Conflict described as 'roller coaster' ride
Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees the war in Afghanistan as head of U.S. Central Command, compared the conflict there to a roller-coaster ride with ups and downs similar to what was seen in Iraq.
"This is a tough, tough business," he said during a Senate hearing Wednesday. "And those who are living it have to keep their eye on the horizon to ensure the trajectory is generally upward."
Military officials say most of the extra troops have arrived but it will take several more months before marked progress can be shown.
Even with reinforcements, the challenges are numerous. Crucial campaigns in the Afghan towns of Marjah and Kandahar are moving slower than expected; NATO remains short on personnel to train the Afghan security force; the Afghan government remains rife with corruption; and a recent spate of Taliban attacks has put June on track to become the deadliest month in the war.
As of Wednesday morning, at least 45 NATO members, including 28 Americans, were killed in Afghanistan in June. That midmonth tally compares with 51 NATO deaths in May and 33 in April.
Much of the debate on Capitol Hill has focused on when U.S. troops should leave. President Obama's promise to start the withdrawal in July 2011 helped him with Democrats, but it prompted Republican charges that the U.S. was encouraging the Taliban and demoralizing its allies by setting a hard and fast withdrawal date.
Franken subject of comic book
ST. PAUL | U.S. Sen. Al Franken is stepping into the pages of a new comic book.
A biographical comic called Political Power: Al Franken goes on sale on Wednesday.
It's the latest in a line of comic books featuring politicians, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama.
The Minnesota Democrat is a former "Saturday Night Live" star who won his seat from Republican Norm Coleman last year in a contest that dragged on eight months past the election.
The 32-page comic book from Bluewater Productions of Vancouver, Wash., explores Mr. Franken's career and his election.
The cover features a portrait of him standing before the American flag and the Minnesota flag.
Lawmakers OK home tax credit extension
The Senate on Wednesday approved a plan to give homebuyers an extra three months to finish qualifying for federal tax incentives that boosted home sales this spring.
The move by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would give buyers until Sept. 30 to complete their purchases and qualify for tax credits of up to $8,000. Under the current terms, buyers had until April 30 to get a signed sales contract and until June 30 to complete the sale.
The proposal, approved by a 60-37 vote, would only allow people who already have signed contracts to finish at the later date. About 180,000 homebuyers who already signed purchase agreements would otherwise miss the deadline.
Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, added the proposal to a bill extending jobless benefits through the end of November. Nevada has the nation's highest foreclosure rate, and Mr. Reid is facing a tough re-election campaign.
Realtors have been pushing hard in Congress for the extension. Mortgage lenders, a trade group says, have been swamped with borrowers trying to get approved by the end of the month. Many potential borrowers are unlikely to make the deadline.
"If Congress fails to act promptly, then prospective homebuyers might not get the benefit of the homebuyer tax credit, even though they have completed contracts," a Realtors group said in a letter to lawmakers.
Department boosts child labor penalties
The Labor Department is sharply increasing the penalties against employers who illegally use child workers.
Anyone illegally employing 12-and 13-year-olds will now face a penalty of $6,000 for each violation. The maximum fine previously was $900.
Those employing children younger than 12 will face a penalty of $8,000 per violation. That's up from a previous maximum of $1,150.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis says the new fines are part of a stepped-up effort to crack down on illegal child labor. The penalties could go as high as $11,000 per violation in cases that involve injury or willful and repeated offenders.
The stiffer penalties are effective immediately and apply to any violation after June 1.
Commission set to reconsider rules
Federal regulators are reconsidering the rules that govern high-speed Internet connections. It's a bitter policy dispute that could be tied up in court for years.
The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote Thursday to begin taking public comments on three paths for regulating broadband. One of them is a proposal by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to define broadband access as a telecommunications service subject to "common carrier" obligations to treat all traffic equally.
The plan has the backing of big Internet companies that want to be sure the FCC can prevent phone and cable companies from using their control over broadband connections to determine what subscribers can do online. The idea faces stiff resistance from broadband providers.
Pawlenty sets up fundraising in Iowa, N.H.
ST. PAUL | Republican Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has expanded his presence in two states pivotal to presidential politics by setting up fundraising operations in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The state-based political action committees announced Wednesday will let Mr. Pawlenty raise and spend money on behalf of Republicans running for state and local offices.
It's a goodwill strategy common among likely presidential candidates.
Mr. Pawlenty is leaving office after his second term ends in January. He insists he hasn't decided whether to try for the White House in 2012. But frequent travel and stepped-up party-building point toward a run.
Mr. Pawlenty has visited both Iowa and New Hampshire twice since ruling out another run for governor. He heads back to New Hampshire in July.
House approves pension overhaul bill
HARRISBURG | A bill making significant changes to Pennsylvania's large public-sector pension plans is on its way to the state Senate.
The House voted 192-to-6 on Wednesday in favor of legislation to smooth out a looming jump in costs to taxpayers and reduce some benefits for newly hired state workers, teachers and other school employees.
Its provisions include raising the standard retirement age to 65 and requiring at least 10 years of service to vest.
The changes involve the Public School Employees' Retirement System and the State Employees' Retirement System.
From wire dispatches and staff reports
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