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CONGRESS

Senate office tied to Countrywide deals

A Republican lawmaker says documents show the former Countrywide Financial Corp. may have targeted Senate employees for sweetheart mortgage deals.

Rep. Darrell Issa of California said a dozen loans processed by Countrywide’s VIP unit went to borrowers who identified their workplace as the office of Sen. Robert F. Bennett, Utah Republican.

Mr. Issa also said 18 VIP loans went to borrowers who identified “U.S. senator” or “U.S. Senate” as their place of employment.

Mr. Issa is the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He wrote the Senate ethics committee about his findings, but did not name any senators other than the reference to Mr. Bennett’s office.

Countrywide was acquired by Bank of America. The bank has produced the records under a subpoena by the House committee.

NEW YORK

Ex-fundraiser for Democrats sentenced

NEW YORK | A wealthy Manhattan investment banker who was once a top fundraiser for Hillary Rodham Clinton and other big-name Democrats was sentenced Thursday to 12 years in prison for bank fraud.

Hassan Nemazee reached a plea deal in March, admitting to three counts of bank fraud and one count of wire fraud. Judge Sidney Stein said he’ll get out of prison in about a decade.

Nemazee was the national finance chairman of Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. He also raised money for Barack Obama and a long list of other prominent Democrats. He was Sen. John Kerry’s New York finance chairman during Massachusetts Democrat’s failed 2004 presidential run.

Prosecutors said Nemazee used fake collateral to obtain more than $290 million in loans from major banks.

An indictment said he forged signatures, concocted bogus account statements and established “virtual offices” to conceal a scam. It said he used proceeds from new loans to pay off older ones - a maneuver prosecutors called a Ponzi scheme.

SENATE

Democrats propose $14 billion cut

President Obama’s allies in the Senate stepped forward with a plan Thursday to cut $14 billion from his budget for the upcoming fiscal year. That’s double the $7 billion cut sought by House Democrats.

But Republicans on the Appropriations Committee said the cuts didn’t go far enough and opposed the idea - along with three appropriations bills for the budget year that begins in October.

The differences between the parties are tiny when compared with the $1.14 trillion overall pot available to lawmakers writing the annual Cabinet agency budgets. But Republicans had staked out a position earlier this week demanding an additional $6 billion cut - a difference between the parties of just one-half of 1 percent.

The GOP-proposed cuts are drawn from a bipartisan proposal by Sens. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, and Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, that has attracted as many as 59 votes in the Senate this year. Democrats supported the cap when voting on the budget last year.

JUSTICE

DA office informed in Polanski case

The U.S. Justice Department said Thursday that the Los Angeles district attorney’s office approved the denial of a Swiss request for information in the Roman Polanski case. Swiss officials said the denial led to the fugitive filmmaker’s release.

The Justice Department said it kept the district attorney’s office fully informed of all requests from Swiss authorities regarding the effort to have Polanski extradited to the United States.

The department added that the district attorney’s office provided input and “approved all responses from the U.S. government to Swiss authorities on this matter,” including one rejecting a request to turn over sealed testimony that proved pivotal in Switzerland’s decision to free Polanski.

“The Department of Justice and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office worked in close coordination on this important extradition request,” Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said in an e-mail.

The Swiss government said it asked the Justice Department to release sealed transcripts in the Polanski case just days before a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles told a judge that the Swiss did not request that information.

DRUG CONTROL

Abuse of prescription painkillers soars

A government study finds a 400 percent increase in the number of people admitted to treatment for abusing prescription pain medication.

The increase in substance abuse among people 12 and older was recorded during the 10-year-period from 1998 to 2008. It spans every gender, race, ethnicity, education and employment level, and all regions of the country.

The study was released Thursday by Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House office of drug control policy. Mr. Kerlikowske said prescription drug abuse is now the second most prevalent form of illicit drug use in the country, and the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem.

HOUSE

Democrats push healthier lunches

House Democrats are moving forward on first lady Michelle Obama’s vision for healthier school lunches, propelling legislation that calls for tougher standards governing food in school and more meals for hungry children.

A bill approved Thursday by the House Education and Labor Committee would allow the Agriculture Department to create new standards for all food in schools, including vending machine items. The legislation would spend about $8 billion more over 10 years on nutrition programs.

“This important legislation will combat hunger and provide millions of schoolchildren with access to healthier meals, a critical step in the battle against childhood obesity,” Mrs. Obama said in a statement after committee passage.

Some Republicans on the committee expressed concern about how the bill would be funded, but three of them ended up voting for it. The legislation was approved on a 32-13 vote.

Committee Chairman George Miller, California Democrat, said improving school lunches now will help reduce health care costs in the long term.

“The cost of childhood obesity to the health of our children and our economy is staggering,” he said. “We have to get rid of the junk food, get rid of the endless sugar and empty calories in our schools.”

SENATE

Jobless benefits vote awaits new Democrat

More than 2 million workers who have been laid off for long stretches could get their unemployment benefits restored as early as next week.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said his chamber would take up a measure Tuesday to restore the extended benefits, right after a new West Virginia Democrat is sworn in as senator.

With the death of Sen. Robert C. Byrd, Senate Democrats had been a vote short of the 60 needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III has said he could name a temporary replacement to fill Byrd’s seat by Friday.

The House already has passed a bill to extend the benefits through November, at a cost of about $34 billion.

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