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Political Scene

- - Thursday, February 17, 2011

CONGRESS

House extends Patriot Act

Congress on Thursday gave itself three more months to consider changes to provisions of anti-terrorism law that have been valuable in tracking security threats but have drawn fire from defenders of privacy rights.

The House voted 279-143 to add 90 days to the legal authority of three provisions, including two that were part of the USA Patriot Act, enacted shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Senate approved the measure Tuesday evening.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill before the provisions expire on Feb. 28.

HOUSE

Bachmann unsure about 2012 race

Rep. Michele Bachmann says she hasn't decided whether to run for president but wants to help "set the table" for debate in the 2012 White House sweepstakes.

The darling of the tea party in Congress tells ABC's "Good Morning America" it's too early to say what move she'll make, saying, "I'm not there yet."

But the Minnesota Republican did say she feels she has standing to talk to voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early primary states because she's been "on the front lines" of policy debates.

Asked if she planned to seek the GOP presidential nomination, Mrs. Bachmann said, "I haven't made a decision yet." She said she wants to make sure voters are heard on leading issues like taxes, spending and the federal debt.

HOUSE

Lawmaker: Health law hurting doctors

Rep. Renee Ellmers, a nurse for 20 years before her election to Congress in November, says President Obama's health care reform law is already affecting her physician husband's practice.

Speaking Thursday at the Heritage Foundation, Mrs. Ellmers, North Carolina Republican, said, "My husband is seeing fewer patients. ... It has hurt us economically."

Regulations and taxes are "killing business," she said. "The cost of doing business is going up."

"Physicians are extremely concerned," she told an audience of about 50 women at the monthly gathering of the Conservative Women's Network of the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, adding that although doctors and other health care professionals typically are apolitical, "they are starting to speak out" against the health care reform law.

Mrs. Ellmers, 47, said doctors are accepting fewer Medicare and Medicaid patients as a result of the new health care law, which she said also is prompting older practitioners to retire earlier than they might have otherwise. She said the law prompted her to run for office, and she is working to repeal it.

DEFENSE

Gitmo closing seems unlikely

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday that prospects for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp were "very, very low" given broad opposition in Congress.

President Obama so far has not been able to meet his promise to close Guantanamo, but the White House said this week he remained committed to doing so. The facility has drawn international condemnation for the treatment of detainees.

Mr. Gates, testifying to the Senate, saw little hope for any breakthrough with Congress, which approved a bill that Mr. Obama signed into law last month barring terrorism suspects at Guantanamo from being brought to the United States for trial.

"The prospects for closing Guantanamo, as best I can tell, are very, very low given very broad opposition to doing that here in the Congress," Mr. Gates told a Senate hearing.

MEDIA

Former 'Press' host Monroe dies

Bill Monroe, who hosted the long-running Washington political television show "Meet the Press" for nearly a decade in the late 1970s and early 1980s, has died.

A New Orleans-based television station where he had worked, WDSU, said Mr. Monroe died Thursday at a nursing home in suburban Washington. He was 90.

Mr. Monroe was the NBC show's fourth moderator, from 1975 to 1984, and interviewed prominent political figures including President Carter and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

NBC also announced Mr. Monroe's death on the "Meet the Press" website. Tim Russert, the best-known host of "Meet the Press," assumed the host's chair in 1991 after a series of short stints by others following Mr. Monroe's departure.

SENATE

Subsidies slashed to small airports

The Senate has agreed to impose new restrictions on small, often remote airports receiving federally subsidized airline service.

The Senate voted Thursday in favor of a proposal by Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, to restrict the subsidies to airports that are 90 miles or more from another airport. Another proposal by Mr. Coburn to cancel air service subsidies for airports that average fewer than 10 passengers a day was agreed to without opposition.

The $200 million Essential Service Program has been singled out by conservative organizations as a test of lawmakers' determination to shrink the government. The amendments were made part of a broader aviation bill.