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THIS FIRST — LIKE FLIES — First, a batch of top-tier Republican prospects — including Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mitch Daniels and Mike Huckabee – decided to sit out of tonight’s GOP presidential primary debate, co-sponsored by Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party. And now, major media organizations are sitting it out too. The Associated Press announced Wednesday night that it’s not going to cover tonight’s Republican presidential debate, citing “restrictions placed on media access.” Reuters confirmed that it would not be covering the event photographically, because it shared concerns about access. However, Reuters did not confirm whether it would be going as far as AP and not filing text either.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY — College dropouts: James Beard and Brian Williams – also “Alice” Ann B. Davis
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NATIONAL LENS — BITTERSWEET — President Obama travels to ground zero in Lower Manhattan Thursday afternoon, six days after ordering a daring nighttime raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, the author of the terrorist attack that turned this patch of land into hallowed ground. Mr. Obama, in his first visit as president to ground zero, plans to lay a wreath at a memorial to the nearly 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks. He will also meet privately with family members of the victims, firefighters and other rescue workers who died in the September 2001 attacks.
SPLITTING HEADACHE — Tax policy is again dividing Democrats and Republicans as they begin negotiations Thursday on what budget process reforms to attach to legislation raising the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. Rather than focusing on making specific spending cuts or tax increases now, the talks are shaping up to be about how to require such choices down the road. The divide on discussing taxes appears to be one of the central obstacles in talks that will convene Thursday between Vice President Joe Biden and representatives from both parties.
SOUTHERN DRAWL — They are the Washington ideal: “gangs” of Democrats and Republicans who call off the ideological knife fights long enough to work on resolving the big issue of the day. And at the Blair House on Thursday morning, Vice President Joe Biden will try it once again, bringing together two Republicans and four Democrats in hopes of striking a deal on deficit reduction.
PHOTO FINISH — Republicans quickly criticized President Barack Obama Wednesday for deciding not to release photos of Osama bin Laden’s corpse. “It’s a mistake,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, an influential Republican on foreign policy matters who lauded the president for ordering Sunday’s military strike that resulted in bin Laden’s death. “The whole purpose of sending our soldiers into the compound, rather than an aerial bombardment, was to obtain indisputable proof of bin Laden’s death,” Mr. Graham said. “I know bin Laden is dead. But the best way to protect and defend our interests overseas is to prove that fact to the rest of the world.”
FOLLOWING THE RULES — House Republicans say they have no plans to follow the Senate in passing a resolution honoring the military mission that killed Osama bin Laden. The decision by GOP leaders follows new rules they enacted in January scrapping the tradition of congratulatory measures, which they complained clogged up the House floor. The lack of House action drew criticism from some Democrats, who said an exception to the new rules was more than warranted for the killing of America’s No. 1 enemy.
HOUSE CALL — The House Wednesday evening passed a bill that would permanently ban the use of federal funds on elective abortion procedures, over repeated Democratic objections that the bill goes too far by enforcing this ban through the tax code. “A ban on taxpayer funding of abortion is the will of the American people and ought to be the law of the land,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said.
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2012 WATCH — Newt Gingrich will have to prove that he’s still relevant and Donald Trump may want to check his potty mouth at the door, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday, on the eve of the first debate in the 2012 race for the GOP presidential nomination. The Greenville, S.C., event — to be broadcast at 9 p.m. tonight by Fox News — will be somewhat diminished by the fact that several major players will be missing. But they’ll all come sooner or later. Since 1980, no Republican nominee has succeeded without carrying South Carolina — in line to be the third state in next year’s presidential contest, and the first in the South.
WALSMART — Lexington County leaders questioned the timing of an announcement Wednesday by Walmart and S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley which promised dozens of new stores and 4,000 jobs over the next five years, with one politician calling it a “shell game.” Several said the announcement was a political favor for Haley, who opposed giving a sales tax break to Amazon.com for a planned distribution center in Cayce that would have brought 1,249 jobs to the area. Walmart actively campaigned against the Amazon incentive, saying it gave a competitor an unfair advantage.
I-WILL FIGHT — U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham vowed Wednesday to stop a federal agency from opposing the Interstate 73 project to Myrtle Beach, saying the road is needed to generate jobs and help tourism. Speaking to I-73 boosters in Washington, D.C., Graham said a recent letter of opposition by the Environmental Protection Agency “cannot stand.’’ “It’s an overreach by unelected bureaucrats,’’ Graham, R-S.C., said. “We’re going to fight that.’’
LABOR PAINS — New statistics show teen birth rates in South Carolina have dropped. While this may seem like good news, experts say the accomplishment should be approached with caution. The numbers are down, but with looming cuts to programs preventing teen pregnancy, there is a fear that the number may go back up and fast.
BANK ON IT — The state Senate in the budge Wednesday approved $2 million for the South Carolina Conservation bank. Led by Vincent Sheheen, with strong Republican backing, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to keep the fund solvent that grants money to secure conservation easements, preserve historic property and protect public access to rivers, among other things. The bank was set up by statute in 2002. (AUDIO)
KNOTT AGAIN — A SC state senator who has criticized and personally insulted Gov. Nikki Haley is now accusing her of using her security detail to fetch drinks at a golf tournament. Republican Sen. Jake Knotts of Lexington won approval Wednesday for a budget law change that says security detail members are restricted to only performing security work after criticizing the actions from the Senate floor.
VIEWPOINT — ON PERSONAL STATIONARY — Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) writes “Dear President Obama: In your State of the Union address, you said: ‘We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business.’ We agree. Unfortunately, recent actions by your handpicked political appointees at the National Labor Relations Board are making it more difficult for America to win the future.”
FINALLY THIS — LEGENDARY — They’re all more than 80 years old and all have spent their lives working, in one way or another, to protect South Carolina’s natural resources. Tommy Wyche saved mountains. Wade Batson taught botany. Evelyn Dabbs studied birds. Edmund and Mary Taylor protected swamps. Lucas Dargan planted trees. Those are just some of the 16 people honored Wednesday at a first-time awards program by the S.C. Wildlife Federation. The federation, which is celebrating its 80th birthday, wanted to mark the occasion by recognizing conservationists of the same age. The wildlife organization calls its honorees “Legends of Conservation.’’