- Associated Press - Thursday, August 5, 2010

SENATE

Lawmakers OK mortgage fees

Higher monthly fees are coming for consumers who take out home loans guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration, the primary source of mortgages for first-time homebuyers.

The Senate late Wednesday unanimously approved legislation giving the FHA the power to increase monthly premiums it charges to consumers. The measure now goes to President Obama, who is expected to sign it.

The new law would affect new loans and not ones that already have been made.

Officials say the agency needs the authority to stabilize its finances, which have deteriorated because of the foreclosure crisis. The fees are projected to bring in an extra $3.6 billion per year, according to the FHA.

The agency does not make loans, but offers insurance against default.

People who take out FHA-backed loans pay a smaller down payment, as low as 3.5 percent of the home price. But they are subject to two additional fees - one at the start of the loan and an annual fee. Both fees are typically spread out in monthly installments over the life of the loan.

Borrowers who take out loans through FHA pay an annual fee of 0.55 percent of the total loan. FHA officials expect to raise that to 0.9 percent, though the bill would give them the power to raise it as high as 1.55 percent.

ARMY

Doctor charged with disobeying orders

An Army doctor has been charged with disobeying orders after failing to show up for duty in Afghanistan and questioning whether President Obama has the right to order him there.

Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin is scheduled to be arraigned Friday at Fort Belvoir, Va.

The Greeley, Colo., native did not report to Fort Campbell, Ky., in April to prepare for deployment.

Col. Lakin said in a YouTube video that he chose to disobey orders and was inviting his own court-martial. He says he wants to see Mr. Obama’s birth certificate as proof Mr. Obama was born in the U.S., as presidents must be, and thus that the deployment order for Afghanistan is legal.

Hawaiian officials say they have records proving Mr. Obama was born there, but so-called “birthers” challenge that.

SENATE

Lawmakers target ‘unfair trade’ abroad

A group of senators raised concerns about China’s currency practices on Wednesday, urging the Obama administration to do more to combat “unfair trade” practices abroad.

In a letter to President Obama, 11 senators called for stronger action to level the playing field for U.S. businesses.

“There is no doubt that the Chinese government is manipulating its currency to keep its value lower than it otherwise would be, which gives its exports a significant price advantage over U.S. manufactured goods,” the senators wrote.

“We are gravely concerned by the administration’s failure to address China’s currency practices and other predatory actions,” the letter said.

“During this economic recovery, it is critical the administration use all trade-enforcement tools available to ensure U.S. industries the opportunity to compete fairly and export goods and services.”

A White House spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said earlier on Wednesday the United States will be focused on how fast and how much China lets its yuan currency appreciate after Beijing’s new commitments to foreign-exchange flexibility.

“China, as you know about six weeks ago … took the essential step of restoring flexibility to [its] exchange rate and making it clear that they’re going to allow that exchange rate to appreciate in response to market forces over time,” he said in response to questions at a forum held by two public-policy groups.

POSTAL SERVICE

Quarterly loss hits $3.5 billion mark

The Postal Service was $3.5 billion in the red for the third quarter and may not be able to make a required payment for future retiree health benefits, the agency said Thursday.

Losses for the April through June quarter were $1.1 billion more than the post office lost in the same period a year ago.

The post office has been rocked by declining mail volume as people and businesses continue switching to the Internet in place of letters and paper bills.

“Given current trends, we will not be able to pay all 2011 obligations,” Joseph R. Corbett, the Postal Service’s chief financial officer, said in a statement.

“Despite ongoing aggressive cost reductions totaling over $10 billion in the last three years, it is clear that a liquidity problem is looming and must be addressed through fundamental changes requiring legislation and changes to contracts,” he said.

The Affordable Mail Alliance challenged the statement and contended that the post office will finish the fiscal year with $1.3 billion in cash.

“We’re saddened to see these dubious claims by the Postal Service and would hope for a more constructive dialogue with customers,” said Tony Conway, head of the coalition of high-volume mailers that is fighting the post office’s plan to raise rates in January.

To stem the losses, postal officials have proposed raising rates, cutting out Saturday mail delivery and eliminating advance payments for retiree health benefits.

WHITE HOUSE

Officials wade into BlackBerry disputes

The Obama administration is wading into the growing international dispute over the banning of BlackBerry services, seeking to broker compromises between the company that makes the popular devices and foreign governments that say they pose a security risk.

Worried that such bans will hurt the work of American diplomats and businessmen overseas, the State Department said Thursday it had been in touch with manufacturer Research in Motion and officials from several nations, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, which have announced or are contemplating bans on some BlackBerry features.

Department officials said they were hoping to find a compromise between the legitimate security concerns of some governments and ensuring that the free flow of information and communication is not compromised.

VICE PRESIDENCY

NYPD cycles in crash while escorting Biden

NEW YORK | Two New York City police motorcycles got into a minor accident while escorting Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to John F. Kennedy Airport.

Mr. Biden’s vehicle was not involved, and no one was seriously hurt.

Mr. Biden had met with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Thursday.

Last November, an NYPD car driving ahead of Mr. Biden’s motorcade had a minor collision with a delivery cab. Mr. Biden was on his way to appear on “The Daily Show.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports