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Inside Politics: Obama hopes to talk to Romney before 2013

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President Obama says he hasn't yet scheduled a meeting with Republican Mitt Romney.

At a news conference Wednesday, Mr. Obama said he hopes to have the chance to talk with Mr. Romney before the end of the year.

The president, who said he thinks Mr. Romney did a terrific job with the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, doesn't have a specific assignment in mind for his former rival, but said he does want to talk about some of the Republican's ideas.

CONGRESS

Rep. Paul touts libertarian values in farewell speech

Ron Paul, who is leaving Congress next month after coming up short in his bid for the GOP presidential nomination earlier this year, made a plea for a more libertarian America today in his farewell speech on the floor of the U.S. House.

"I have come to one firm conviction after these many years of trying to figure out 'the plain truth of things,'" the Texas Republican said. "The best chance for achieving peace and prosperity, for the maximum number of people worldwide, is to pursue the cause of liberty."

He called for a less-militaristic America on the international stage:

"A moral people must reject all violence in an effort to mold peoples' beliefs and habits," he said. "A society that boos or ridicules the Golden Rule is not a moral society."

CONGRESS

FDA seeks more authority amid meningitis outbreak

The head of the Food and Drug Administration asked Congress on Wednesday for more authority to police pharmacies like the one that triggered a deadly meningitis outbreak, even as lawmakers questioned why the agency didn't do more with its existing powers.

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg called for new laws to clarify her agency's authority to crack down on companies like the New England Compounding Center, which distributed contaminated pain injections that have sickened more than 460 Americans, causing 32 deaths.

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee spent most of the first hearing on the outbreak questioning state and federal regulators about why they didn't act sooner against the company.

A timeline assembled by the committee's Republican staff showed that the FDA and the Massachusetts board of pharmacy investigated the pharmacy more than a dozen times in the past decade. In particular, lawmakers pointed to a 2002 FDA inspection that found contamination issues with the same steroid implicated in the latest recall.

CONGRESS

Subpoena issued on use of funds to promote health law

Saying the Obama administration has refused to come clean about how it promoted the president's signature health care law, the chairman of a key House committee issued a subpoena Wednesday demanding that the Department of Health and Human Services explain whether taxpayer funds were used to put Obamacare in a positive light.

Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the Obama administration has "repeatedly stonewalled" the committee's requests for information related to news reports that HHS spent millions of taxpayer dollars on pro-Affordable Care Act websites and television commercials.

"The lack of response leads me to believe that this administration is either unwilling to disclose why they are using taxpayer dollars to market their unpopular law or are unable to keep track of how those taxpayer dollars are being spent," the Michigan Republican said in a press release. "Either way, the American people deserve to know where their hard-earned money is going."

Mr. Camp and Rep. Charles W. Boustany Jr., Louisiana Republican and oversight subcommittee chairman, threatened to subpoena HHS last month, writing that the department's "failure to provide a single responsive document to the committee's reasonable requests leaves only two possibilities: either the department is unable to keep track of the work products it buys with taxpayer dollars or the department is trying to delay any response until after this year's election."

SENATE

As predicted, Angus King to caucus with Democrats

Independent Sen.-elect Angus King of Maine said Wednesday he has decided to caucus with Democrats, which will add to the party's voting edge.

His decision ends months of speculation about which party he would align with.

The former Maine governor was elected last week to replace retiring Republican Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a prominent centrist who complained about Washington's partisan gridlock in stepping down. GOP and conservative super PACs spent millions of dollars to attack Mr. King during the campaign for Ms. Snowe's seat.

With Mr. King joining their caucus, Democrats will have a 55-45 edge in the Senate. Mr. King said that caucusing with Democrats will still allow him to take independent positions on issues.

TRADE

Advisory panel wants more China oversight

A congressional advisory panel Wednesday urged tighter screening of investment by Chinese state-owned companies in the U.S., saying they present unfair competition to American firms.

That's the primary recommendation of an annual report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The panel advises Congress on the national security implications of the relationship between the world's two biggest economies.

It is proposing that Congress broaden the mandate of a committee chaired by Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner that screens foreign investment proposals.

China already accuses the U.S. of discriminating against its companies, although analysts say American firms face bigger obstructions investing in China. Chinese investment in the U.S. is still comparatively low but has risen sharply in recent years and is set to hit record levels in 2012.

HEALTH CARE

Liberal think-tank outlines substantial Medicare cuts

Trying to prevent a raid on health care programs in upcoming budget talks, a think tank close to the White House on Wednesday released a plan for significant savings, mostly from Medicare.

Medicaid and the new health care law are largely spared from cuts in the blueprint from the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress. Instead, it targets Medicare service providers, from the pharmaceutical industry to hospitals and nursing homes. Higher-income Medicare recipients also would face increased monthly premiums for outpatient and prescription coverage.

CENSUS

Fuller picture of poverty: 49.7M poor people in U.S.

A different way of calculating America's poor by taking into account medical costs and work-related expenses finds a higher total than the government's official count.

This measure is aimed at providing a fuller picture of poverty. It found there are 49.7 million poor people in the country — or 16.1 percent of the population. That compares with the 46.2 million, or 15 percent, as reported in September in the U.S. Census Bureau's official count.

According to the newly developed measure, those more likely to live in poverty are people 65 or older, urbanites and Hispanics — the result of medical expenses and higher living costs in cities.

California had the highest share of poor people, followed by Arizona and Florida. In the official tally, it is Mississippi, New Mexico and Arizona.

PENTAGON

Four-star general demoted in travel, spending scandal

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has demoted the former head of U.S. Africa Command who was accused of spending thousands of dollars on lavish travel and other unauthorized expenses, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

Mr. Panetta stripped Gen. William "Kip" Ward of a star, which means that he will now retire as a three-star lieutenant general. Gen.Ward also has been ordered to repay the government $82,000.

The demotion came after retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus resigned as CIA director because of an extramarital affair and Marine Gen. John Allen was being investigated for potentially improper communications with a woman.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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