- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2009

SENATE

Baucus promises health care success

HELENA, Mont. | Sen. Max Baucus of Montana says a health care overhaul will happen this year even if Republicans back out of bipartisan talks under growing public pressure and that the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy could help hold together a compromise deal.

Mr. Baucus is leading a panel of two other Democrats and three Republicans that is being watched closely by everyone from the White House and beyond. Chances of a bipartisan breakthrough appear to be diminishing in the face of an effective public mobilization by opponents during the August congressional recess.

But Mr. Baucus says the bipartisan deal is still alive. He said he still speaks frequently with Republican Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming.

“I think the chances are still good,” Mr. Baucus told the Associated Press in an interview Monday. “I talked to them, and they all want to do health care reform. But the sad part is a lot politics have crept in. They are being told by the Republican Party not to participate.”

If it falls apart, Democrats will have to turn to the “nuclear option” - forcing through an inferior bill through a process that only requires 51 votes instead of 60, Mr. Baucus said.

COMPENSATION

President cuts federal pay raises

President Obama notified Congress on Monday he is reducing pay increases for federal workers from 2.4 percent to 2 percent.

Using powers employed by his two most recent predecessors, the president cited the national unemployment rate and the budget-busting federal payroll.

Mr. Obama also said that he would decide by Nov. 30 on the need to take action on “locality pay,” wages over and above the base federal rates that are determined according to geographic living costs and comparable private-sector pay.

The locality pay set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2010, would add an average of 16.5 percent to the wages of federal workers, meaning that the pay increase as outlined by statute would have totaled 18.9 percent throughout the federal system.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who serves as president of the Senate, Mr. Obama said he was taking action because the 2.4 percent increase mandated by statute would cost $22.6 billion in 2010. He said he had budgeted only for a 2 percent across-the-board increase at a cost of $19.9 billion.

COURTS

Tobacco firms sue over FDA law

RICHMOND | Two of the three largest U.S. tobacco companies filed suit Monday to block marketing restrictions in a law that gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco, claiming the provisions violate their right to free speech.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., maker of Camel cigarettes, and Lorillard Inc., which sells the Newport menthol brand, filed the federal lawsuit with several other tobacco companies.

It is the first major challenge of the legislation passed and enacted in June, but a lawyer for tobacco consumers doubted the lawsuit will be successful.

The tobacco makers claim provisions of the law “severely restrict the few remaining channels we have to communicate with adult tobacco consumers,” said Martin L. Holton III, senior vice president and general counsel for Reynolds.

The companies say in their lawsuit that the law, which takes full effect in three years, prohibits them from using “color lettering, trademarks, logos or any other imagery in most advertisements, including virtually all point-of-sale and direct-mail advertisements.” The complaint also says the law prohibits tobacco companies from “making truthful statements about their products in scientific, public policy and political debates.”

JUSTICE

Ex-Rep. Traficant to leave prison

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio | Ex-congressman James A. Traficant Jr., who delighted in “Star Trek” references and polyester suits, is to be released Wednesday from a federal prison in Minnesota after serving seven years for corruption.

The longtime Democratic lawmaker, now 68, will return to a hometown that has ample evidence of the federal aid he landed, including a highway, second federal courthouse and an arena.

Still, he could face an uneven welcome in a city with a corrupt reputation but a new generation of leaders, including a young mayor and Traficant’s congressional successor.

Traficant is to be released from the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., where he was transferred in 2004. Prison authorities say they will announce his release only after he has left the prison.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama returns, plays round of golf

President Obama, still in vacation mode, hit the links Monday for a round of golf.

Wearing a navy polo shirt and khaki trousers, Mr. Obama arrived shortly after 1 p.m. at the Army Navy Country Club, about a mile south of the Pentagon and a 10-minute drive from the White House.

The small group of reporters and photographers accompanying Mr. Obama were kept outside the gates of the private club and were unable to glimpse the president on the course. The White House said Mr. Obama’s foursome included U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

The Obama family returned from a week at Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., on Sunday night - a holiday much interrupted by business and the death and remembrance of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

The first family plans to get out of town again Wednesday for long weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland.

LABOR

Obama to address AFL-CIO session

President Obama will speak at the AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh next month.

Mr. Obama will address the labor convention Sept. 15. The organization endorsed Mr. Obama during last year’s presidential election.

Labor unions have been vocal supporters of Mr. Obama’s proposed health care overhaul. However, the incoming AFL-CIO president has expressed frustration with the president’s wavering support of a government-run public option to cover those without health care insurance.

Mr. Obama will also travel to Pittsburgh later in the month for the economic summit of the world’s top 20 industrial and developing economies.

MASSACHUSETTS

Hearing set on Kennedy’s seat

BOSTON | Massachusetts legislators have scheduled a public hearing on whether to change state law back to allow the governor again to name an interim replacement for the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Lawmakers decided Monday to set the hearing for Sept. 9. Mr. Kennedy himself requested the law change, which Gov. Deval Patrick supports.

In the meantime, Mr. Patrick on Monday set a date of Jan. 19 for a special election to fill Mr. Kennedy’s seat. The primary will be Dec. 8.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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