- - Wednesday, February 22, 2012

CONGRESS

Powdery substance sent via mail found harmless

Some congressional offices outside Washington and media organizations have received threatening letters containing a suspicious powdery substance that was tested and proved to be harmless, the FBI and the Senate’s top law enforcement officer said Wednesday.

Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said in a memo to Senate offices that the letters were sent to three state and home district offices. A district office of House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, received one of the letters, spokesman Kevin Smith said.

A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that so far fewer than 10 members of Congress had received letters.

Letters were also sent to several media organizations. FBI spokesman Peter Donald said agents had responded to Viacom and at least one other location in New York. Preliminary tests showed the powder did not pose a threat, he said.

“So far, none of the letters have contained a hazardous substance,” FBI Special Agent Jason Pack said. “We are working with those law enforcement agencies affected to determine if the mailings are related. We take these matters seriously and will investigate fully.”

The letters tell the recipients there is a “10 percent chance you have just been exposed to a lethal pathogen.”

Even though none of the letters tested have contained harmful substances, Mr. Gainer told staff to be extra vigilant.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama signs extension of tax cut into law

President Obama signed the payroll-tax-cut extension into law Wednesday, notching an election-year victory and rare bipartisan agreement in the continuing partisan battle over jobs, taxes and debt.

The $143 billion measure that Congress passed overwhelmingly on Friday continues the 2 percentage-point reduction in the tax that funds Social Security, a cut instituted to aid the nation’s struggling economic recovery. It also extends jobless benefits for between 63 weeks and 73 weeks, and averts a big cut in the reimbursements doctors get for treating Medicare patients.

The president signed the measure without fanfare Wednesday, already having celebrated its passage at an event Tuesday at the White House.

Obama senior adviser David Plouffe emailed his gratitude to people who sent the White House their stories about how losing the tax cut would affect their lives.

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