- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2009

HOUSE

Hoyer cool on telecom issue

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer made clear Tuesday that he would be cool to a Senate proposal to take away the retroactive immunity now given to telecommunications companies that participated in warrantless wiretapping during the George W. Bush administration.

“I don’t think that revisiting that issue is really going to get us anyplace,” the Maryland Democrat said at a news conference.

His comment came a day after some Democrats said they planned to introduce legislation to repeal a provision in a 2008 act granting immunity to telecom companies that helped the government surveillance on Americans in suspected terrorism cases.

The immunity issue was a key hang-up in a yearlong effort by Congress to come up with new rules about government surveillance and eavesdropping in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

COURTS

Keep labor board working, U.S. asks

The Justice Department on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to let a federal labor board continue working even though three of its five seats are vacant.

The National Labor Relations Board, which resolves conflicts between unions and management, has worked with three vacancies for nearly two years because of political wrangling in the Senate.

Earlier this year, a federal appeals court in Washington said hundreds of decisions issued by the NLRB are invalid because federal law does not permit the board to act without at least three members.

But three other federal appeals courts - in Boston, Chicago and New York - have reached the opposite conclusion. The Justice Department’s petition urges the Supreme Court to resolve the split.

The uncertainty has thrown into question more than 400 decisions that clarified the rules of union organizing or decided whether there was merit to claims of unfair labor practices.

The standoff has also forced the two remaining board members - one Democrat and one Republican - to postpone dealing with more complex cases that could have a wider impact on the workplace.

SENATE

Specter probes strength aids

An influential senator is looking into whether Congress should re-regulate dietary supplements because steroids and other banned substances are finding their way into over-the-counter bodybuilding products.

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Democrat and Philadelphia Phillies fan, is convening a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the issue Tuesday.

He said his interest was piqued in part by the case of Phillies pitcher J.C. Romero, who was suspended for 50 games this season after testing positive for androstenedione, a substance that slugger Mark McGwire used in the 1990s that was later banned by baseball.

Romero sued the manufacturer of an over-the-counter supplement earlier this year, arguing that it should bear the blame for his suspension because it misrepresented its products and ingredients.

“We’re looking at whether there’s adequate protection for consumers from getting these supplements, which have steroids or steroidlike substances,” Mr. Specter told the Associated Press in an interview. “These tainted products can cause life-threatening injuries, such as kidney failure and liver injury.”

SOUTH CAROLINA

Expert questions Sanford’s flights

COLUMBIA, S.C. | South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s use of state planes for personal and political trips could open him and the state to federal tax penalties because the flights never were recorded as taxable fringe benefits.

Tax experts who reviewed an Associated Press analysis of more than 100 flights since 2003 said numerous trips could have triggered Internal Revenue Service rules that require adding the value of flights to the governor’s wages, making them subject to taxes. The analysis shows nine flights since 2008 could be worth $19,019 in taxable benefits.

“The state appears to take the position that they assume that all of these are business flights,” said Marianna Dyson, a former IRS fringe-benefits lawyer and one of the nation’s leading specialists on the topic. By doing that, the state “ignored the rules applicable to the use of an employer’s aircraft.”

The governor’s office contends the need to report any of Mr. Sanford’s trips as income is preposterous because every flight is official business. “It’s all working-condition fringe benefits that we don’t believe is taxable,” said Sanford spokesman Ben Fox.

TANKERS

Boeing rival blasts Pentagon

The Pentagon has given Boeing Co. an “unfair” advantage in the latest competition for a troubled $35 billion tanker contract, a Northrop Grumman Corp. executive said Tuesday.

The Pentagon shared Northrop’s pricing data from its previous bid with Chicago-based Boeing, but did not reveal Boeing’s cost estimates to Northrop.

“It is fundamentally unfair, and distorts any new competition, to provide such critical information to only one of the bidders,” Paul Meyer, a Northrop Grumman vice president, said in a statement. “The company will continue to work with its customer to fully resolve this issue.”

Los Angeles-based Northrop and partner Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. N.V. are competing against Boeing for the third time to replace the aging refueling tankers.

GOP

Nixon kin named N.Y. party leader

ALBANY, N.Y. | A Manhattan lawyer married to Richard Nixon’s daughter is the new leader of the New York Republicans.

Edward Cox was named state GOP chairman at a state committee meeting in Albany on Tuesday.

Mr. Cox, who turns 63 on Friday, is married to the late president’s daughter Tricia.

The party is looking to make some gains in elections next year. New York Republicans have not held a statewide post since Gov. George E. Pataki left office at the end of 2005.

Mr. Cox has corporate legal experience and a political pedigree that includes a grandfather who served in the state Assembly and sat on New York’s highest court. His lone flirtation with elective office was a 2006 Senate run. It fizzled before the primary.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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