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Inside Politics: Former president in hospital for bronchitis

HOUSTON — Former President George H.W. Bush has been hospitalized in Houston for treatment of a lingering cough.

Mr. Bush's chief of staff, Jean Becker, said the 88-year-old former president is being treated for bronchitis at Houston's Methodist Hospital. He was admitted last Friday and is expected to be released by the weekend.

Ms. Becker told the Houston Chronicle on Thursday that the illness was not life-threatening but there had been concerns it could have developed into pneumonia.

Ms. Becker's office referred questions to Mr. Bush's spokesman, who did not immediately respond to calls.

Mr. Bush's son, former President George W. Bush, has been among visitors.

SENATE

Hawaii's Akaka emotional at last committee hearing

The goodbyes are beginning for Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, who will retire when the lame-duck session ends after 36 years in the U.S. Senate.

Mr. Akaka was the first Native Hawaiian in the Senate and first native-status lawmaker to chair the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. He has held 43 hearings over two years as chairman.

Fellow senators on Thursday lauded the Hawaii Democrat for his work for American Indians. The hearing focused on preserving native cultures and identities.

Mr. Akaka became emotional before dropping the gavel for the last time. Rather than goodbye, he said: "It is with much aloha that I say to you now, 'a hui hou,' see you again." Aloha is a Hawaiian greeting that also means love and care.

SENATE

Lawmakers consider aid requests in Sandy's wake

Congress on Thursday took its first hard look at the damage from Superstorm Sandy amid appeals for tens of billions of dollars in additional disaster assistance to rebuild from one of the most destructive storms ever to hit the Northeast.

Testifying before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, lawmakers from states incurring the most damages painted a grim picture of destruction from the late-October storm that left 131 people dead.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, one of the hardest-hit states, said more than 300,000 homes were seriously damaged from New York City to the eastern tip of Long Island alone. He said more than 20 million square feet of commercial offices are still closed.

Sen. Frank L. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, cited Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates that nearly 72,000 buildings were damaged in the state, which was also hard hit by the storm. He said along the battered coast, storm surges destroyed neighborhoods, ruined businesses, and displaced families.

"Imagine seeing your home or small business — which represented your dreams and aspirations — reduced to a pile of rubble," Mr. Lautenberg said.

VICE PRESIDENT

Motorcade takes Biden to opening day at Costco

Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal backed President Obama's re-election bid, and Thursday Vice President Joseph R. Biden returned the favor.

Mr. Biden took a motorcade to attend the grand opening of the discount retailer's first store in the District of Columbia, located in the city's Northeast quadrant. He was greeted by Mr. Sinegal and Costco CEO Craig Jelinek. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and other D.C. officials also attended.

In July, Mr. Sinegal came to the aid of Mr. Obama's campaign as it was under attack from Republican candidate Mitt Romney for the president's infamous "you didn't build that" comment about small-business owners. Mr. Romney argued that the president's remark proved he didn't understand or appreciate the risks taken by entrepreneurs, and the Obama campaign released an email in which Mr. Sinegal defended the president.

SENATE

Lawmakers approve accelerated withdrawal

Reflecting a war-weary nation, the Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday for an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan after more than a decade of fighting.

The strong bipartisan vote of 62-33 sends a clear message to President Obama and the military as they engage in high-stakes talks about the pace of drawing down the 68,000 U.S. troops, with a White House announcement expected within weeks.

Although the vote was on a nonbinding amendment to a defense policy bill, its significance could not be discounted amid the current discussions.

The overall bill authorizes $631 billion for weapons, ships, aircraft and a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel. The White House threatened to veto the legislation in its current form, citing limits on the president's authority in handling detainees at the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and restrictions on cuts to the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.

FDA

Consumer watchdog asks officials to revisit sites

A government watchdog group is calling on the Food and Drug Administration to reinspect more than a dozen specialty pharmacies with records of violations, in light of a recent deadly outbreak tied to compounded drugs.

Contaminated pain injections from a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy have been blamed for fungal meningitis that has killed 36 people and sickened more than 500, according to federal health officials.

In a letter to the FDA sent Thursday, Public Citizen asks the agency to revisit 16 compounding pharmacies that received warning letters from the agency between 2003 and 2009.

Compounding pharmacies traditionally mix customized medications based on doctors' instructions, turning out a small number of specialized products for patients with unusual medical needs. However, some pharmacies have grown into much larger businesses in recent years.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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