- - Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Bills promote religion at war memorials

The House of Representatives has passed a bill confirming the use of religious symbols at military memorials. It was also voting on legislation to order that a prayer issued by President Franklin Roosevelt on D-Day be installed at the World War II Memorial in Washington.

The first bill would write into law existing practice of allowing display of religious symbols at military memorials and cemeteries. It was introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, in response to a federal court decision a year ago that a 43-foot cross at St. Soledad Veterans Memorial in La Jolla, near San Diego, was unconstitutional.

The other bill, expected to pass later in the day, would direct the Interior secretary to install a plaque inscribed with the FDR prayer to the nation on June 6, 1944.


Buffett would profit from failed pipeline

Warren Buffett, whom President Obama likes to cite as a fair-minded billionaire while arguing for higher taxes on the wealthy, stands to benefit from the president’s decision to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline permit.

Mr. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. owns Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC, which is among the railroads that would transport oil produced in western Canada if the pipeline isn’t built.

“Whatever people bring to us, we’re ready to haul,” Krista York-Wooley, a spokeswoman for Burlington Northern, a unit of Mr. Buffett’s Omaha, Neb.-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc., told Bloomberg News. If Keystone XL “doesn’t happen, we’re here to haul,” she said.

The Obama administration rejected TransCanada’s request for a permit on Jan. 18, saying there was not enough time to review the proposal by Feb. 21, the deadline imposed by congressional Republicans eager to see the pipeline built. The decision came from the State Department, although Mr. Obama said he agreed with it.

TransCanada said it plans to submit another proposal that would avoid an environmentally sensitive route through Nebraska. The State Department had been reviewing the pipeline project for three years when it rejected the permit.

If completed, the $7 billion Keystone XL would deliver 700,000 barrels a day of crude from oil sands in Canada to Texas refineries on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. It would traverse about 1,600 miles.

The State Department’s review of the project said shipping oil via rail is more costly than delivering it to refineries by pipeline.

Mr. Obama often cites Mr. Buffett as an example of a civic-minded billionaire because the entrepreneur has said he should pay a higher tax rate than his secretary. Mr. Buffett and the president like to tell the story of how Mr. Buffett pays a 15 percent effective tax rate, while his secretary pays a higher rate even though she earns only a fraction of what he does.

The president has called his push for higher taxes on the wealthy the “Buffett rule.”

The secretary, Debbie Bosanek, was to sit with first lady Michelle Obama in her box in the House gallery at Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech.

Republicans, labor unions and even some Democrats have criticized the administration’s rejection of the pipeline permit, saying it would create up to 20,000 jobs. Critics accuse the president of buckling to pressure from environmentalists who oppose the project and are important to Mr. Obama’s re-election effort.


Lawmakers extend aviation programs for the 23rd time

The House has approved a temporary extenson of Federal Aviation Administration programs, avoiding a shutdown of the agency as lawmakers work out their last remaining differences on a long-term plan.

A bill to extend FAA programs through Feb. 17 was approved by a voice vote — the 23rd such extension since 2007. The agency’s operating authority had been due to expire on Jan. 31.

Lawmakers said House and Senate negotiators are very near an agreement on a final bill, but needed extra time to resolve a handful or remaining issues. None is seen as an obstacle to passage.

Last week negotiators reached a compromise on rules for how airline workers can form unions, the main issue that has been holding up passage of a long-term bill.


Unemployment rates decrease in 37 states

The unemployment rate fell in two-thirds of U.S. states last month, evidence that recent modest improvements in the job market have benefited most regions of the country.

The Labor Department said that unemployment fell in 37 states in December, rose in three and remained unchanged in 10. That’s similar to November, when joblessness declined in 43 states, and October, when it dropped in 36.

The three states that reported increases were Hawaii, New Mexico and Rhode Island. Nevada posted the highest unemployment rate, at 12.6 percent, followed by California’s 11.1 percent. North Dakota had the lowest rate, at 3.3 percent.

Last month, 25 states reported an increase in total jobs, while 24 states said they lost jobs. The figures are different than the unemployment rates because rates can fall even if a state doesn’t add new jobs. Unemployed workers who give up on their job searches, for example, are no longer counted as unemployed, thereby reducing the rate.

Nationwide, employers added 200,000 jobs in December and the country’s unemployment rate fell for the fourth straight month to 8.5 percent.

Hiring picked up toward the end of 2011 as the economy improved. Analysts expect the economy expanded at an annual rate of about 3 percent in the October-December quarter, up from an anemic 0.9 percent pace in the first six months of last year.


Lawmaker to keep seat empty for ailing Kirk

A Democratic senator who planned to sit with a Republican for President Obama’s State of the Union address says he will keep the seat empty in honor of his ailing colleague.

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk suffered a stroke this past weekend and underwent surgery Sunday night. He is in intensive care at a Chicago hospital and doctors say he could lose full use of his left arm and experience facial paralysis.

In a statement, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III said the two were planning to sit together for Tuesday night’s speech in a show of bipartisanship. Instead, Mr. Manchin will keep the seat empty in Mr. Kirk’s honor.

Mr. Manchin called Mr. Kirk the kind of leader who will reach across the aisle to put country first.


GOP debate casts light on sugar policy

TAMPA — The Republican presidential race has waded, at least for a moment, into the grainy details of U.S. sugar policy.

The topic came up during Monday night’s debate in Tampa, Fla., with Newt Gingrich saying it’s one of the fascinating things about America. He added that sugar subsidies would be cut in an ideal world.

Mitt Romney followed up by also calling for an end to subsidies.

Blogs and Twitter feeds lit up with the exchange. Those calling for overhauling sugar policy, including the candy industry, say they are happy the topic came up. The sugar industry says the policies are necessary to keep U.S. sugar companies from shutting down.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports



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