- - Sunday, December 19, 2010

CONGRESS

Spending-bill vote set for Tuesday

The Senate will try to pass a bill this week keeping the government operating through March 4, when the next Congress would have to work out spending priorities for the rest of the fiscal year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Sunday.

A Senate vote to pass the temporary funding bill is likely Tuesday, Mr. Reid said, when existing funds to operate the government expire.

The House would then have to sign off on the measure and send it to President Obama for his expected approval.

Under the bill, most federal government programs would be funded at last year’s levels through March 4.

The new Congress will be seated on Jan. 5, with Republicans taking over control of the House. If this latest spending bill is enacted, Republicans will have a much greater say in spending priorities as they write legislation to fund the government from March 4 until Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama sends notes on Darfur vote

President Obama, who has pushed Sudan over an upcoming referendum and the crisis in Darfur, has written to leaders in the region stressing U.S. commitment to a peaceful vote, the White House said Sunday.

With the referendum on southern independence just three weeks away and violence in the south flaring, Mr. Obama is trying to galvanize the region to pressure Khartoum to make sure the vote takes place on time and the outcome is respected.

“President Obama has made it clear that Sudan is one of the administration’s top priorities. We have a vision of hope, peace and prosperity for the people of Sudan,” White House National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said.

Confirming Mr. Obama had written to a number of leaders about the referendum and the situation in Darfur, Mr. Hammer said this was part of an ongoing diplomatic push to emphasize the importance that Washington places on a peaceful Sudan.

The Jan. 9 referendum on independence for south Sudan was promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended a civil war between the mainly Muslim north and the oil-rich south, where most follow traditional beliefs and Christianity.

HOUSE

King vows hearings on radical Islam

NEW YORK | The incoming head of the House Committee on Homeland Security says he will hold hearings on the “radicalization” of some American Muslims.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, said Sunday in a Newsday opinion piece that law-enforcement officials around the country have told him they receive “little or - in most cases - no cooperation” from Muslims.

“As chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, I will do all I can to break down the wall of political correctness and drive the public debate on Islamic radicalization,” he wrote.

A spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations said he fears Mr. King’s hearings will become an “anti-Muslim witch hunt.” Ibrahim Hooper said several recent terrorist plots have been foiled because members of the Muslim community did cooperate with law enforcement.

SENATE

Food-safety bill wins second approval

The Senate has passed a sweeping bill to make food safer, sending it to the House in the waning days of Congress.

This is the second time the Senate has passed the bill, which would give the government broad new powers to increase inspections of food-processing facilities and force companies to recall tainted food.

The chamber passed the bill for the first time three weeks ago, but it was caught in a constitutional snag when senators mistakenly included tax provisions, which under the Constitution supposed to originate in the House. The version of the legislation passed by the Senate on Sunday is amended to avoid another such mishap.

The $1.4 billion bill would place stricter standards on imported foods and require larger producers to follow tougher rules for keeping food safe.

HOUSE

Paul vows to pursue Fed transparency

Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican and the incoming chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the Federal Reserve, said Sunday that he will seek greater transparency but will not be sending subpoenas to the central bank chairman from Day One.

Mr. Paul, a longtime critic of the Fed, will head the domestic monetary policy subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee when the 112th Congress is seated in January.

“Now that doesn’t mean that the first week in January I send over a subpoena for [Fed Chairman Ben S.] Bernanke and demand that he come over with a pile of papers. I don’t think that would be logical,” Mr. Paul said in an interview on C-SPAN.

He will be sending requests for information to others at the Federal Reserve such as the accountants, “and say this is what I want, and to see what happens,” Mr. Paul said.

“And then they can still hide behind the law if I want to demand every transaction with foreign banks,” he said, adding that it would benefit Americans to know who was receiving bailouts.

POSTAL SERVICE

Mail handlers face busiest day of year

The post office expects its busiest day of the year Monday as people mail Christmas cards and packages that they prepared over the weekend.

Postal officials expect 800 million pieces of mail to be handled on Monday, 40 percent more than the average daily volume.

“There’s still time to mail greeting cards and ship presents,” Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said in a statement. “If customers get their cards and packages to us by Tuesday, Dec. 21, we’ll get them delivered by Christmas.”

TRANSPORTATION

Phone ban urged for bus, truck drivers

The government is proposing to ban commercial truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones from behind the wheel.

The Transportation Department says the proposal would prevent interstate truck and bus drivers from reaching for, holding or dialing phones while operating their vehicles.

Bus and trucking companies and their drivers could face fines, and drivers who rack up multiple offenses could lose their licenses.

Nearly 5,500 people were killed and a half-million were injured in 2009 in crashes involving distracted drivers.

The government estimates that the proposal would affect 4 million commercial drivers. The government this year banned text messaging while operating a commercial motor vehicle.