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HOUSE

Boehner: Obama should help replace sequester

House Speaker John A. Boehner has pressed President Obama to review the automatic spending cuts set to be triggered by last week's failure of the defunct debt-reduction supercommittee and to work with Congress to develop a Plan B.

"The president is the commander in chief. The president I think understands pretty clearly that these cuts would do serious harm to our ability to defend our country and our allies around the world," the Ohio Republican said Thursday during his weekly briefing with reporters.

"So I believe that there is a role for him to play in this process."

Many rank-and-file Republicans have pushed to redo the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts — set to begin in January 2013 — because half would target the Pentagon. Mr. Boehner, who largely avoided speaking out against the so-called "sequester" cuts during the supercommittee's almost three-month tenure, in recent days has pushed for alternative cuts to lower the deficit.

"No one really wants to go there" with the automatic cuts as they stand, he said.

Mr. Boehner stopped short of saying a sequester redo should be part of ongoing negotiations to extend the payroll-tax holiday.

FBI

Documents outline background checks

The FBI used community-outreach programs to run background checks and collect personal information on those the bureau encountered during Muslim-related events between 2007 and 2009, according to heavily redacted internal FBI documents released Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union.

In a statement, the ACLU said the documents — gathered through a Freedom of Information Act request — showed the bureau was "secretly and deliberately" collecting information "about innocent Americans for its intelligence files, and illegally recording information about their speech, beliefs and First Amendment-protected activities."

"This is bad enough. But to make it worse, the FBI is doing this intelligence collection through community-outreach programs — programs that are supposed to build trust and rapport with the public — without telling community groups or their members what it is doing," the ACLU said, noting that the programs were intended to improve relationships between Muslims and the FBI.

Michael German, ACLU senior policy counsel and a former FBI agent himself, said the trust that community-outreach efforts sought to create was undermined when the FBI "exploited the programs" to gather intelligence "on the very members of the religious and community organizations" the agents were meeting with.

"The FBI should be honest with community organizations about what information is being collected during meetings and purge any improperly collected information," he said.

CONGRESS

Lawmakers could intervene to stop railroad strike

A costly railroad strike is looming just in time to scare Christmas-season retailers unless the nation's freight railroads and labor unions resolve their differences by Tuesday. Congress could intervene as early as Friday to avert a shutdown.

House lawmakers said Thursday they hope the parties will agree to extend the negotiation period for an additional 60 days. If not, House GOP leaders intend to bring up for a vote Friday a bill to block a strike, said Rep. Bill Shuster, Pennsylvania Republican, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure rail subcommittee.

The bill would impose the settlement recommendations of a five-member Presidential Emergency Board that would bind the parties for the next three years. It is not clear whether Democratic leaders in the Senate — generally more sympathetic to unions — would go along with that, or seek another option such as extending the talks.

A strike of any length could cause massive disruption to the economy. Retailers say a rail strike would cost businesses and consumers $2 billion a day and prove especially damaging during the industry's most important shopping season of the year.

TEXAS

Romney visits Bush behind close doors

HOUSTON — Mitt Romney is set to chat behind closed doors with former President George H.W. Bush. But Mr. Romney's campaign says no endorsement is imminent.

The Republican presidential hopeful was heading Thursday to Mr. Bush's home in Houston, even though he was venturing onto the home turf of a rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho confirmed the meeting, saying they are "friends," but added it doesn't mean Mr. Bush will endorse Mr. Romney.

The elder Mr. Bush endorsed Mr. Perry during the tight 1998 race for Texas lieutenant governor. Mr. Perry won.

Mr. Perry then became governor when George W. Bush left for the White House in 2000.

Both Mr. Perry and the younger Mr. Bush have denied reports of a rift between their camps dating back to their days working together in Texas.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Obama to announce plan to boost energy efficiency

Enlisting former President Bill Clinton as a partner, President Obama is announcing a $4 billion effort to increase the energy efficiency of government and private-sector buildings, aiming for fuel savings and job creation.

The proposal, to be announced by Mr. Obama and Mr. Clinton on Friday, would upgrade buildings during the next two years with a goal of improving energy performance by 20 percent by 2020. The federal government would commit $2 billion to the effort and a coalition of corporations, labor unions, universities and local governments would undertake the other half.

The contractors who undertake the work would be paid with realized energy savings, thus requiring no upfront federal expenditure.

"Upgrading the energy efficiency of America's buildings is one of the fastest, easiest and cheapest ways to save money, cut down on harmful pollution and create good jobs right now," Mr. Obama said in a statement.

FEC

Panel affirms limits on campaign spending

The Federal Election Commission has ruled unanimously that Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, could not raise unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.

Mr. Lee heads the Constitutional Conservatives Fund political action committee. It asked the FEC whether it could receive limitless amounts of cash from corporations and labor unions, effectively making it the first so-called "super-PAC" run by an elected official.

The FEC said Thursday in its 6-0 decision that leadership PACs, which help other members of Congress get elected, are controlled directly by a candidate for federal office and are bound by contribution limits. The decision comes nearly two years after the Supreme Court's ruling that allowed independent groups to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, so long as the groups don't coordinate with candidates.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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