HARI SREENIVASAN: In the day’s other news: The 114th Congress scrambled to finish its business. The House OK’d a bill to fund the government through next April, ahead of a deadline tomorrow night. It includes disaster relief for Louisiana and other states and aid for Flint, Michigan’s contaminated water system.
There’s also a waiver for retired General James Mattis to serve as defense secretary, even though he’s been out of the military less than seven years. Before the vote, lawmakers on both sides complained about the process and the result.
REP. HAL ROGERS (R-Ky.): I truly hope that, in the near future, we can stop lurching from C.R. to C.R. and return to regular order for the sake of our national security, our economy and the well-being of all Americans. However, at this point, this is our best and only path forward.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-Ca.), House Minority Leader: We cannot go down a path of missed opportunities and just roll over and not speak out and say this isn’t the best that we can do for the American people. And we owe them much better than this bill.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The bill’s passage in the Senate is still threatened by a fight over health care benefits for retired coal miners. But the Senate overwhelmingly gave final approval to a defense policy bill today. It again bars closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and grants a pay raise for the military.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid delivered his final speech to the chamber today. The Nevada Democrat recalled growing up in a tiny town outside Las Vegas, and ultimately joining the Senate 30 years ago.
He also looked forward, speaking about the future of the body.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-Nev.),Senate Minority Leader: I would hope that everyone would do everything they can to protect the Senate as an institution. As part of our Constitution, it should be given the dignity it deserves. I love the Senate. I don’t need to dwell on that. I love the Senate. I care about it so very, very much.
JUDY WOODRUFF: New York Senator Chuck Schumer will take over as minority leader when the new Congress opens next month.
HARI SREENIVASAN: In Syria, heavy fighting raged in Eastern Aleppo today, as regime forces pushed ever deeper into rebel-held districts. Gunfire and the pounding of airstrikes echoed across the besieged city.
Government troops have now retaken more than three-quarters of the rebel areas. President Bashar al-Assad rejected further truce offers today, but Russia said U.S. and Russian officials will meet Saturday to discuss the situation.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The city of Paris spent a third day under emergency restrictions, in the face of its worst winter pollution in a decade. A haze hung over the French capital, and half of all cars were barred from traveling in the city, while public transportation was free. But many drivers ignored the curbs.
LOUIS TROMELIN, Paris Resident (through translator): I don’t know if it is unique to Parisians or it’s all the French, but people are a bit selfish. They like to take their own car, when the trend would be take small buses, as you would in other European capitals.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The haze contains dangerous levels of very fine dust that can cause heart disease, lung cancer and various breathing ailments.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Back in this country, life expectancy has declined for the first time in decades. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports someone born last year is projected to live 78 years, nine-and-a-half months. That’s a month less than for someone born a year earlier, and its first drop since 1993, when the AIDS epidemic was raging.
Researchers cite a rise in deaths from heart disease and other leading ailments. Japan leads the world in life expectancy at nearly 84 years.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. surgeon general warned today of growing e-cigarette use by the nation’s teenagers. Vivek Murthy said vaping could create a new generation of kids addicted to nicotine. E-cigarettes were initially pushed as a safer alternative for adult smokers. It’s already illegal to sell them to minors, but there is no scientific consensus yet on the risks or advantages.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And on Wall Street, stocks pushed to new highs, again, as a post-election surge continued. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 65 points to close at 19614. The Nasdaq rose 23 points, and the S&P 500 added four.
Editor’s Note: The congressional spending bill does not include a waiver for retired Gen. James Mattis to serve as defense secretary. Rather, it includes a provision to speed up action. The waiver itself would still need Congressional approval.