The Note's Must-Reads for Friday, December 27, 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 and Jordan Mazza

BUDGET BILL/MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT ABC News' Jon Garcia: " Obama Signs Bills To Stave Off Shutdown, Target Military Sexual Assaults" From just off the sandy beaches of Oahu's eastern shore, President Obama took a break from his Hawaiian vacation to sign a slew of year-end bills, including a two-year budget deal and a defense bill that begins to revamp the way the military deals with sexual assaults and how terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay are handled. The budget bill wasn't exactly the "Grand Bargain" sought by Obama and Republicans, but it staves off, at least for now, the threat of another government shutdown. It eliminates about $65 billion in sequester cuts while preserving entitlement programs and maintaining existing tax rates. The measure does not extend unemployment insurance, which expires at the end of the month, and it cuts benefits for military retirees by reducing the cost-of-living adjustment. LINK

USA Today: " Obama Signs Budget Bills, Addresses Sexual Assaults" President Obama did some bill signings while on his Hawaii trip Thursday, including a two-year budget deal with Congress and a defense authorization bill that address the problem of sexual assaults in the military. The budget agreement includes a reduction in across-the-board sequester cuts that had been scheduled to take effect, restoring some $63 billion over two years. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's Colleen McCain Nelson: " Obama Signs Budget Agreement" President Barack Obama on Thursday signed a long-anticipated two-year budget agreement and a sweeping $630 billion defense measure that also changes the way the military handles sexual assaults. The budget deal is aimed at averting another government shutdown next month and at easing across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester. While small in scope, the plan sets spending parameters through the 2014 midterm elections and represents a bipartisan compromise that has become increasingly rare in Washington. LINK

The Washington Post's Philip Rucker: " Obama Signs Defense Law, Calls It A 'Welcome Step' Toward Closing Guantanamo Bay Prison" President Obama signed a sweeping defense policy law here Thursday that cracks down on sexual assault in the military and eases restrictions on transferring detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the custody of foreign countries. Marking a rare step toward achieving his goal of closing the controversial detention facility, Obama released a statement crediting Congress for relaxing regulations that he said had significantly hindered efforts to transfer detainees who had been cleared to leave. LINK

Politico's Jennifer Epstein: " Barack Obama Signs Budget Bill" President Barack Obama has signed a bill that provides a broad outline for the federal budget through 2015 and eases some of sequestration's cuts, the White House said Thursday. The Bipartisan Budget Act restores a total of $63 billion in discretionary funding to the Defense Department and some domestic agencies in 2014 and 2015, but also includes $85 billion in deficit reduction. When Congress returns in January, lawmakers will still need to approve a bill that authorizes spending through the end of the fiscal year, or for a shorter period of time, as has been the case in recent years. LINK

The New York Times' Carl Huse: " Lawmakers Cite Progress On Budget Near Deadline" With the next budget deadline just weeks away, top lawmakers said this week that they had made significant progress negotiating a huge government-wide spending bill that gives the once mighty congressional Appropriations Committees an opportunity to reassert control over the flow of federal dollars. "We have a chance to prove to the rest of the Congress that we can produce bills," Representative Harold Rogers, the Kentucky Republican who is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in an interview. LINK

The Hill's Ramsey Cox and Dustin Weaver: " Obama Signs Budget Pact" President Obama broke from his vacation in Hawaii on Thursday to sign a stack of legislation that included the bipartisan budget deal and funding legislation for the Pentagon. His signature on the budget agreement closes the books on a year of bitter fiscal fighting that peaked during October's government shutdown. The budget pact crafted by Reps. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) authorizes more than $1 trillion in spending for fiscal 2014 and 2015, and creates a d├ętente between the parties by avoiding both entitlement cuts and tax increases. LINK

The Boston Globe: " For Pair, A Long Fight On Military Sexual Assault" What propelled the two lawmakers to join forces were the haunting stories of female soldiers, who lived in fear not of the enemy but of their fellow troops and felt they had nowhere to turn. In 2007, Representative Mike Turner, a Republican from Ohio, then in his third term, and freshman Representative Niki Tsongas, a Massachusetts Democrat, barely knew each other. LINK

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE The Washington Times' Seth McLaughlin: " Gay-Marriage Test Case Drags On As Others Take Plunge" More than three years after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of same-sex marriage, supporters of the decision say predictions of disaster have not been borne out, while gay-marriage opponents say they continue to lose ground in the fight because "finger-in-the-wind" Republicans have abandoned the cause. The battle in the American heartland can be seen as a test case politically for the longer-term fallout as states across the country struggle with the gay-marriage issue. Utah and New Mexico in recent days became the latest states dealing with court rulings undercutting state statutes in favor of traditional marriage. LINK

The New York Times' Adam Liptak: " Utah Ruling Means No Respite For The Supreme Court On Same-Sex Marriage" In June, when the Supreme Court stopped short of deciding whether the Constitution guaranteed a right to same-sex marriage, many thought the court had bought itself several years before it had to confront the question again. But the issue will soon return to the court, with officials in Utah saying that within the next few days they will ask the justices to block a trial judge's decision last week that allows same-sex couples to marry there. LINK

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