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HOUSE

GOP's Ryan has new plan for Medicare

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan says he has a new plan for Medicare. This time his co-author is Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon.

The top Republican budget writer in the House created a stir this year with a financial plan that essentially privatized Medicare for future retirees. The Senate rejected it after a backlash. Democrats want to use that plan against Republicans in 2012.

The new Wyden-Ryan plan would keep traditional Medicare as an option for future retirees and leave the eligibility age at 65. But it also sets up a regulated competition with private insurance. Seniors in private plans would get a fixed payment from the government that's more generous than in Ryan's original plan.

Mr. Wyden and Mr. Ryan say they want to start a bipartisan dialogue on Medicare.

SENATE

Committee acts against lawmaker insider trading

A Senate committee Wednesday approved a bill that would prohibit members of Congress and their employees from using nonpublic information to enrich themselves.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee sent the legislation to the full Senate. A similar bill is before a House committee, but it's doubtful the legislation will be considered this year.

The Senate bill would extend many of its restrictions throughout the federal government, but the potential impact is unclear because each agency already has restrictions on use of nonpublic information.

A provision that only applies to lawmakers would require disclosure of any stock or commodities transaction of $1,000 or more within 30 days. The reports would be available online. Currently, members of Congress and their top employees list their financial transactions on annual financial disclosure forms.

The committee also ordered a one-year congressional study on the role of so-called "political intelligence firms," which try to learn inside information from lawmakers and their staffs and pass it along to private clients.

Original sponsors of the legislation sought to have these firms register with Congress, as lobbyists do now. Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, said more needs to be learned about these firms, and he promised to conduct a hearing next year.

IOWA

Gingrich faces shouting protesters at campus

IOWA CITY — Protesters drowned out Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich during a campaign event at the University of Iowa.

A handful of people seated in a campus auditorium Wednesday assailed Mr. Gingrich for what they called a "callous attitude toward poor people." The protest lasted more than three minutes.

Mr. Gingrich watched impassively from the podium while the protesters shouted. They were led away by university officials.

Before the protesters were ushered out, several Gingrich supporters yelled back. One man told the protesters to shut up, and another said, "You've had your freedom of speech - be quiet!"

Mr. Gingrich said he appreciated the bulk of attendees who were on hand for a discussion of issues.

CAMPAIGN

Poll: Republicans shrug at Romney's background

Mitt Romney says his business background makes him a better presidential candidate than Newt Gingrich.

But a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds that argument is not moving Republicans Mr. Romney's way.

Republicans are evenly divided on whether a Washington insider or outsider is best-suited to be president. Mr. Gingrich has spent decades in Washington, including 20 years in Congress.

The poll also found a significant drop in satisfaction with the overall GOP field.

The nationwide poll of Republicans found Mr. Gingrich with an edge over Mr. Romney as the candidate they'd like to see win the nomination. But it falls just within the poll's margin of error.

NRC

Agency chief denies 'bully' claim, won't quit

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko on Wednesday denied claims by fellow commissioners that he has bullied and intimidated staff members and said he has no plans to step down.

Under fierce questioning from a House committee, Mr. Jaczko refused to name a single thing he had done wrong in his 2 1/2-year tenure as NRC chair.

"I have no plans to resign because I continue to believe under my leadership the agency has performed very well," Mr. Jaczko said. "We have committed ourselves to safety, and I believe my record shows that."

Mr. Jaczko's comments came after four of the five members of the NRC said the chairman's "bullying and intimidation" have damaged the agency's effectiveness.

The commissioners - two Democrats and two Republicans - said Mr. Jaczko, a Democrat, is responsible for an increasingly tense and unsettled work environment at the NRC. The four commissioners sent a letter to the White House in October expressing "grave concern" about Mr. Jaczko' s actions.

Commissioner William D. Magwood, a Democrat, told a House oversight committee that Mr. Jaczko had bullied and belittled three female staff members, one of whom said she was "humiliated" by what Mr. Magwood called a "raging verbal assault."

WHITE HOUSE

Obama nominates 2 for labor board

President Obama on Wednesday announced plans to nominate two Democrats to the National Labor Relations Board, despite a Republican threat to block any appointments to the agency.

The president intends to nominate Sharon Block, deputy secretary for congressional affairs at the Labor Department, and Richard Griffin, currently the general counsel for the International Union of Operating Engineers, to fill two vacancies on the board.

The move comes just days after the board's top lawyer dropped a controversial lawsuit that charged Boeing with illegally retaliating against union members in Washington state by opening a new plant in South Carolina. That case - along with other union-friendly decisions - has made the board a target of Republicans who contend it has acted too favorably toward unions.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Huntsman to sit down with Letterman

EXETER — Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. is set to appear on the "Late Show With David Letterman" next week.

The former Utah governor is struggling both in the polls and to raise money to keep his campaign going after the nation's first presidential primary in New Hampshire on Jan. 10.

Like some of his rivals, Mr. Huntsman is hoping the late-night comedy circuit will help boost his popularity.

CBS announced Wednesday that Mr. Huntsman will join Mr. Letterman on Dec. 21.

GOP candidates Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann also have done the late-night comedy tour. So did Herman Cain, before he suspended his campaign. Mr. Huntsman also took part in a recent "Saturday Night Live" skit.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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