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A1: The stories you need to read before your first conference call.

-- President Obama will nominate former Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to succeed Chuck Hagel, though the timing of a formal announcement is still being worked out. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Carter is a "noncontroversial" choice to lead the Pentagon. Carter joined the Pentagon in 1981 as a civilian analyst and rose to become the agency's chief weapons buyer. (Washington Post)

-- Carter would be the first Defense Secretary to come of age after Vietnam. He'd also be just the seventh without military service. (Smart Politics) Carter is considered one of the nation's experts on military technology. He led the Pentagon's Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which dismantled 8,000 Soviet nuclear weapons. (Washington Post)

-- Congress abandoned efforts to craft a sweeping tax plan in the lame duck on Tuesday in favor of a far more modest measure that would extend a set of popular tax breaks just until the end of the calendar year. The House will vote on that package today. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told House Democrats the White House was open to the short-term measure. The White House thought the long-term deal would have given too much to corporations. House Speaker John Boehner blamed Obama for killing the talks. (Washington Post)

-- More lame duck problems: Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said Tuesday a long-term reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act may have to wait until the new Congress if Senate Democrats don't come to the table. Hensarling said talks with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) haven't produced results. A Schumer spokesman said Hensarling's proposals include unrelated riders. (The Hill)

-- The Iraqi government agreed to an oil revenue sharing deal with the autonomous Kurdish government Tuesday. Kurds had been marketing oil produced from fields near Kirkuk after taking over the northern stronghold after the Iraqi Army fled in the face of Islamic State threats. Under the deal, the Iraqi government will pay the salaries of Kurdish pesh merga fighters and allow the flow of U.S. weapons to the Kurds. (New York Times)

-- Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday he will pursue a tax overhaul next year focused on reforming business tax rates. Ryan said his Ways and Means Committee will work to lower the corporate tax rate to 25 percent by eliminating "tax expenditures." The White House has agreed to lower the top rate from 35 percent to 28 percent in exchange for eliminating a number of tax breaks. Ryan said dynamic scoring would be a key part of his tax overhaul pitch. (Wall Street Journal)

-- Front Pages: WaPo and WSJ lead with Ash Carter's selection to head the Pentagon. NYT leads with the deal between Iraqis and Kurds, with Carter and a long profile of Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch both earning a column above the fold. USA Today leads with a massive power outage in Detroit. LA Times reports on an FBI raid of Los Angeles School District iPads.

National Roundup: What's happening outside the Beltway.

-- WH'16: Hillary Clinton isn't expected to make an announcement about her presidential plans until well into the new year after an internal debate over how early she should jump in the race. Clinton still has paid speeches on the books as late as Feb. 24. (Politico) Former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) says he's thinking about a presidential bid after an enthusiastic reception he got in Nashua, N.H. (Baltimore Sun)

-- South Carolina: Sen. Tim Scott (R) says he won't run for governor in 2018, when Gov. Nikki Haley (R) will be term-limited. Scott says he plans to seek a full term in the Senate in 2016. (The State) Paging Rep. Mick Mulvaney...

-- Louisiana: LSU said Monday it will investigate the part-time employment agreement between the university and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) after Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) raised questions about time sheets that suggest Cassidy billed the school for work he didn't perform. Cassidy was paid $20,000 a year to teach at LSU medical school clinics. (Baton Rouge Advocate)

-- Wisconsin: Get ready for round two of the protests that descended on Madison in 2011: State Rep. Chris Kapenga (R) says he will introduce right-to-work legislation in the coming legislative session. House Speaker Robin Vos (R) supports right-to-work, and both Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) said they were open to debating the legislation this year. Gov. Scott Walker (R) has said right-to-work isn't a priority of his. (Associated Press)

-- Washington: About 6,000 enrollments in health plans offered by the state exchange were improperly canceled after a technical glitch, Washington Healthplanfinder said Tuesday. The canceled plans would take effect in 2015. The exchange is racing to notify those who have been impacted so they can re-enroll. (Seattle Times)

-- Illinois: Four years ago, now-Mayor Rahm Emanuel had support from Chicago's unions. This time, not so much: SEIU's political wing gave Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia's mayoral campaign a $250,000 contribution, more than doubling the total amount Garcia has raised. Emanuel has raised about $9.5 million so far for his re-election bid, including $854,000 in the last three weeks. (Chicago Tribune)

-- New Jersey: Bipartisan credentials! Gov. Chris Christie (R) has nominated Democratic strategist Susan McCue and former deputy Chicago Mayor Mark Angelson to the Rutgers Board of Governors. McCue co-founded Senate Majority PAC and served as Sen. Harry Reid's chief of staff. Both McCue and Angelson are Rutgers grads. (Newark Star-Ledger)

DC Digest: What's on tap today in DC.

-- President Obama joins the quarterly meeting of the Business Roundtable this morning to offer remarks and answer questions from leading CEOs. This afternoon he'll have lunch with Vice President Biden, who will probably spend the meal psyching Obama up for his next meeting, an Oval Office sit-down with Sen. Mitch McConnell. Later, Obama delivers remarks at the sixth White House Tribal Nations Conference at the Capital Hilton, and tonight he hosts a meeting with combatant commanders and military leaders in the Cabinet Room. He'll host a dinner for those leaders at Blair House after the meeting concludes.

-- Vice President Biden starts his morning addressing the Tribal Nations Conference. After lunch with Obama, Biden will join in on the combatant commanders meeting and dinner.

-- The House meets at 10 a.m., with first votes expected between 1:45 and 2:45. They'll take up the short-term tax-extenders bill, along with four measures under suspension. Last votes are expected by 5:30.

-- The Senate starts the morning with confirmation votes for a member and a general counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They'll vote on cloture for District Court nominees in Kentucky and Pennsylvania, followed by confirmation votes around 5:30. This evening, they'll try to invoke cloture on an Under Secretary of Energy and the Energy Department's CFO.

-- House and Senate Republicans will hold a joint retreat early next year in Hershey, Pa. House GOP Conference chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) announced the joint retreat at Tuesday's conference meeting. (Roll Call)

-- The D.C. City Council on Tuesday approved a new stadium for the D.C. United soccer team near the Anacostia River. In a unanimous vote, the council backed a plan that will cost the city at least $150 million in direct investment and $43 million in tax revenue. The 20,000-seat stadium should be open by 2017. (Washington Post)

B1: Business, politics and the business of politics

-- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to attach a policy rider to the omnibus appropriations bill that would allow coordinated spending between party committees and federal candidates. The rider would allow consultations between party committees and campaigns on advertising and advocacy without that spending counting towards coordinated limits. (Huffington Post) The coordination limits are the bipartisan bane of party committee chairs' existences. Then again, the downside: More coordination means more pressure to spend on lost causes.

-- Americans are finally starting to feel better about the economic recovery, with plunging gas prices spurring consumer confidence and spending. More than half of Americans say things are "going well" in the U.S. today, for the first time since before the recession. And more people say the economy is "starting to recover" than say it's "still getting worse." (Washington Post) It's not a coincidence that those indicators are headed north as gas prices head south. Crude oil prices are below 5-year lows.

-- Market futures are up less than a tenth of a percent this morning after the Dow added 100 points on Tuesday. Global stock markets are mixed today. (CNN)

C1: The long reads you'll need to check out before tonight's cocktail party.

-- Dates to remember this year: The government's debt ceiling will be reinstated on March 16, though the debt limit isn't expected to be reached until August. Physician reimbursements from Medicare are set to drop on March 28. The highway trust fund runs out of money on May 31. The Export-Import Bank expires in June. The Children's Health Insurance Program expires on Sept. 30. (New York Times) Plenty of opportunities for everyone to act irresponsibly.

-- The divorce rate in the U.S. is at 50 percent and climbing, right? Actually, not so right: The divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s, and it's been going down for 30 years. Couples who married in the 90s are more likely to stay together than those who got hitched in the 1970s or 1980s, and those who got married in the 2000s are staying together at even higher rates. (New York Times)

C4: The comics page, fun things to read when you're bored at work

-- After the GOP's big wins in November, more Americans now identify as or lean toward Republicans than Democrats. Gallup finds 42 percent of Americans identify or lean towards the GOP, while 41 percent put themselves somewhere in the Democratic camp, a 5-point swing since before Election Day. Republicans saw similarly big swings after the 1994 and 2002 elections, while Democrats benefitted from a big bounce after the 2006 wave. (Gallup)

Attn Matt Drudge: Things conservatives will get outraged by today.

-- The House GOP's plan to vote on a "symbolic" measure opposing President Obama's executive action on immigration doesn't have a lot of fans among conservative media outlets. Redstate: "John Boehner and Harry Reid Agree to Bipartisan Funding of Obama's Amnesty Plan." Breitbart: "Desperate Boehner Looks To Make Deal With Democrats To Save Obama's Amnesty."

Attn HuffPo: What outrages liberals today

-- Convicted murderer Scott Panetti is scheduled to be executed in Texas on Wednesday, and even conservatives are mounting last-minute efforts to convince Gov. Rick Perry (R) to delay the execution. A group of 21 conservative leaders including former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer signed a letter to Perry calling Panetti "one of the most seriously mentally ill prisoners on death row" in the U.S. Panetti was convicted of murdering his in-laws. He believes he is being executed as part of a battle with Satan. (Huffington Post)