- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2009

KENNEDY

Massachusetts OKs succession change

BOSTON | The Massachusetts legislature Wednesday gave final approval to a bill allowing the governor to replace the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy temporarily, moving a step closer to restoring a 60th Democratic U.S. Senate vote President Obama needs to pass his health care overhaul.

The state House voted 95-59, and the Senate 24-16, just moments after a separate House vote in which lawmakers declined to make the law go into effect immediately.

That means Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, must send a letter to the secretary of state declaring an emergency if he wants an interim replacement right away. Otherwise, he must wait 90 days, leaving a vacancy for most of the five-month special election campaign now under way to fill the seat permanently.

House Republicans accused Mr. Patrick and his fellow Democrats of a power grab. Democrats changed the law in 2004 to prevent a Republican, then-Gov. Mitt Romney, from naming a successor in the event that Massachusetts’ other Democratic senator, John Kerry, had won the presidency, and have now changed it back.

Meanwhile, a family confidant said Mr. Kennedy’s two sons, Edward Kennedy Jr. and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, Rhode Island Democrat, had placed separate calls to Mr. Patrick, urging him to appoint former Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. to replace their father.

Mr. Kirk, a Boston lawyer, was close friends with the senator. He and his wife, Gail, live on Cape Cod, and he was among the few people allowed to regularly visit Mr. Kennedy at his Hyannis Port home before he died there of brain cancer on Aug. 25.

Mr. Kirk, 71, also knows the senator’s staff intimately and would likely be assured of their loyalty, given his relationship with Mr. Kennedy.

TROOPS

McCain: More troops needed in Afghanistan

Sen. John McCain says more American troops are needed in Afghanistan, insisting that the longer it takes to send them, “the more Americans will be put at risk.”

The Arizona Republican told CBS’ “The Early Show” on Wednesday that the strategy to defeat insurgents in Afghanistan was in place, and said President Obama was “very strong” in March about what needed to be done.

Now, Mr. McCain says, “It’s clear we need additional troops.”

Critics at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill have called on Mr. Obama to fulfill an anticipated request for more troops from the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. White House officials, however, say they are unsure that a troop increase in Afghanistan would help in the fight against al Qaeda terrorists.

CIVIL LIBERTIES

Democrats propose surveillance changes

The Obama administration, for a second straight day Wednesday, frustrated Democratic lawmakers by declining to say whether it backs their demands for more civil liberties safeguards in anti-terrorism surveillance and property seizures.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee kept pressing Assistant Attorney General David Kris to go beyond previous administration statements that the White House supports continuing provisions of the USA Patriot Act that will expire at year’s end.

“We don’t have an official administration position” on any proposed legislation, Mr. Kris said.

Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, had asked whether the administration would back his proposal to continue the expiring sections for four years with revisions and increase audits of the government’s actions.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, sought a commitment to protect libraries from unreasonable requests for information on people using the facilities.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and chairman of the Intelligence Committee, asked, “Is there anything [in Mr. Leahy’s bill] that would impede or affect” a current terrorism investigation in New York and Colorado?”

“The cards are rather stacked” in favor of the government, Mr. Leahy said.

Mr. Kris responded, “We’re willing to look to see if these tools can be sharpened.”

CONGRESS

VA bonuses challenged on Hill

Lawmakers on Wednesday questioned whether millions of dollars in bonuses were appropriately awarded to employees at the Veterans Affairs Department.

The agency’s inspector general recently found that over a two-year period, $24 million in bonuses were awarded to technology office employees at the VA, some under questionable circumstances. It also detailed abuses, ranging from nepotism to an inappropriate relationship between two VA employees.

In a separate issue involving bonuses at the agency reviewed by the Veterans’ Affairs House oversight subcommittee, executives within all departments were awarded $4.3 million in performance bonuses in the last fiscal year, some more than $60,000, said Rep. Harry E. Mitchell, Arizona Democrat, who chaired a subcommittee hearing on the issue.

The VA has nearly 1 million claims to process and has faced criticism in areas of quality control because of issues such as endoscopic-procedure problems at three Southeast hospitals that potentially exposed thousands of veterans to infections. The problems make it even more relevant to review the awarding of bonuses, Mr. Mitchell said.

“The bonus system must allocate responsibility where it lies,” Mr. Mitchell said.

CHILD CARE

Funds release sought for day care

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat, said her state has been unable to spend nearly $97 million in federal stimulus dollars allocated for day care centers because a federal agency has not issued adequate guidelines on how to spend it.

Mrs. Gillibrand asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a letter to take quick action so the money can be spent.

The affected day care centers fall under the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 1990, which was designed to help low-income families receive day care. Mrs. Gillibrand said the day care centers are counting on the money and need it for staffing and in other areas.

Some states have already started spending the funding.

MEMORIAL

NFL players pledge for King memorial

The NFL Players Association is pledging to raise or donate $1 million to help build the Martin Luther King Memorial planned for the national Mall in Washington.

DeMaurice Smith, the association’s executive director, announced the pledge Wednesday at a luncheon with the Congressional Black Caucus. He said King was an inspiration to many NFL players.

The gift brings the fundraising total to $107 million of the $120 million needed to build the memorial.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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