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Influential Democrats to offer tax plan with huge payoff

WASHINGTON — Democratic luminaries with ties to the Obama and Clinton administrations, including two former Treasury secretaries and two former White House chiefs of staff, on Tuesday will enter the tax debate with an overhaul plan that would raise an additional $1.8 trillion in the first decade.

That is $200 billion more than President Barack Obama has proposed and $1 trillion more than Republicans in Congress support. It would mostly result from a simplification of the tax code that produces higher taxes from the wealthy, but would also involve higher taxes on cigarettes, alcoholic beverages and Internet gambling that would hit people of all incomes.

“This is from the team that brought you the last good economy,” said John D. Podesta, a former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, in reference to the Clinton-era pedigrees of many of the plan’s sponsors. The recommendations are likely to influence Democrats in the White House and Congress in budget negotiations now and in the coming year.

—Jackie Calmes, The New York Times

Obama calls on Russia to

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama called on Russia on Monday to renew a two-decade-old nuclear disarmament program that Moscow has threatened to cancel as the two sides try to figure out the future of a rocky relationship now that elections in both countries are behind them.

Russia declared this fall that it would not renew the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which has helped rid the former Soviet Union of thousands of nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War. But in a speech, Obama chose to interpret the Russian statements as a negotiating position to change the program rather than halt it altogether.

“Russia has said that our current agreement hasn’t kept pace with the changing relationship between our countries,” Obama said at the National Defense University, where he praised the program’s accomplishments. “To which we say, let’s update it. Let’s work with Russia as an equal partner. Let’s continue the work that’s so important to the security of both our countries. And I’m optimistic that we can.”

Whether Russia is willing to do that remains unclear. Even if it is, Moscow has suggested it would link renewal of the program to U.S. concessions on its plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe aimed at defending against Iranian aggression. Obama was overheard telling his Russian counterpart this year that “after my election I have more flexibility” on missile defense, prompting Republicans to accuse him of plotting to sell out the system.

—Peter Baker, The New York Times

Plant to convert gas to liquid fuel planned in United States

WESTLAKE, La. — In an ambitious bet that the glut of cheap natural gas in the United States will last for many years, a South African energy company announced Monday that it would build America’s first commercial plant to convert natural gas to diesel and other liquid fuels.

The company, Sasol, which is based in Johannesburg, has been a pioneer in a technology that has tantalized energy scientists for decades over its potential to produce liquid fuels without using oil, which has historically cost far more than natural gas.

Having already built smaller plants in South Africa and Qatar, Sasol has designed its new Louisiana plant to produce 96,000 barrels of fuel a day using its “gas to liquids,” or GTL, technology. It will be the second-largest plant of its kind in the world, after Royal Dutch Shell’s Pearl plant in Qatar, and will cost $11 billion to $14 billion to build.

“By incorporating GTL technology in the USA’s energy mix, states such as Louisiana will be able to advance the country’s energy independence through a diversification of supply,” David Constable, Sasol’s chief executive, said at a news conference here Monday near the project’s planned location.

The facility will include a gas processing plant, a chemical plant and a refinery. All are required to perform the alchemy of converting natural gas into diesel, jet fuel and other chemical products.

—Clifford Krauss, The New York Times

Ruling in off-label marketing case is win for drug companies

NEW YORK — In a case that could have broad ramifications for the pharmaceutical industry, a federal appeals court Monday threw out the conviction of a sales representative who sold a drug for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, arguing that the ban on so-called off-label marketing violated his freedom of speech.

The 2-1 decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan addresses a long-running and costly issue for the industry, which has paid billions of dollars in penalties to the federal government in recent years after being accused of marketing blockbuster drugs for off-label uses.

In July, for example, the British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline agreed to pay $3 billion in fines, in part for promoting antidepressants and other drugs for unapproved uses; a month later, Johnson & Johnson announced that its pharmaceutical unit had reached a $181 million consumer fraud settlement with 36 states and the District of Columbia over its marketing of Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug.

“Most if not all of these cases have been based on a central premise: that it is unlawful for a company and one of its employees to be promoting a drug or a medical device off-label,” said John R. Fleder, a director at law firm Hyman, Phelps & McNamara who previously represented the FDA while working at the Justice Department. “And this decision hits at the heart of the government’s theory.”

—Katie Thomas, The New York Times