- - Monday, January 9, 2012

AGRICULTURE

USDA says it will close 259 sites to save $150M

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it will close 259 domestic offices, labs and other facilities as part of an effort to save $150 million per year in its $145 billion budget.

The plan, announced Monday, will affect the agency’s Washington headquarters and operations in 46 states.

Agriculture Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack said in a statement that his agency must “be better stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars.”

He said many of the offices being closed have few employees and are near other offices. It was not clear from the USDA announcement whether employees would be laid off or moved to other offices.

The USDA has an array of programs, including emergency aid for farms, grants for rural development and the program commonly known as food stamps.

CAMPAIGN

Gingrich cancels to avoid protesters

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich canceled an appearance at his New Hampshire campaign headquarters after protesters swarmed the entrance.

About 40 protesters showed up Monday evening carrying placards reading “Ron Paul” and “Occupy.” One played speeches by presidential candidate Ron Paul from a loud speaker.

Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said the former House speaker’s private security detail decided to cancel the event because of security concerns regarding the entrance and exit to the building.

About 75 supporters and volunteers had crammed into the Manchester office to see Mr. Gingrich the night before the New Hampshire primary. The Gingrich campaign volunteered to transport them to his next event Monday night, set at a bar in Concord, N.H., to watch a college football game. 

CAMPAIGN

GOP candidates wade into food stamp debate

Republican presidential candidates are using domestic food aid as an example of a welfare state gone awry.

Supporters of the program say it is one of the most reliable safety nets for families who find themselves unable to pay for food, and the program has proved almost politically untouchable over many decades.

Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich say the government should convert food stamp spending to block grants to states, a move that could freeze spending and cut the benefit to many who now receive it.

Mr. Gingrich, a former House speaker, and Mr. Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, were heavily involved in congressional welfare reform efforts in the mid-1990s.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Perry jabs Romney over pink slips

ANDERSON — Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry is taking it to rival Mitt Romney for saying he feared getting a pink slip during his executive career.

Mr. Perry said he doesn’t doubt that Mr. Romney worried about pink slips but that his concern was most likely over whether he would have enough of them to hand out.

Mr. Perry, the governor of Texas, cited South Carolina companies that downsized while controlled by a private equity firm Mr. Romney once ran. Mr. Perry said it would be an “insult” for Mr. Romney to come to the state and ask voters to support him now.

Mr. Perry campaigned in South Carolina on Monday. The state holds the South’s first primary on Jan. 21, and Mr. Perry is hoping a strong finish will rejuvenate his lagging campaign. He is skipping the New Hampshire primary Tuesday.

IRS

Program for offshore tax cheats returns

The Internal Revenue Service is reviving a program that lets Americans who are hiding assets overseas avoid criminal charges by paying their back taxes plus penalties.

IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman said similar efforts in 2009 and 2011 have netted $4.4 billion for the government as 33,000 people came clean on their taxes.

Those coming forward under the program will face penalties of up to 27.5 percent of the assets they had stashed abroad, and will have to pay their taxes plus interest.

INDIANA

Democrats end boycott, won’t promise labor vote

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana House Democrats on Monday ended a three-day boycott of the General Assembly over a contentious labor bill but are not promising to stay long enough to allow a final vote on the divisive measure.

House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer said Democrats are returning “just for today.”

Republicans want to make Indiana the first state in more than a decade to enact right-to-work legislation, which bans employment contracts that require mandatory union fees for representation. House Democrats stalled work at the opening of Indiana’s 2012 legislative session last week by denying Republicans the 67 members on the floor they need to conduct any business.

The measure is expected to face an easy path through the state Senate, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 37-13.

Rep. Jerry Torr, Carmel Republican, said that if House Democrats stay in session, the right-to-work measure could make it to the governor’s desk as soon as two weeks from now.

If they use a start-and-stop approach to stall the measure further, Republicans will be ready with fines, he said.

“So if their idea is, come in one day be gone two days, come in a day be gone two, that’s not going to fly for very long at all,” he said.

Republicans imposed $1,000-per-day fines for absences after a five-week walkout last year over the same issue.

 

MISSISSIPPI

Barbour pardons convicted killers from mansion

JACKSON — Relatives of crime victims say Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has pardoned at least three convicted murderers who worked as inmate trusties at the Governor’s Mansion.

The relatives of three victims said corrections officials notified them that the men were scheduled for release this past Sunday.

Mr. Barbour’s office hasn’t responded to numerous messages. Mr. Barbour, a Republican, leaves office Tuesday.

Joann Martin of Fort Worth, Texas, said Mr. Barbour pardoned Anthony McCray, convicted in 2001 of killing his wife, who was Ms. Martin’s sister.

Mark McAbee of Coldwater, Miss., said Mr. Barbour also pardoned Joseph Ozment, who was convicted in 1994 of killing Mr. McAbee’s uncle during a robbery.

Corrections officials earlier confirmed that Mr. Barbour had pardoned David Gatlin, convicted of killing his estranged wife in 1993. Officials haven’t responded to questions about other pardons.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama hails Mavericks for first championship

President Obama saluted Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks on Monday as NBA champions who staged a season-ending charge to beat LeBron James and the vaunted Miami Heat and claim their first title with a “heart that’s the size of Texas.”

“This was a remarkable run, a great victory,” Mr. Obama declared, as owner Mark Cuban and Mavericks stars, including series MVP Nowitzki, looked on. “It’s too bad that next year, it’ll be the Chicago Bulls here.”

The first basketball fan - a passionate supporter of his hometown Bulls - was nonetheless lavish in praising the Mavericks, who beat the Heat in six games in June.

“They know how good teams win,” Mr. Obama said. “Not just by jumping higher or running faster, but by finding the open man, working together, staying mentally tough, being supportive of each other, playing smarter.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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