House sends debt limit hike to Biden, staving off default

WASHINGTON (AP) — Members of the House on Tuesday pushed through a short-term increase to the nation's debt limit, ensuring the federal government can continue fully paying its bills into December and temporarily averting an unprecedented default that would have decimated the economy.

The $480 billion increase in the country's borrowing ceiling cleared the Senate last week on a party-line vote. The House approved it swiftly so President Joe Biden can sign it into law this week. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had warned that steps to stave off a default on the country's debts would be exhausted by Monday, and from that point, the department would soon be unable to fully meet the government's financial obligations.

A default would have immense fallout on global financial markets built upon the bedrock safety of U.S. government debt. Routine government payments to Social Security beneficiaries, disabled veterans and active-duty military personnel would also be called into question.

The relief provided by passage of the legislation will only be temporary though, forcing Congress to revisit the issue in December — a time when lawmakers will also be laboring to complete federal spending bills and avoid a damaging government shutdown. The yearend backlog raises risks for both parties and threatens a tumultuous close to Biden's first year in office.

“I’m glad that this at least allows us to prevent a totally self-made and utterly preventable economic catastrophe as we work on a longer-term plan,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.


Texas order reflects growing GOP vaccine mandates hostility

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — With the governor of Texas leading the charge, conservative Republicans in several states are moving to block or undercut President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates for private employers before the regulations are even issued.

The growing battle over what some see as overreach by the federal government is firing up a segment of the Republican Party base, even though many large employers have already decided on their own to require their workers to get the shot.

The dustup will almost certainly end up in court since GOP attorneys general in nearly half of the states have vowed to sue once the rule is unveiled.

The courts have long upheld vaccine mandates, and the Constitution gives the federal government the upper hand over the states, but with the details still unannounced and more conservative judges on the bench, the outcome isn't entirely clear.

On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order barring private companies or any other entity from requiring vaccines. It was perhaps the most direct challenge yet to Biden’s announcement a month ago that workers at private companies with more than 100 employees would have to get vaccinated or tested weekly for the coronavirus.


Coroner: Gabby Petito strangled 3-4 weeks before body found

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Cross-country traveler Gabby Petito was strangled, a Wyoming coroner announced Tuesday.

Petito, 22, died three to four weeks before her body was found Sept. 19 near an undeveloped camping area along the border of Grand Teton National Park in remote northern Wyoming, Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue said in a news conference.

It wasn't clear if the determination might lead to additional charges against Petito's boyfriend and traveling partner, Brian Laundrie, who is considered a person of interest in her disappearance and remains unaccounted for.

Blue declined to say more about the autopsy or the case overall, saying he was prevented by Wyoming law that limits what coroners can release.

Petito had been on a cross-country trip with Laundrie, visiting Colorado, Utah and other states. She was reported missing Sept. 11 by her parents after she did not respond to calls and texts for several days while the couple visited national parks in the West.


FDA authorizes first e-cigarette, cites benefit for smokers

WASHINGTON (AP) — For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized an electronic cigarette, saying the vaping device from R.J. Reynolds can help smokers cut back on conventional cigarettes.

E-cigarettes have been sold in the U.S. for more than a decade with minimal government oversight or research. Facing a court deadline, the FDA has been conducting a sweeping review of vaping products to determine which ones should be allowed to remain on the market.

The agency said in September it had rejected applications for more than a million e-cigarettes and related products, mainly due to their potential appeal to underage teens. But regulators delayed making decisions on most of the major vaping companies, including market leader Juul, which is still pending.

Tuesday's decision only applies to Vuse’s Solo e-cigarette and its tobacco-flavored nicotine cartridges. The agency said data from the company showed the e-cigarette helped smokers significantly reduce their exposure to the harmful chemicals in traditional cigarettes.

While the products can now be legally sold in the U.S., the FDA stressed they are neither safe nor “FDA approved,” and that people who don’t smoke shouldn’t use them.


3 employees killed in shooting at postal facility in Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Two U.S. Postal Service workers were fatally shot Tuesday at a postal facility in Memphis and a third employee identified as the shooter died from a self-inflicted gunshot, authorities said. It was the third high-profile shooting in or near that west Tennessee city in weeks.

U.S. Postal Inspector Susan Link said the three postal workers were found dead after the shooting at the East Lamar Carrier Annex in a prominent Memphis neighborhood. FBI spokeswoman Lisa-Anne Culp said the shooting was carried out by a third postal service worker, who shot him or herself.

No identities or motive were released by Link or Culp at a brief news conference late Tuesday afternoon.

The shooting occurred at a post office facility in the historic Orange Mound neighborhood, southeast of downtown Memphis. The carrier annex is only used by employees.

The street leading to the complex was blocked by police Tuesday afternoon following the shooting, and the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and other federal authorities went to investigate. Bystanders watching the police activity talked near a convenience store at an intersection. Nearby, officers had blocked the street with yellow crime scene tape and barricades. Some cars slowed down as they drove past police and reporters.


Federal immigration agents to end practice of worksite raids

CHICAGO (AP) — Federal immigration agents will end mass workplace arrests of immigrant employees suspected of living in the U.S. without legal permission, according to a memo issued Tuesday by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Instead, the focus will shift to pursuing “unscrupulous employers who exploit the vulnerability of undocumented workers” and emphasize fighting worker abuse including paying substandard wages, unsafe working conditions and human trafficking.

The three-page memo directs the heads of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and Citizenship and Immigration Services to draw up a plan within two months to increase employer penalties, encourage workers to report unscrupulous practices without fear and coordinate with other agencies, such as the Department of Labor.

Mass worksite raids were common under former President Donald Trump, including a 2019 operation targeting Mississippi chicken plants, the largest such operation in over a decade. Trump and other Republican presidents defended raids as strong deterrents against illegal immigration, while workers groups called them unfair and discriminatory. For instance, most of the 680 workers arrested at chicken plants run by companies including Illinois-based Koch Foods were Latino.

Tuesday's move away from raids more closely resembles the approach by former President Barack Obama, who largely avoided such operations, limiting workplace immigration efforts to low-profile audits.


To oldly go: Shatner, 90, inspires with real-life space trip

VAN HORN, Texas (AP) — As William Shatner prepares to be beamed up Wednesday for his first real-life spaceflight, and to become at 90 the oldest person ever to enter the final frontier, he's bringing out the awe in the small handful of people around a rural Texas spaceport.

Shatner's 10-minute trip with three others on the second passenger flight from Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin will be more like the first space launches of the 1960s than the fictional galactic voyages of the Starship Enterprise on “Star Trek,” but the very idea of him leaving the atmosphere is powerful.

“It’s time Captain Kirk actually physically got up into space. I’m kind of excited about that,” said Becky Brewster, mayor of Van Horn, a rural town of about 1,800 people on what was once desolate desert ranchland in far West Texas that has been transformed by the presence of the Blue Origin spaceport facilities 25 miles away.

The mayor, a lifelong “Star Trek” fan, said she was disappointed she wasn't invited to the launch site but is savoring the moment anyway. She's planning to watch from her backyard with the livestream playing.

“He and Mr. Spock were the ones that got me interested in space and science fiction and and everything else," Brewster said. “So, from junior high age up to now where William Shatner is actually in our town fixing to go up into space. You know, it’s kind of like the whole circle now for me.”


Companies scraping for staff ahead of the holidays

NEW YORK (AP) — All employers want for Christmas is some holiday help. But they might not get their wish.

Companies that typically hire thousands of seasonal workers are heading into the holidays during one of the tightest job markets in decades, making it unlikely they’ll find all the workers they need. For shoppers, it might mean a less than jolly holiday shopping experience, with unstaffed store aisles and online orders that take longer than usual to fill.

Job openings are already plentiful, allowing job seekers to be pickier about where they work. There were 10.4 million job openings at the end of August and 11.1 million openings the month before, the highest on record since at least December 2000, when the government started recording that figure. At the same time, the Labor Department said that the number of people quitting their jobs jumped to 4.3 million in August, up from 4 million in July.

Even before the holiday hiring season, employers were so desperate to find workers that they raised pay above $15 an hour, started offering four-figure sign-on bonuses and promised to pay their schooling. But that yielded only limited success. If they can’t find the workers they need in time for the holidays, employers will likely rely on existing staff to work more overtime, which can become costly for businesses and lead to burnout for workers.

“I’ve never seen a market like this,” said Matt Lavery, UPS’s global director of sourcing and recruiting, who has worked on the hiring side of the package delivery company for 24 years. “Normally when you’re talking about people coming off unemployment benefits, you see surges in candidates. We’re not seeing those.”


Fewer in US turn to food banks, but millions still in need

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hunger and food insecurity across the United States have dropped measurably over the past six months, but the need remains far above pre-pandemic levels. And specialists in hunger issues warn that the situation for millions of families remains extremely fragile.

An Associated Press review of bulk distribution numbers from hundreds of food banks across the country revealed a clear downward trend in the amount of food handed out across the country, starting in the spring as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout took hold and closed sectors of the economy began to reopen.

"It’s come down, but it’s still elevated,” said Katie Fitzgerald, COO of Feeding America, a nonprofit organization that coordinates the efforts of more than 200 food banks across the country and that provided the AP with the national distribution numbers. She warned that despite the recent decreases, the amount of food being distributed by Feeding America's partner food banks remained more than 55% above pre-pandemic levels. “We’re worried (food insecurity) could increase all over again if too many shoes drop," she said.

Those potential setbacks include the advance of the delta variant of the coronavirus, which has already delayed planned returns to the office for millions of employees and which could threaten school closures and other shutdowns as the nation enters the winter flu season. Other obstacles include the gradual expiration of several COVID-19-specific protections such as the eviction moratorium and expanded unemployment benefits.

All told, families facing food insecurity find themselves still dependent on outside assistance and extremely vulnerable to unforeseen difficulties.


M-V-Free! Freeman HR sends Braves to NLCS, 5-4 over Brewers

ATLANTA (AP) — Freddie Freeman and the Atlanta Braves will get another chance to finish the job they came agonizingly close to achieving a year ago.

It doesn’t matter at all that they had fewer wins than any other playoff team.

Freeman hit an improbable, tiebreaking homer off Milwaukee closer Josh Hader with two outs in the eighth inning and the Braves advanced to the NL Championship Series for the second year in a row, finishing off the Brewers 5-4 on Tuesday night.

The Braves won the best-of-five Division Series three games to one, advancing to face either the 107-win San Francisco Giants or the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers with a trip to the World Series on the line.

“I've had a lot of cool moments in my career," Freeman said. ‘I think that’s gonna top ‘em all. Hopefully it’s not the last one and I've got a couple more in these playoffs."

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