- - Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Rep. Laura Richardson, California Democrat, improperly compelled her congressional staff to do campaign work and should be reprimanded and fined for violating standards of conduct, the House Ethics Committee announced Wednesday.

The committee said she admitted to all seven counts of violations and agreed to the proposed punishment, which awaits House action.

The committee unanimously adopted the report of its investigative panel, in which investigators detailed the third-term lawmaker’s coercion, attempts to alter evidence and efforts to influence the testimony of staff members who would be witnesses.

Adoption of the report by the House would constitute a reprimand. The House also was asked by the committee to impose a $10,000 fine to be paid by Dec. 1.

The committee said it discouraged Ms. Richardson from permitting any staff members to work in her campaign. She’s in a tough re-election race against fellow Democratic Rep. Janice Hahn. Although Ms. Hahn beat Ms. Richardson by a 60-39 margin in the primary, the state allows the top two finishers to run against each other in the general election regardless of party affiliation.

The ethics charges have been a drag on Ms. Richardson’s fundraising as her campaign was greatly outspent in the primary. Ms. Hahn raised and spent more than $2.1 million and won the endorsement of the California Democratic Party. Ms. Richardson raised about $483,000 and spent about $403,000, according to the latest Federal Election Commission report covering through June 30.


Leaders welcome Chinese dissident to Capitol

Congressional leaders have united in welcoming dissident Chinese lawyer Chen Guangcheng, whose case sparked a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Beijing this spring.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, led Mr. Chen, who is blind, by the arm. Mr. Boehner told a news conference Wednesday the U.S. has the responsibility to hold China accountable on human rights.

Mr. Boehner was flanked by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who commended his remarks.

Mr. Chen moved to New York in May after a dramatic escape from house arrest in his home province to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Mr. Chen called for Beijing to honor promises to investigate abuses he faced and guarantee his family’s security.

He said that change in China is inevitable as increasing numbers of citizens shed their fears and assert their rights.


Officials need time to plan number removal

Five years after being told to look at taking Social Security numbers off Medicare cards, Medicare officials say they still need six more months to figure out how much it will cost.

At a sometimes-tense House hearing, Medicare Chief Information Officer Tony Trenkle assured lawmakers that the issue is a priority but couldn’t offer a timetable for when the change might be made.

Congressional auditors said in a report Wednesday that an earlier cost estimate of $800 million to $845 million was faulty, partly because of insufficient and inconsistent data. The Government Accountability Office estimated as many as 48 million Medicare beneficiaries risk having their identity stolen because their Social Security numbers are displayed on Medicare cards required by most physicians’ offices and other health care providers.


Romney to take part in multistate bus tour

Mitt Romney’s campaign is finalizing plans for a multistate bus tour to begin late next week.

The Republican presidential candidate is expected to visit Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, although the schedule may change in the coming days. Romney returned from a bumpy overseas trip late Tuesday. He was spending Wednesday in meetings at his Boston campaign headquarters.

Mr. Romney is scheduled to campaign in the Denver area Thursday. Aides report that he’ll attend a Republican Governors Association fundraiser in Aspen later that night. A handful of governors often mentioned as possible Romney running mates are scheduled to attend.

Next week’s bus tour could be part of the rollout for a running mate. Republican officials are expecting that announcement any day.


Battered housing industry showing signs of life

Another strong gain in home building pushed U.S. construction spending up for a third straight month in June, a further indication that the battered housing industry is showing signs of life.

Construction spending rose 0.4 percent in June following an upwardly revised 1.6 percent gain in May that was the biggest one-month increase since December, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

The June advance pushed spending to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $842.1 billion, up 12.9 percent from a 12-year low hit in February 2011. Still, the level is roughly half of what economists consider to be healthy. The construction industry has been flashing signs of improvement while other sectors of the economy have slowed.

For June, the strength came from a 1.3 percent increase in spending on housing, the fifth gain this year.

The housing gain pushed activity in this category to an annual rate of $265.6 billion. Spending on private nonresidential building projects edged up a slight 0.1 percent to an annual rate of $302.3 billion after much bigger gains over the past three months. In June, spending for office construction and hotel projects both rose but spending in the category that includes shopping centers declined.


First lady on campaign trail in pivotal state

GREENSBORO — First lady Michelle Obama has urged a supportive crowd in North Carolina to get out the vote for her husband’s re-election bid in the political battleground state.

“Are you all in?” she asked the more than 2,000 people packing a gymnasium Wednesday at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

The first lady urged supporters of President Obama to get friends, relatives and neighbors involved in the election under a program she heads, “It Takes One.”

“That one new voter that you register that one neighbor you help get to the polls, that could be the one who makes the difference,” she said.

Her husband narrowly won North Carolina by 14,000 votes in 2008.

The first lady planned a fundraising appearance Wednesday evening in Raleigh, capping the day’s campaigning.


Lawmakers approve tighter Iran sanctions

Congress voted Wednesday to slap sanctions on Iran’s energy, shipping and financial industries, convinced that increasing the economic pressure on Tehran will derail its suspected nuclear weapons program.

The House overwhelmingly passed the bill 421-6 and a short time later, the Senate approved it by voice vote. The measure now heads to President Obama for his expected signature.

The legislation builds on the current penalties directed at financial institutions that do business with Iran’s central bank and adds sanctions to undermine Tehran’s oil income.

“Ultimately, we will all be judged by a simple question: Did we stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapons capability?” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., during the House debate.


Romney attacks auto bailout in new ad

Mitt Romney is attacking President Obama’s support for the auto industry bailout in a new television ad.

The Republican presidential candidate is highlighting a General Motors dealer in Ohio forced to close in 2009. The ad blames the Obama administration for dealership closures across Ohio.

The spot was released Wednesday, the same day Mr. Obama campaigns in Ohio.

The auto bailout was enacted by President George W. Bush in 2008 and continued under the Obama administration. Mr. Romney previously argued that the nation’s auto companies should be left to go through bankruptcy without government assistance.

General Motors posted record profits last year.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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