- - Thursday, March 31, 2011

SENATE

Fannie, Freddie target of bill

Two leading Senate Republicans introduced legislation Thursday to stop taxpayer-funded bailouts of insolvent mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

“Fannie and Freddie are synonymous with mismanagement and waste,” said Sen John McCain of Arizona, who along with Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, have sponsored the “GSE Bailout Elimination and Taxpayer Protection Act.”

The failures of the two government-sponsored enterprises, or GSEs, have cost taxpayers more than $150 billion.

The bill is identical to legislation filed in the House last month sponsored by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican.

“When history is written, Fannie and Freddie will be mother of all taxpayer bailouts,” Mr. Hensarling said.

The federal government seized control of the failing mortgage giants during the financial crisis of 2008, and has sought to use them to prop up the collapsed mortgage and housing markets.

Republicans and Democrats agree that dramatic reform is needed at Fannie and Freddie, but they disagree on how - and how fast - to accomplish that.

The GOP bill calls for government takeover of Freddie and Fannie to end in two years. And the companies’ government GSE charter would expire in three years, a move that would force them to conduct all new operations as fully private sector companies.

JUSTICE

Prosecutors question potential Edwards witness

Prosecutors investigating former Sen. John Edwards spent several hours Thursday re-interviewing the man who posed as the father of Edwards‘ out-of-wedlock baby during the 2008 presidential campaign, suggesting they are weighing the strength of their chief witness before deciding whether to indict the former candidate.

Andrew Young met with the prosecutors in his attorney’s Washington office for more than four hours. The Associated Press spotted him leaving the building’s underground garage in a vehicle with a North Carolina license plate registered to his wife, Cheri, at their home in Chapel Hill.

Mr. Young has already been questioned by a grand jury investigating Mr. Edwards in 2009 and the Justice Department is considering whether to move forward with an indictment. Justice Department officials requested the meeting, according to a person familiar with the investigation on the condition of anonymity.

The prosecutors could be interested in determining how well Mr. Young’s credibility as a witness will hold up. Mr. Young, an aide in Mr. Edwards‘ 2008 presidential campaign, initially claimed he was the father of the child and traveled across the country helping keep Mr. Edwards‘ mistress Rielle Hunter hidden.

Mr. Young has since said he made a mistake by lying to cover up Mr. Edwards‘ paternity, which the former Democratic presidential hopeful has since acknowledged. Mr. Young has written a book detailing his role in the cover-up, which is being turned into a Hollywood film.

NRC

3 plants need closer review

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says three U.S. nuclear power plants need increased oversight from federal regulators, although officials stressed that all are operating safely.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko says the three plants — in South Carolina, Kansas and Nebraska — need more intensive review than other plants because of problems with safety systems or unplanned shutdowns.

Mr. Jaczko told a House subcommittee Thursday that the plants “are the ones we are most concerned about” among the 65 U.S. nuclear power plants in 31 states.

Mr. Jaczko did not identify the plants, but an agency spokesman said they are the H.B. Robinson nuclear plant in South Carolina, Fort Calhoun in Nebraska and Wolf Creek in Kansas.

HOUSE

Lawmaker: Cartels threatening agents

A Texas congressman says Mexican drug cartel members threatened to kill U.S. agents working on the American side of the border last month.

Rep. Michael T. McCaul said Thursday that a law enforcement bulletin was issued in March warning that Mexican gangsters were overheard plotting to kill Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and Texas Rangers stationed along the border. Mr. McCaul did not identify which cartels or what agency issued the bulletin.

The bulletin warned of a plot to shoot at the agents with AK-47 assault rifles from the Mexican side of the border into the U.S.

ICE Agent Jaime Zapata was shot and killed, and Agent Victor Aliva was wounded, in a roadside ambush in Mexico in February.

GEORGIA

Court sets date in health care appeal

ATLANTA | A U.S. court will hear oral arguments June 8 in a government appeal of a federal judge’s ruling that struck down President Obama’s landmark health care overhaul law as unconstitutional.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta said it would hear the appeal before a randomly selected three-judge panel. The fight over the law, Mr. Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment, is expected to reach the Supreme Court.

“This appeal shall also be expedited to oral argument and shall be heard at oral argument on Wednesday, June 8, 2011, at 9:30 a.m. in Atlanta, Georgia, before a three judge panel randomly selected,” a court document said.

The administration is appealing a decision in January by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson that favored arguments by 26 states that say the law’s requirement Americans buy health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty is unconstitutional.

The law includes provisions allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ health care insurance and prevents insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing medical conditions.

MINE SAFETY

Tougher mining laws sought

The nation’s top mine safety official is renewing his call for tougher legislation to protect miners nearly one year after an explosion killed 29 men at a West Virginia coal mine.

Mine Safety and Health Administration Director Joe Main told lawmakers his agency has made progress in fixing flaws in the enforcement system that came to light after the disaster.

And he says legislation circulating on Capitol Hill would make it easier to shut problem mines, impose tougher criminal penalties and protect whistleblowers.

A Senate panel heard testimony from Mr. Main as it considers what Congress can do to help prevent a similar accident from happening in the future.

Since the April 2010 explosion, the safety agency has conducted more than 200 “impact” inspections at mines with poor safety records.

NEW YORK

Politicians, friends mourn Ferraro

NEW YORK | Onetime vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro was remembered as a political trailblazer and a devoted mother and friend Thursday at a funeral that drew dignitaries including former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Mrs. Ferraro made history as the first woman to serve on a major party ticket when Democrat Walter Mondale chose her as his running mate in 1984. She died Saturday of multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. She was 75.

Hundreds of mourners packed the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer in midtown Manhattan for a funeral Mass that featured nine eulogies: Both Clintons; Mr. Mondale, a former vice president; Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski; former California Democratic Rep. Jane Harman; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; and Mrs. Ferraro’s three children, Donna, John and Laura.

Mrs. Ferraro was married for 50 years to John Zaccaro, a New York real estate developer. They had eight grandchildren.

The ceremony was closed to the media, but attendees described it as a warm, loving celebration of Mrs. Ferraro’s life.

“It was one of the most beautiful services I have ever seen,” Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas said.

Mrs. Hutchison, whose brother has multiple myeloma, said Mrs. Ferraro had raised awareness of the illness. “She was very special to me. We bonded forever,” Mrs. Hutchison said.

GULF PROBE

Agency chief accuses firm of stonewalling

NEW ORLEANS | The head of the U.S. agency that regulates offshore drilling is questioning Transocean’s willingness to cooperate with a key federal investigation of last year’s Gulf of Mexico rig explosion and oil spill.

Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement, said in a Thursday letter to Transocean that the company has stonewalled on whether it would make available three employees who have been subpoenaed to testify at hearings next week near New Orleans.

“In my judgment, this is less a legal issue than one of whether Transocean recognizes its moral and corporate responsibility to cooperate with an investigation into the causal factors of the most significant oil spill in United States history,” Mr. Bromwich wrote.

A lawyer for Transocean, which owned the rig that exploded and which was leasing it to BP, said in a response letter that the company can’t control whether the people that investigators want to question show up or not, but it’s willing to produce a different expert who isn’t on the witness list.

Both letters were obtained by The Associated Press.

From wire dispatches and staff reports