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Inside Politics

- - Thursday, July 21, 2011

AUTOMOTIVE

U.S. ends Chrysler investment; Fiat ups stake

DETROIT — Italy's Fiat SpA bought the U.S. and Canadian governments' stakes in Chrysler Group LLC, becoming the majority shareholder in the U.S. automaker with the ability to appoint more board members.

Fiat now has 53.5 percent of Chrysler on a fully diluted basis, up from 46 percent, Auburn Hills-based Chrysler said in a regulatory filing Thursday. Fiat is on track to hold 58.5 percent of Chrysler by the end of the year.

A health care trust affiliated with the United Auto Workers and known as the VEBA holds the remaining shares of Chrysler.

The company and the union plan to begin negotiations on a new four-year contract Monday, the day before Chrysler is scheduled to report its quarterly earnings.

With majority ownership, Fiat now has the right to appoint a majority of the company's nine-member board. Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive officer of both automakers, is selecting a group of managers to oversee both companies.

ELECTION

In betting world, Perry shares Romney's odds

Texas Gov. Rick Perry may not have formally declared his presidential candidacy yet, but bettors on the news-futures website Intrade are already giving him the same chance of becoming the 2012 Republican nominee as presumed front-runner Mitt Romney.

Mr. Perry's nomination odds reached a high of 33 percent Thursday, eclipsing Mr. Romney for the first time. The former Massachusetts governor, trading at 32 percent, has been Intrade's 2012 favorite since betting on the GOP nomination began in 2008 and had even consolidated his front-runner status in recent months as his opponents stumbled and other would-be challengers opted not to run.

But the possible entry of Mr. Perry, a popular third-term Texas governor, has altered the equation for those seeking to profit off their ability to predict the race's outcome.

Mr. Perry's surge seems to have come primarily at the expense of fellow tea party darling Rep. Michele Bachmann. The Minnesota House Republican's odds dropped from highs of 22 percent a few days ago to 9 percent after a report by the Daily Caller revealed that she gets migraine headaches.

HOUSE

Chamber passes to bill to rein in consumer agency

The House greeted the official opening Thursday of the new agency to protect consumers from financial abuse by voting to change its structure and reach.

Republican sponsors said they were trying to make the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau more transparent and accountable. Democrats said Republicans wanted to cripple the agency before it gets on its feet.

The 241-173 vote, mainly along party lines, sends the legislation to the Democratic-led Senate, which is not expected to support it. The White House has issued a veto threat.

The legislation would replace the director of the new agency with a five-person commission and make it easier for federal regulators to override regulations created by the agency.

ELECTION

Paul is criticized Libertarian bent

The Club for Growth, the influential fiscal conservative group, warned Thursday Rep. Ron Paul's unwavering libertarian views stops him from seeing that sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good. "Ron Paul is ideologically committed to pro-growth, limited government policies," Chris Chocola, the club's president, said in its latest rundown of the GOP presidential field. "However, his single-minded focus on achieving a utopian libertarian society based on the U.S. Constitution has often caused him to oppose even good pieces of legislation like pro-growth free-trade agreements."

In their breakdown of Mr. Paul's record, the influential anti-tax group applauds his consistent record on opposing tax and spending increases, while noting a few exceptions, including his support of so-called "pork" projects. On free trade, the report knocks Mr. Paul, saying he embraces "the importance of free trade, but lives in a dream world if he thinks free trade will be realized absent agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA" — the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Central America Free Trade Agreement.

Mr. Paul's strict ideology also hurts him when it comes to entitlement reform, the group says. "Just as in trade, this tendency leaves Paul opposing pro-growth reforms of Social Security," the group says.

EDUCATION

Group sues over Title IX enforcement

A group of coaches, parents and others is suing the Education Department over how it determines whether high schools are complying with the federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools.

The 1972 law, Title IX, has helped open more academic and sports opportunities for women.

At issue is one way the government determines whether a school is complying: Whether the number of male and female athletes at a school is in proportion to enrollment.

The American Sports Council says that way of checking compliance will lead to quotas and the elimination of boys' sports teams. The group wants a court order to stop the department from using the test.

Education Department spokesman Jim Bradshaw says it's a "valuable tool" for ensuring a fair opportunity for all students.

SENATE

Lawmaker takes for-profit universities to task

Sen. Tom Harkin continued his mission to regulate for-profit colleges on Thursday afternoon, zeroing in on how the industry aggressively recruits veterans.

The Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee called a for-profit roundtable discussion, which included Holly Petraeus, head of the Treasury Department's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and wife of incoming CIA chief David H. Petraeus.

"Military folks, at this point, are seen as a dollar sign in a uniform" to for-profit colleges, Mrs. Petraeus said.

Senate Democrats are weighing adjustments to the "90-10 rule," which currently limits how much taxpayer money — Pell Grants or federal loans — for-profits can get. Under the rule, at least 10 percent of for-profits' revenue must come from sources other than federal money. The rule is meant to discourage institutions from targeting the disabled, very low-income students or others who are unlikely to complete college, simply for the sake of pocketing government money.

The average student must come up with 10 percent of his or her tuition from other sources like private loans, but military veterans are the exception and, under the GI Bill, are not subject to the 90-10 rule. Critics believe for-profits recruit veterans, pocket the money and then offer substandard education, short-changing both the student and the taxpayer.

"It really makes my blood boil, I must say," said Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat

No Republican members of the HELP Committee attended Thursday's roundtable.

HOUSE

Panel backs ban on abortion funds

A House panel has endorsed a ban on giving federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide abortion information.

The effort is an attempt to reverse a policy President Obama put in place within days of his inauguration.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday rejected a Democratic effort to strike the provision from a sweeping foreign aid bill. The vote was 25-17.

The provision bans U.S. taxpayer money, usually Agency for International Development funds, from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion. Exceptions are for rape, incest or if the life of the mother is in danger.

The House panel's move has little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

OHIO

Fate of union law to be decided by voters

COLUMBUS — Ohio voters will get to decide in November whether to repeal the state's new collective-bargaining law, which would let public employee unions negotiate wages but not health care, sick time or pension benefits.

The state's elections chief said Thursday that opponents had gathered enough valid signatures to put the question before voters. The measure is now suspended from taking effect until voters have their say.

The law signed by Gov. John Kasich in late March affects more than 350,000 public workers, including police officers, firefighters, teachers and state employees. Aside from restricting bargaining, it bans strikes and gets rid of automatic pay increases, replacing them with merit raises or performance pay.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Ex-governor Roemer enters presidential race

HANOVER — Kicking off his presidential campaign in New Hampshire, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer says he may be no one, but he's the only one ready to fight a corrupt political system.

Mr. Roemer, who has been out of office for 16 years, officially launched his campaign Thursday at Dartmouth College.

He already has been campaigning hard in New Hampshire, going so far as to move to Manchester recently.

Mr. Roemer is focusing on two issues: unfair trade practices and campaign financing. He doesn't take donations above $100 and described his campaign as a war against special interests that control Washington.

From wire dispatches and staff reports