AP News in Brief at 4:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on March 1, 2013 at 10:03 PM

Updated Saturday, Mar 2 at 4:02 AM

No budging on budget cuts: Combative Obama, Republicans blame each other at sequester deadline

WASHINGTON (AP) — Gridlocked once more, President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders refused to budge in their budget standoff Friday as $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts bore down on individual Americans and the nation's still-recovering economy. "None of this is necessary," said the president after a sterile White House meeting that portended a long standoff.

Obama formally enacted the reductions a few hours before the midnight deadline required by law. Yet their impact had been felt thousands of miles away well before then. In Seattle, the King County Housing Authority announced it had stopped issuing housing vouchers under a federal program that benefits "elderly or disabled households, veterans, and families with children."

The president met with top lawmakers for less than an hour at the White House, then sought repeatedly to fix the blame on Republicans for the broad spending reductions and any damage that they inflict. "They've allowed these cuts to happen because they refuse to budge on closing a single wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit," he said, renewing his demand for a comprehensive deficit-cutting deal that includes higher taxes.

Republicans said they wanted deficit cuts, too, but not tax increases. "The president got his tax hikes on Jan. 1," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters, a reference to a $600 billion increase on higher wage earners that cleared Congress on the first day of the year. Now, he said after the meeting, it is time take on "the spending problem here in Washington."

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was equally emphatic. " I will not be part of any back-room deal, and I will absolutely not agree to increase taxes," he vowed in a written statement.

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Federal spending cuts could leave military school districts scrambling to finish school year

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — Public schools everywhere will be affected by the government's automatic budget cuts, but few may feel the funding pinch faster than those on and around military bases.

School districts with military ties from coast-to-coast are bracing for increased class sizes and delayed building repairs. Others already have axed sports teams and even eliminated teaching positions, but still may have to tap savings just to make it through year's end.

But there's little hope for softening any future financial blows.

"Next year is scarier than this year," said Sharon Adams, chief financial officer for Muscogee County schools in Georgia. The district serves the U.S. Army's Fort Benning and could lose $300,000 in federal funding out of its $270 million in general funds before the end of the school — and more than four times that in 2013-2014.

The schools' losses will come from cuts to a federal program known as "Impact Aid" that supplements local property tax losses for districts that cover federal land, including military posts and Indian tribal areas. About 1,400 school districts serving roughly 11 million children nationwide — including nearly 376,500 students from military families — benefit from the aid, said Jocelyn Bissonnette, director of government affairs for the Washington-based National Association of Federally Impacted Schools.

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Keystone XL supporters say new State Dept. report shows project should be approved immediately

WASHINGTON (AP) — A new State Department report is the latest evidence that the long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada should be approved, supporters say.

The draft report, issued Friday, finds there would be no significant environmental impact to most resources along the proposed route from western Canada to refineries in Texas. The report also said other options to get the oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries are worse for climate change.

The new report "again makes clear there is no reason for this critical pipeline to be blocked one more day," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. After four years of what he called "needless delays," Boehner said it is time for President Barack Obama "to stand up for middle-class jobs and energy security and approve the Keystone pipeline."

Environmentalists see the State Department report in a vastly different light.

They say it was inadequate and failed to account for climate risks posed by the pipeline. The report also is based on a false premise, opponents say — namely, that tar sands in western Canada will be developed for oil production regardless of whether the Keystone XL pipeline is approved.

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Florida sinkhole that swallowed man in bedroom grows deeper; officials warn home is dangerous

SEFFNER, Fla. (AP) — Engineers worked gingerly to find out more about a slowly growing sinkhole that swallowed a Florida man in his bedroom, believing the entire house could eventually succumb to the unstable ground.

Jeff Bush, 37, was in his bedroom Thursday night when the earth opened and took him and everything else in his room. Five other people were in the house but managed to escape unharmed. Bush's brother jumped into the hole to try to help, but he had to be rescued himself by a sheriff's deputy.

Engineers were expected at the home to do more tests after sunrise Saturday. They spent the previous day on the property, taking soil samples and running various tests — while acknowledging that the entire lot was dangerous. No one was allowed in the home.

"I cannot tell you why it has not collapsed yet," Bill Bracken, the owner of an engineering company called to assess the sinkhole, said of the home. He described the earth below as a "very large, very fluid mass."

"This is not your typical sinkhole," said Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill. "This is a chasm. For that reason, we're being very deliberate."

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Gov't freed more than 2,000 immigrants from jail since mid-February, planned 3,000 more

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Homeland Security Department released from its jails more than 2,000 illegal immigrants facing deportation in recent weeks due to looming budget cuts and planned to release 3,000 more during March, The Associated Press has learned.

The newly disclosed figures, cited in internal budget documents reviewed by the AP, are significantly higher than the "few hundred" illegal immigrants the Obama administration acknowledged this week had been released under the budget-savings process.

The government documents show that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement released roughly 1,000 illegal immigrants from its jails around the U.S. each week since at least Feb. 15. The agency's field offices have reported more than 2,000 immigrants released before intense criticism this week led to a temporary shutdown of the plan, according to the documents.

The states where immigrants were released include Arizona, California, Georgia and Texas.

The White House has said it was not consulted about the releases, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has acknowledged they occurred in a manner she regrets.

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Romney emerges from seclusion, but his return to spotlight may be short-lived

BOSTON (AP) — Mitt Romney is stepping back onto the national stage — if only briefly.

The former Republican presidential candidate criticized President Barack Obama's leadership in an interview aired Friday night on Fox News, his first public comments after nearly four months in seclusion at his home in Southern California. He was scheduled to deliver his first postelection speech later in the month at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

Romney said Friday that Obama has been "flying around the country and berating Republicans and blaming and pointing" instead of preventing Washington's latest budget crisis.

His re-emergence may be short-lived.

Former aides describe this month's activity as a thank-you tour of sorts designed to close out a high-profile political career that spanned a decade. And the Republican Party isn't exactly clamoring for his return.

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Venezuela government reveals Chavez again receiving chemotherapy in his 'battle for life'

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez has been receiving chemotherapy since recovering from a severe respiratory infection in mid-January and "continues his battle for life," his vice president said late Friday.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro suggested the chemotherapy was continuing in the government's first mention of it as among treatments that Venezuela's cancer-stricken president has received since his Dec. 11 cancer surgery in Cuba.

Maduro made the disclosure after a Mass for Chavez in a new chapel outside the military hospital where authorities say the socialist leader has been since being flown back to Caracas on Feb. 18.

The vice president quoted Chavez as saying he decided to return to Venezuela because he was entering "a new phase" of "more intense and tough" treatments and wanted to be in Caracas for them.

Maduro's offering of the most detailed rundown to date of Chavez's post-operative struggle came hours after an accusation by opposition leader Henrique Capriles that the government has repeatedly lied about Chavez's condition.

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Jury acquits former University of Montana star quarterback of rape charge in high-profile case

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Jurors deliberated for less than three hours before acquitting a former University of Montana quarterback in a rape trial that has played out amid NCAA and federal investigations into how the city and school respond to rape allegations on campus.

Jordan Johnson and his attorney David Paoli both cried after the verdict was announced Friday, and cheers erupted from the area where the defendant's family was sitting in the packed courtroom.

The accusations against Johnson, 20, have drawn much attention in Montana, where UM football is the top sports attraction. Johnson led the school to a successful 2011 season as starting quarterback before being accused of assaulting a woman while watching a movie with her at her home last year.

His case has unfolded against a backdrop of NCAA and federal investigations of the university's athletic department and the manner in which rape allegations are handled on campus, investigated by police and prosecuted by the Missoula County attorney's office.

The situation left some worried that the highly successful football team was out of control off the field.

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Paleyfest-goers in LA show their love for 'The Walking Dead' fan favorite Norman Reedus

LOS ANGELES (AP) — From week to week fans simply never know which characters will survive the relentless zombie attacks on AMC's hit series "The Walking Dead."

That unpredictability keeps viewers on the edge of their seats and the shows' stars in a constant state of alertness.

"You see series and they last a long time and sometimes the writing gets lazy or the acting gets lazy. Because we're in a zombie apocalypse and anyone can go at any time, it sort of keeps us fresh and on our toes," Norman Reedus told The Associated Press Friday.

Fans lined up around the block to watch a panel discussion with Reedus and his co-stars at Paleyfest, the annual Southern California TV celebration. Many in the crowd showed their support for Reedus' crossbow-wielding character, Daryl Dixon, with their "If Daryl dies we riot!" T-shirts.

The 44-year-old actor says his vocal fan base is responsible for his character's impressive longevity in a series that seems to have no qualms in axing its most popular characters.

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Wade scores 22, James hits a big 3 and Heat extend win streak to 13, top Grizzlies 98-91

MIAMI (AP) — For a while, it looked as though a pair of long streaks were in jeopardy.

That is, until LeBron James finally got going — at the perfect time.

Dwyane Wade scored 22 points and set up James for a critical 3-pointer in the final half-minute, and the Heat extended their winning streak to 13 games by beating the Memphis Grizzlies 98-91 on Friday night.

"I thought this was one of our better wins of the season," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "It was tough. We had to work for everything. We had to find a different way to win, deal with frustration ... and then make some plays down the stretch."

On a night when he shot just 4 for 14, James finished two rebounds shy of a triple-double, with 18 points and 10 assists. Shane Battier scored 14, Chris Bosh added 13 and Ray Allen had 10 for Miami, which snapped Memphis' eight-game winning streak.

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