By Tracey Webb [twitter-follow screen_name='WebbWriterguru']
Get your daily scoop of what State of the Union is watching today, December 13, 2013.
1. Reining in the NSA. An outside review panel appointed by President Obama is recommending changes in the way the National Security Agency conducts surveillance. Among the panel's 46 recommendation, is a call to end the mass storage of Americans' phone records by the government. The group instead wants to see that information turned over to and kept by private third-parties. The review panel also wants greater judicial review and more public transparency of NSA actions. Both President Obama and the NSA have been under fire since Edward Snowden leaked documents detailing the wide scope of the agency's snooping. The President is expected to announce a series of reforms in the way the NSA does business in January.
2. Not putting on the brakes, but easing up on the gas pedal. The Federal Reserve announced it is scaling back on the billions of dollars it's been pumping into the economy as part of its stimulus plan. Outgoing Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said starting in January, the Central Bank will buy $75 billion dollars in bonds each month. That's $10 billion less than it had been spending to help revive the economy. The decision was anticipated after a strong November jobs report that showed larger-than-anticipated job creation and a drop to the lowest unemployment rate in five years. But the Fed says interest rates will remain low for the time being.
3. Hold on for that tax refund. If you're expecting one for 2013, it may take a bit longer for you to get it. The IRS says it won't start processing returns until January 31st of next year - 10 days later than originally scheduled - because of the October government shutdown. The shutdown put most IRS operations on hold and delayed the process for updating the agency's systems for the 2014 tax season. "The late January opening gives us enough time to get things right with our programming, testing and systems validation. It's a complex process, and our bottom-line goal is to provide a smooth filing and refund process for the nation's taxpayers," said IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel. If you're a taxpayer who's always playing beat the clock to get your returns in on time, the delay doesn't mean a reprieve for you. The due date is still April 15.
4. Get the message President Putin? President Obama won't be going. Neither will Vice President Biden or First Lady Michelle Obama. But the U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics' ceremonies in Sochi, Russia will be notable for its inclusion of openly gay athletes - a roundabout protest of Russia's recent anti-gay laws. Tennis legend Billie Jean King will be a part of the American delegation at the opening ceremonies on February 7. Two weeks, later openly gay hockey player and Olympic medalist Caitlin Cahow will join a delegation for the closing ceremony. President Obama has said he opposes boycotting the Olympics and instead wants to the U.S. to lead by example on the issue LGBT rights.