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Republicans have quietly maneuvered to prevent a House spending bill from chipping away at federal farm subsidies, instead forging ahead with much larger cuts to domestic and international food aid.

The Republican move will probably prevent up to $167 million in cuts in direct payments to farmers, including some of the nation’s wealthiest. The maneuver, along with the Senate’s refusal Tuesday to end a $5 billion annual tax subsidy for ethanol-gasoline blends, illustrates just how difficult it will be for Congress to come up with even a fraction of the trillions in budget savings over the next decade that Republicans have promised.

Meanwhile, the annual bill to pay for food and farm programs next year would cut food aid for low-income mothers and children by $685 million, about 10 percent below this year’s budget.

The farm-subsidy cuts won bipartisan approval in the House Appropriations Committee two weeks ago, but as debate on the House floor began Tuesday, Republicans turned to a procedural maneuver to drop that language.


Ex-speaker convicted in corruption case

BOSTON | Former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi was convicted Wednesday in a scheme to steer two state contracts worth $17.5 million to a software firm in exchange for payments to the powerful lawmaker and two of his close friends.

A visibly distraught DiMasi turned to hug his crying wife and stepdaughter after the verdict was read. He was convicted of conspiracy, extortion and theft of honest services by fraud.
DiMasi, a Democrat who resigned in January 2009, was the third consecutive House speaker to leave office under an ethics cloud.

Also convicted of conspiracy and fraud was lobbyist Richard McDonough. Accountant Richard Vitale was acquitted. Both are close friends with DiMasi. A fourth man, former software salesman Joseph Lally, pleaded guilty before trial and testified against the others.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf scheduled sentencing for Aug. 18, and allowed DiMasi and McDonough to remain free until then, with the provision that they cannot leave New England.
The most serious counts against DiMasi carry a maximum 20 years in prison.


Biomass projects planned in three states

TOLEDO, Ohio | The U.S. Agriculture Department will begin signing up farmers in four states this summer who are willing to grow a hybrid grass that can be converted into heat and electricity.

Growing and processing the grass into energy has the potential to create 4,000 jobs in Ohio, Arkansas and Missouri, Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack said Wednesday.

The government will spend $20 million over the next few years paying farmers in those three states and in three Pennsylvania counties near Ohio to grow the bamboo-like grass that can grow up to 13 feet high.

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