot 7-under-par. Action resumes shortly.