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Political Scene

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 18, 2010

HOUSING

Low rates drive spike in refinancing

Mortgage applications rose 13 percent last week as consumers refinanced at the lowest rates in decades.

The increase was driven by a 17 percent surge in applications to refinance home loans, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday. Mortgage applications taken out to purchase homes fell by more than 3 percent. The numbers are adjusted for seasonal factors.

Home refinancing hit the highest level since May 2009, but was still lower than the last big boom during the first three months of that year.

Applications to refinance loans made up more than 81 percent of all home loan activity, the highest share since January 2009. Low mortgage rates have failed to spark home sales, which remain hobbled by the weak economy and tight credit standards.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama backs U.N. inquiry on Burma

The Obama administration will support the creation of a U.N. commission to look into suspected crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma.

The White House says it thinks the commission could advance the cause of human rights in Burma by "addressing issues of accountability."

By supporting the U.N. inquiry, the administration is committing itself to backing an investigation of senior members of the military junta.

Loyalists of the general who has led the junta since 1992 overturned election results in 1990 that favored the political party of Aung San Suu Kyi. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate remains under house arrest.

Critics of the upcoming November elections say they're a sham designed to perpetuate the military's commanding role in politics.

COLORADO

Candidate rejects offers to withdraw

DENVER | The Republican gubernatorial candidate in Colorado rejected an offer on Wednesday from former Congressman Tom Tancredo for both men to get out of the race and let the party pick a new candidate.

State Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams said he delivered the offer to Republican nominee Dan Maes after Mr. Tancredo offered it as a compromise to give Republicans a chance to win back the governor's office in November. Mr. Tancredo bolted from the party last month to run as an American Constitution Party candidate.

"Tom Tancredo contacted me late Monday to indicate he would withdraw from the race for governor if Dan Maes did so as well," Mr. Wadhams said. "I asked Tom for the opportunity to present this offer to Dan Maes, which I did do this morning. I felt it was my responsibility as state chairman to inform Dan of this offer since it held open the possibility of eliminating the current three-way race that gives the Democratic candidate a huge advantage."

Mr. Maes beat challenger Scott McInnis in the GOP primary Tuesday after both men rejected a demand from Mr. Tancredo that they get out of the race and let the party pick a new candidate if polls showed neither man could beat Democratic candidate John Hickenlooper after the primary.

Since then, Mr. Maes has been struggling to get support from national party leaders, who doubt the party can win if Mr. Tancredo stays in the race.

HEALTH CARE

Medicare premiums, benefits to rise

The government says seniors will pay a little more for Medicare prescription coverage next year but that benefits will improve.

The average monthly premium charged by prescription plans will rise to $30 in 2011, an increase of $1, or about 3 percent, federal health officials said Wednesday. About 27 million Medicare beneficiaries are signed up for the prescription benefit, delivered by private insurers.

Seniors with high drug costs can expect a noticeable improvement next year. The new health care law cuts the cost of brand-name drugs by 50 percent - and 7 percent off on generics - for Medicare recipients who fall into the coverage gap known as the "doughnut hole."

VIRGINIA

Congressman OKs signs at town halls

RICHMOND | Rep. Tom Perriello, Virginia Democrat, is lifting a ban on signs at his town-hall forums across his district in this re-election year after being challenged on it by a conservative civil liberties group.

Michael Kelly, a spokesman for Mr. Perriello's congressional office, said the prohibition was lifted after a civil liberties group warned Mr. Perriello that it violated free speech rights.

The ban was put into place earlier this month after supporters brought Mr. Perriello yard signs into a town-hall constituent gathering held as official congressional business, not a campaign event. Perriello advisers said the signs obstructed the view and distracted people attending the question-and-answer sessions.

The first-term congressman is holding 20 such meetings across his sprawling, rural district, just as he did a year ago, but hoped to defuse the angry, raucous tone of the 2009 events.

The Rutherford Institute sent Mr. Perriello a letter telling him that his desire to impose a civil tone to the forums does not trump the right to free expression.

John Whitehead, president of the group, called the ban "an act of censorship that cannot be reasoned away on the pretext that it is intended to encourage freedom of speech and to discourage partisan politics."

The institute wrote to Mr. Perriello after Steven Peters, a Republican "tea party" follower and conservative activist, was stopped from taking signs into two Perriello town-hall meetings. The signs featured a photo of an unshaven, scowling Mr. Perriello and a quote Mr. Peters attributes to Mr. Perriello: "If you don't tie our hands, we will keep stealing."

Mr. Kelly said Mr. Perriello will continue discouraging signs in his forums, but won't keep people from bringing them.

SURVEY

Americans apathetic on health care law

A survey says Americans aren't feeling any more secure about their medical care after enactment of President Obama's health care overhaul.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says consumer confidence spiked in April after Obama signed landmark legislation to expand coverage and try to control costs. But confidence levels have since fallen back to what they were last year at the start of an epic congressional debate.

It's another sign of ambivalence over Mr. Obama's accomplishment as Democrats campaign to preserve their congressional majorities in the midterm elections. The ho-hum attitude may be because the law's major benefits don't take effect until 2014.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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