- - Sunday, March 18, 2012

After a few months of relative peace on the budget front, Democrats and Republicans are readying for a party-defining, election-year fight over trillion-dollar-plus deficits and what to do about them.

The House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan, is coming out next week with a sequel to last year’s “Path to Prosperity” manifesto that ignited a firestorm over Medicare.

The upcoming debate gives Republicans a chance to show how they would tackle out-of-control budget deficits and rein in the cost and scope of government.

President Obama played it safe when he released his spending blueprint last month for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. It calls for tax increases on wealthier earners and modest spending curbs but doesn’t address the spiraling costs of Medicare and Medicaid.

SENATE

Lawmakers push Russia trade restriction replacement

Four senators say they will back an Obama administration push to repeal restrictions on trade with Russia, but only if they are replaced by legislation sanctioning Russian officials for human rights violations.

The lawmakers from both major parties outlined their position to reverse the 1974 Jackson-Vanik law in a letter Friday.

The Obama administration is seeking to abolish urgently the restrictions so U.S. companies will not lose out after Russia joins the World Trade Organization this year. It has opposed linking repeal to legislation targeting Russian officials. But the support of senators from both parties would boost prospects for the Senate to rescind the law.

CAMPAIGN

Santorum says shirtless shot of him ‘not pretty’

Rick Santorum is offering a tongue-in-cheek apology to anyone who has seen the recent snapshot of him sunbathing poolside at a resort in Puerto Rico.

The Republican presidential candidate appears shirtless and shoeless in light-colored shorts while taking a break from campaigning in the U.S. commonwealth. The photo appeared on a blog and began showing up on various websites.

In an interview Friday with Chicago radio station WIND, Santorum said he probably should lose 15 or 20 pounds.

Mr. Santorum tells WIND, “I apologize to all of us, because I’m sure it’s not a pretty sight.”

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