- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2009

HOUSE

New drilling ban unlikely, says Rahall

Environmental advocates urged Congress on Wednesday to reinstate the broad moratorium on offshore oil drilling, but a key congressman said on that issue “the ship may have already sailed.”

Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the political reality is that the broad moratorium across 85 percent of the country’s Outer Continental Shelf - lifted by Congress last fall - is unlikely to be reimposed.

But Mr. Rahall, who opened the first of three hearings on offshore drilling, said Congress may need to establish protective buffer areas and place certain regions - including some waters off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts - off limits.

“If we are going to start drilling in new areas offshore we’re going to have to be aware of what the trade-offs are … that it can be done safely,” Mr. Rahall said. He argued that the “vast majority” of Outer Continental Shelf oil resources are already in federal waters, available for leasing.

MILITARY

Four recent suicides worry West Point

Following four suicides at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, officials said Wednesday they are emphasizing to cadets that seeking help for mental health problems won’t jeopardize their military careers.

In the past seven months, two cadets, a faculty member and a staff member at the academy have taken their own lives. The suicides were the first at the school in upstate New York since 1999.

They are part of a larger trend as the strained military wages war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army had its highest rate of suicide on record in 2008 and is investigating a spike in the number in January.

Academy Chaplain Col. John Cook, who addressed the issue Wednesday at a board meeting on Capitol Hill, said there does not appear to be a common denominator among the four West Point suicides - the most recent of which occurred in January. None of the four had faced a recent deployment, for example.

In addition to the suicides, two cadets recently attempted to take their own lives, he said.

HOUSE

Panel advances labor nominee

Rep. Hilda L. Solis edged closer Wednesday to winning confirmation as the nation’s next labor secretary, after more than a month of delays over questions about her husband’s unpaid taxes and her work for a pro-union group.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee cleared her nomination in a voice vote with only two Republicans voting against her. The action sends the nomination to the full Senate for a final vote likely this week.

A committee vote scheduled last week was abruptly postponed after news that her husband had paid about $6,400 to settle outstanding tax liens against his auto repair business.

White House officials said the Democratic California congresswoman and her husband were not aware of the liens until a newspaper reported them and that Ms. Solis was not involved in the business. But committee leaders said they wanted more time to review key documents.

WHITE HOUSE

President signs digital TV delay

President Obama has signed a bill to delay the switch to digital TV to June 12.

Congress last week gave TV stations until June 12 to shut down their analog broadcasts to give viewers more time to prepare for the switch to digital signals.

The change was to have taken effect next Tuesday.

Mr. Obama says the June 12 date will give viewers more time to prepare. He says many would have been left in the dark otherwise.

Money has run out for a federal fund that helps people without cable or satellite service pay for converter boxes they will need in order to keep watching their televisions. And there’s a long waiting list for the coupons.

Nearly 500 stations say they intend to go ahead with the switch on Tuesday and not wait until June.

SENATE

Kerry to meet with Syrian leader

Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is planning to travel to Syria next week, where he will meet with President Bashar Assad.

The trip, confirmed by a spokesman for the Massachusetts Democrat, comes as President Obama looks for a way to engage regimes hostile to U.S. policies.

Kerry spokesman Frederick Jones said Wednesday that the senator will be part of a congressional delegation headed to the Middle East, stopping in both Israel and Syria. Mr. Jones called the meeting planned between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Assad “part of a continuing dialogue he’s had with the Syrian government.”

Mr. Jones said the Obama administration is aware of Mr. Kerry’s plans, and the State Department is helping arrange the trip.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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