The Note's Must-Reads for Friday, December 20, 2013

The Note's Must-Reads are a round-up of today's political headlines and stories from ABC News and the top U.S. newspapers. Posted Monday through Friday right here at www.abcnews.com

Compiled by ABC News' Will Cantine, Jayce Henderson and Jordan Mazza

NATIONAL SECURITY ABC News' Luis Martinez: " Nuclear Commander Was Drunk And Boorish On Trip to Russia" The two-star general in charge of the Air Force's intercontinental ballistic missile fleet was repeatedly drunk and exhibited boorish behavior during an official visit to Russia this past summer, an Air Force investigation has concluded. Maj. Gen. Michael Carey was relieved of his command of the 20th Air Force this past October for a "loss of confidence" while the Air Force's Inspector General investigated allegations of unspecified personal misconduct during the trip. According to a redacted copy of the investigation's final report released today, the inspector general concluded that his behavior during the trip to Russia "exceeded the limits of accepted standards of good conduct and behavior." LINK

HEALTH CARE The Wall Street Journal's Timothy Martin and Christopher Weaver: " Last-Minute Health-Site Enrollment Proves A Hard Sell" Insurers pressing for last-minute enrollees under the health-care law say they are running into a worrisome trend: Customers who were put off by the insurance marketplaces' early troubles are proving hard sells. Many people thwarted by the technical problems of HealthCare.gov are reluctant to try again, citing frustration with the federal site, web-security concerns and the pressure of the holidays, several insurers say. LINK

USA Today's Kelly Kennedy: " Officials: Fewer Than 500,000 Have Lost Coverage" Officials expect that fewer than 500,000 people may not have insurance come Jan. 1 after they received cancellation notices in October because their plans did not meet the specifications of the Affordable Care Act, senior administration officials said Thursday. The four officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said they expect the number to be much lower by Jan. 1. LINK

The New York Times' Robert Pear: " Another Rule In Health Law Is Scaled Back" Millions of people facing the cancellation of health insurance policies will be allowed to buy catastrophic coverageand will be exempt from penalties if they go without insurance next year, the White House said Thursday night. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, disclosed the sudden policy shift in a letter to Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, and five other senators. LINK

The Washington Post's Amy Goldstein: " Obama Administration Relaxes Rules Of Health-Care Law Four Days Before Deadline" The Obama administration on Thursday night significantly relaxed the rules of the federal health-care law for millions of consumers whose individual insurance policies have been canceled, saying they can buy bare-bones plans or entirely avoid a requirement that most Americans have health coverage. The surprise announcement, days before the Dec. 23 deadline for people to choose plans that will begin Jan. 1, triggered an immediate backlash from the health insurance industry and raised fairness questions about a law intended to promote affordable and comprehensive coverage on a widespread basis. LINK

The Boston Globe: " Health Insurance Rules Eased Slightly" Millions of people facing the cancellation of health insurance policies will be allowed to buy catastrophic coverage and will be exempt from penalties if they go without insurance next year, the White House said Thursday night. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, disclosed the sudden policy shift in a letter to Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and five other senators. LINK

The Hill's Elise Viebeck: " O-Care 'Fix' Extends To Bare-Bones Plans" The Obama administration is planning to allow individuals whose health insurance was cancelled under ObamaCare to buy catastrophic plans once intended mainly for young people. Under the plan, individuals who are unable to renew their current health insurance will be able to purchase bare-bones coverage, according to a source connected with the health industry. Current rules say that to qualify for a catastrophic plan, individuals must be either under 30 or qualify for a "hardship" exemption. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' David Lauter: " Administration Opens First Hole In Health Law Mandate" The Obama administration has opened a small, but potentially important, hole in a key requirement of the new healthcare law, letting some people who have had insurance policies cancelled avoid the requirement to buy coverage next year. The change, announced Thursday night in a letter that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sent to a group of senators, marks the first exception the administration has allowed to the law's so-called individual mandate. LINK

DEFENSE BILL The Hill's Pete Kasperowicz: " Senate Hatches Last-Minute Deal" The Senate reached a last-minute procedural agreement late Thursday that spared them from horribly-timed votes on Friday and Saturday, and should let everyone fly home Friday for Christmas. Before the deal, senators were facing a bitter end to a bitter year. Senate Republicans were forcing Democrats to take as much time as possible working through nominations. They had even planned to skip town after a vote on a key defense bill, and leave Democrats to suffer through a long series of cloture votes and nomination votes starting at 4 a.m. Friday. LINK

The Washington Times' Stephen Dinan: " Senators Work Late On 'Take It Or Leave It' Defense Bill That Ignores Big Issues" The Senate labored into the night Thursday on a vote to clear a massive defense policy bill that ignores many of the big issues such as Iran's nuclear program and government mass-snooping programs, after Democratic leaders blocked all amendments and forced what one senator called a "take it or leave it" vote. Considered must-pass legislation, this year's bill gives President Obama slightly more flexibility to transfer detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to other countries, but ducks many of the other big problems. LINK

Politico's Juana Summers and Austin Wright: " Senate Sends Defense Bill To Obama" The Senate approved a sweeping defense policy bill late Thursday that protects troop bonuses and reforms some ways the Pentagon handles sexual assaults in the military but leaves debates for another day on other major issues, from Iran sanctions to NSA eavesdropping. The 84-15 vote followed a drawn-out partisan spat that at times appeared to threaten the annual National Defense Authorization Act. Senate Republicans, particularly, fumed about the compromise legislation's movement through Congress on a fast track, with no opportunity for amendments. LINK

POTUS COMMUTES CRACK SENTENCES ABC News' Mary Bruce: " Obama Commutes Eight 'Unduly Harsh' Crack Cocaine Sentences" President Obama today commuted the sentences of eight men and women convicted of crack cocaine offenses, each of whom has served more than 15 years in prison. "Commuting the sentences of these eight Americans is an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness," the president said in a written statement. LINK

The New York Daily News' James Warren: " Obama To Commute Sentences Of Eight People Convicted Of Crack Cocaine Offenses: Report" President Obama is curtailing the crackdown on crack. Obama underscored his opposition to harsh minimum penalties for certain drug offenses Thursday by commuting the sentences of eight federal inmates convicted of crack cocaine offenses. Each person has spent at least 15 years in prison, and six were sentenced to life. Notably, each was serving a sentence that predated a 2011 change in federal law that would have brought far shorter prison terms. LINK

The Hill's Justin Sink: " Obama To Commute Crack Cocaine Sentences" President Obama on Thursday will commute the sentences of eight federal inmates sentenced to lengthy jail terms on crack cocaine offenses, as part of his administration's effort to combat what it sees as unfair and unduly harsh drug sentences. According to the White House, each of the inmates has served more than 15 years in prison - many because of mandatory minimum penalties that required judges to impose the harsh penalties. The president has also pardoned 13 drug offenders who had already completed their sentences. LINK

ABC NEWS VIDEO " Indian Diplomat's Arrest Sparks International Incident" LINK

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