Conrad supports extending all tax cuts
A fiscally conservative Democrat who chairs the Senate Budget Committee Wednesday said he supports extending all of the tax cuts that expire this year, including for wealthier people.
"The general rule of thumb would be you'd not want to do tax changes, tax increases ... until the recovery is on more solid ground," Sen. Kent Conrad said in an interview with reporters outside the Senate chambers, adding he did not believe the recovery has come yet.
Lawmakers are mulling the renewal of tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 under then-President George W. Bush that expire at the end of this year. President Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress want to extend the lower rates for individuals earning less than $200,000 or couples making less than $250,000.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, another fiscally conservative Democrat, earlier this month questioned whether the country could afford to extend the tax cuts for the wealthier groups, citing the yawning budget deficit.
The federal government has run deficits for several years, with the 2010 budget expected to be more than $1 trillion in the red. The issue has stalled several spending bills in Congress, including extension of unemployment insurance now being debated in the Senate.
Waxman: Auto bill may move in August
A top lawmaker says the House will try to advance an overhaul of auto safety laws when Congress returns from its August recess.
The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Democratic Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, said Wednesday that he is hopeful the House will consider upgrading auto safety laws in the aftermath of Toyota's recall of more than 8.5 million vehicles.
The legislation would increase penalties against car companies, require automakers to meet new safety standards and empower the government to demand a recall.
Business groups and automakers have opposed portions of the bill that would add fees to new vehicles and bolster fines against the companies.
Lawmakers OK drilling safety, cleanup bills
The House has passed legislation that promotes new ways to clean up oil spills and approved a bill that aims to make deep-water drilling safer.
The measures, responding to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, cleared the House by voice votes Wednesday and now go to the Senate.
The first bill would increase from $22 million to $48 million the amount of federal money spent on research and development of new cleanup methods and technologies.
The second bill promotes research on devices designed to prevent accidents, such as the blowout preventer that failed in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig. And it deals with backup systems intended to shut off wells in an accident.
First lady praises winning designers
Michelle Obama used this year's luncheon for the National Design Award winners to sing the praises of those who push boundaries or outright ignore them.
With jazz playing in the White House foyer and lobster carpaccio on the East Room tables, the first lady celebrated the award winners Wednesday as "folks whose work has literally changed the way we look at the world and how we live our daily lives."
Mrs. Obama got a big laugh when she told the luncheon guests: "All of you have spent your lives pushing boundaries we know a little bit about pushing boundaries or just outright ignoring them altogether."
And she got a special kick out of being seated for lunch next to Tim Gunn from "Project Runway."
"How cool!" she declared.
The award winners included Rodarte, a sister-team of fashion designers whose creations the first lady has worn on several occasions in recent years. But for Wednesday's luncheon, the first lady chose a hot-pink outfit by Isabel Toledo with a V-neck top, drapes of fabric at the waist and loose flowing pants.
The awards are presented by the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.
Mrs. Obama called the winners "some of our country's most talented, most visionary, most public-minded designers."
Lawmakers pass bill to help manufacturers
The House approved a bill Wednesday to help U.S. manufacturers by suspending import duties on hundreds of raw materials they use to make finished goods.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said the bill, which received broad bipartisan support, was a preview of a bigger package Democrats plan to offer in coming weeks to boost manufacturing jobs.
"Democrats know that a strong manufacturing base is key to our economic revival, and the passage of this bill today is a good step forward as we continue to create the jobs America needs," Mr. Hoyer said.
The House voted 378-43 to approve the U.S. Manufacturing Enhancement Act, a bipartisan measure previously known as the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill and passed every few years.
The Senate also must approve the bill before it can go to President Obama for his signature.
Mr. Hoyer said the tariff relief provided in the bill was projected to add billions of dollars to the economy and support tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs.
Chief open to steps keep recovery going
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke tells Congress the economic outlook remains "unusually uncertain," and the Fed is ready to take new steps to keep the recovery alive if the economy worsens.
The Fed chief, in prepared testimony to the Senate banking committee Wednesday, said record low interest rates are still needed to bolster the economy and pledges once again to keep them there for an "extended period."
Although Mr. Bernanke downplayed the odds that the economy will slide back into a "double-dip" recession, he acknowledged that the "economic outlook remains unusually uncertain."
Given that, the Fed is "prepared to take further policy actions as needed" to keep the recovery on track, he said. He didn't outline specific measures.
GOP Sen. Lugar to support Kagan
Republican Sen. Richard G. Lugar will vote to confirm Elena Kagan as a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
The Indiana Republican is the second in the GOP to announce he's breaking with his party to back President Obama's nominee to succeed retired Justice John Paul Stevens.
Mr. Lugar said he has carefully followed Ms. Kagan's confirmation-hearing testimony and the debate about her nomination, including recommendations from his constituents, and concluded that she is clearly qualified to serve on the high court.
Democrats have more than enough votes to confirm Ms. Kagan. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Tuesday became the first Republican to say he will vote for her. A few others are expected to follow suit. The vote is expected early next month.
From wire dispatches and staff reports
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