- The Washington Times - Friday, April 23, 2010

CONGRESS

Pay raises? Not in election year

Yielding to election-year reality, the Senate passed a bill Thursday to deny members of Congress a built-in pay raise next year.

Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, engineered the surprise passage of the legislation, which would deny senators and members of the House an automatic pay raise of about $1,600 next year. Members of Congress make $174,000 a year.

The Senate passed the measure unanimously without a roll-call vote. The House has yet to act on it, but probably will go along, given election-year pressures.

Lawmakers receive an automatic cost-of-living pay hike unless they pass legislation to block it - as they did last year. The last time they opted to take the pay hike was in 2008, which meant they received a $5,000 raise last January.

Automatic pay raises were part of an ethics reform bill in 1989, and Congress at that time gave up its ability to accept pay for speeches and made annual cost-of-living pay increases happen unless the lawmakers specifically voted to stop them.

SENATE

Watchdog: Vitter took illegal campaign cash

A Washington ethics watchdog is accusing Sen. David Vitter of accepting illegal campaign contributions from a California dry-cleaning company that wanted federal stimulus money.

Questions have swirled around a fundraiser Mr. Vitter held with executives of U.S. Dry Cleaning Corp. since the Times-Picayune reported recently that company officials and their spouses gave him nearly $40,000 last year.

It remains unclear why they gave to Mr. Vitter. The company has no clear ties to Louisiana, and the officials were not regular political donors. One of them said the company reimbursed his contribution. Such reimbursements are illegal.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington on Thursday asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate.

PENTAGON

Graham won’t speak at service

Christian evangelist Franklin Graham said that the U.S. Army has withdrawn an invitation for him to appear at a special Pentagon prayer service in the wake of protests over his past comments over Islam.

In a statement Thursday, Mr. Graham said he regretted the Army’s decision and will continue to pray for the troops.

Mr. Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, in 2001 described Islam as evil. More recently, he has said he finds Islam offensive and wants Muslims to know that Jesus Christ died for their sins.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group on religious favoritism in the military, objected to plans for Mr. Graham to speak at the May 6 event.

WHITE HOUSE

Government to appeal Prayer Day ruling

The Obama administration will appeal a court decision that found the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.

A federal judge in Wisconsin, Judge Barbara Crabb, a 1979 appointee of President Carter, ruled the National Day of Prayer that Congress established 58 years ago amounts to a call for religious action. About two dozen members of Congress have condemned the ruling and pressed for an appeal.

In a notice filed Thursday, the Justice Department said it will challenge the decision in the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

President Obama is the principal defendant in the lawsuit. The case was brought by atheists and agnostics who argue that the National Day of Prayer violates the separation of church and state. The administration says the law simply acknowledges the role of religion in the United States.

CALIFORNIA

Assembly confirms lieutenant governor

SACRAMENTO | The California Assembly has voted to confirm Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s choice for lieutenant governor.

The nomination of Republican state Sen. Abel Maldonado now goes to the Senate, but Thursday’s vote in the Assembly was his biggest hurdle.

The chamber had rejected Mr. Maldonado earlier this year, partly because some lawmakers objected to his role in last year’s budget debate. The Santa Maria lawmaker had agreed to raise taxes only if lawmakers placed an open-primary measure on this year’s ballot, which both major parties generally oppose.

Mr. Schwarzenegger had vowed to seat Mr. Maldonado anyway, prompting the threat of a legal challenge from the Assembly. He then resubmitted Mr. Maldonado’s name.

The former lieutenant governor won a seat in Congress.

WHITE HOUSE

Chinese Muslims seek better deal

The Obama administration is seeking to block further court review in the case of five Chinese Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who want to come to the United States to live.

Before three federal appeals judges, an attorney for the five ethnic Chinese said Thursday that his clients did not want to be resettled on the Pacific Ocean island of Palau and that they have a right to have their views taken into account by U.S. courts.

The government says it is trying to find a country that will accept the five, who fear their lives will be endangered if they are returned to China. The Obama administration has declared that the five pose no threat to the United States and should no longer be held as enemy combatants.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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