- - Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Officials defend proposed cuts

Top Pentagon officials are defending Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ proposed multibillion-dollar cuts in military spending amid competing congressional demands for both more reductions and sparing weapons programs.

Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said the budget proposal strikes the right balance. Mr. Gates has called for cuts of $78 billion. The military budget would still be $553 billion in the next fiscal year, close to double what the military got in 2001. And the amount doesn’t include funds for the war in Afghanistan and reduced operations in Iraq.

Mr. Lynn faced members of the House Armed Services Committee, including Republican Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, who expressed concern about proposals that might jeopardize the military. Specifically, lawmakers are concerned with Mr. Gates’ plan to cancel the Marine Corps’ $12 billion Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.


Official doubts law savings

A leading expert on Medicare says two of the central promises of President Obama’s health care overhaul law are unlikely to be fulfilled.

Medicare’s independent economic expert told Congress on Wednesday that the landmark legislation probably won’t hold costs down, and it won’t let everybody keep their current health insurance if they like it. Chief Actuary Richard Foster, whose office is responsible for independent long-range cost estimates, made the comments to the House Budget Committee.

Mr. Foster’s assessment came a day after Mr. Obama in his State of the Union message told lawmakers that he’s open to improvements in the law, but unwilling to rehash the health care debate of the past two years. Republicans want to repeal the landmark.


Thune candidacy OK with McConnell

The Senate Republican leader is encouraging Sen. John Thune’s potential White House bid but is stopping short of an endorsement.

Sen. Mitch McConnell said Wednesday he hopes the South Dakota lawmaker will run for president in 2012. When asked on MSNBC whether he was endorsing his colleague, Mr. McConnell of Kentucky laughed and said he didn’t want to give Mr. Thune that handicap.

Mr. Thune is among more than a dozen names mentioned as a potential challenger for President Obama. Mr. Thune said he hasn’t yet made a decision but told ABC News that “the clock is ticking.”

Mr. Thune said he is looking at how he can best serve the country. He said there is a “big opportunity” on a national scale but added he isn’t rushing to run.


Kucinich sues over olive pit

Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio is suing a congressional cafeteria for dental damage he says he suffered after biting into an olive pit in a sandwich wrap he bought there.

Mr. Kucinich’s attorney, Andrew Young, declined to comment Wednesday on the lawsuit seeking $150,000 in damages from companies involved with the Longworth House Office Building cafeteria. A spokesman in Mr. Kucinich’s congressional office also declined to comment.

The civil suit filed earlier this month in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia said the wrap “contained dangerous substances, namely an olive pit,” that a consumer would not reasonably expect to find in the product served. The suit said that Mr. Kucinich suffered “serious and permanent” dental and oral injuries requiring multiple surgical and dental procedures.

Mr. Kucinich’s lawsuit said the Ohio Democrat bought the sandwich on or about April 17, 2008. He is seeking damages for “past and future medical and dental expenses, compensation for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment and other damages.”

The liberal congressman made an unsuccessful bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.


Rules would cut coal mining jobs

CHARLESTON, W.Va. | The Obama administration’s own experts estimate their proposal for protecting streams from coal mining would eliminate thousands of jobs and slash production across much of the country, according to a government document obtained by the Associated Press.

The office of surface mining reclamation and enforcement document says the agency’s preferred rules would impose standards for water quality and restrictions on mining methods that would affect the quality or quantity of streams near coal mines. The rules are supposed to replace Bush-era regulations that set up buffer zones around streams and were aimed chiefly at mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.

The proposal - part of a draft environmental impact statement - would affect coal mines from Louisiana to Alaska.


Home sales tank in 2010

Buyers purchased the fewest number of new homes last year on records going back 47 years.

Sales for all of 2010 totaled 321,000, a drop of 14.4 percent from the 375,000 homes sold in 2009, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. It was the fifth consecutive year that sales have declined after hitting record highs for the five previous years when the housing market was booming.

The year ended on a stronger note. Buyers purchased new homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 329,000 units in December, a 17.5 percent increase from the November pace.

Still, economists say it could be years before sales rise to a healthy rate of 600,000 units a year.

“The percentage rise in sales looks impressive but 10 percent of next-to-nothing is still next-to-nothing,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, referencing the December increase. “New home sales are bouncing around the bottom and we see no clear upward trend in the data yet.”

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