- - Monday, May 14, 2012

Republican Sen. John McCain wants the Obama administration to ramp up its free trade agenda in Asia and suspend U.S. economic sanctions on Myanmar.

The Arizona senator said Monday the U.S. has been “sitting on the sidelines” while China has moved swiftly to secure free trade agreements in Asia and Latin America.

He said the U.S. was negotiating too slowly on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact with eight other nations, and should seek bilateral pacts with Taiwan and India.

Mr. McCain is the latest U.S. lawmaker to want to ease economic restrictions on Myanmar’s military-dominated government as a reward for democratic reforms. Rights groups oppose such a step.

Mr. McCain, who spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said he supports retaining the U.S. arms embargo with Myanmar.


Judge strikes down union election rules

A federal judge has struck down new regulations that were expected to help unions win more workplace elections.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg says the National Labor Relations Board never had a quorum when it voted last year to approve regulations to speed up the pace of union representation elections.

Judge Boasberg did not address the merits of the rules Monday and said the NLRB could take a new vote to approve them.

At the time the rules were approved in December, the five-member board only had three members — two Democrats and one Republican. The Republican did not technically participate in a final vote on the rule, even though he later wrote a dissenting opinion.

Federal law requires a quorum of at least three board members to consider new rules.


State considers bill to protect homeless

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island is considering creating a homeless bill of rights to prevent discrimination against people who some lawmakers say are among society’s most vulnerable.

The legislation has passed the Senate but is hung up in the House, where some lawmakers worry the bill could burden local governments and police departments.

The measure would prohibit law enforcement, health care workers, landlords or employers from treating homeless people unfairly because of their housing status.

While most discrimination against the homeless already is prohibited, no state has passed such comprehensive legislation.

Megan Smith, an advocate for the homeless and co-author of the bill of rights, says the proposal isn’t about giving the homeless new rights but about ensuring they’re not treated any worse than anyone else.


Lawmakers near vote on bank renewal

The Senate is nearing a final vote on legislation to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank for three years and raise its lending cap from the current $100 billion to $140 billion.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate would take up five Republican amendments before taking a final vote Tuesday.

If, as expected, the Senate passes the bill after defeating the amendments, the bill goes to the president.

The House easily passed the measure last week despite opposition from some conservative groups that argued that the government should not have a role in the market place.

The independent federal agency last year provided $32 billion in export financing to help American companies sell goods overseas.

Without congressional action, the bank’s charter will terminate at the end of the month.


New ‘super’ PAC hopes to woo younger voters

A new Republican “super” political committee wants to woo younger voters who supported President Obama four years ago.

Starting this week, the Crossroads Generation super PAC will spend $50,000 on online ads aimed at under-30 Americans facing crippling debt and bleak unemployment prospects.

The new group is supported in part by American Crossroads, which has raised $100 million so far to beat Mr. Obama in November.

For his part, Mr. Obama has pushed for keeping interest rates low on student loans. That comes as some estimate student loan debt in the United States has reached $1 trillion.


Committee chief won’t interview prostitute

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is refusing to meet with a Colombian prostitute involved in the U.S. Secret Service scandal.

Rep. Peter King tells CNN that a meeting with the woman, identified by her lawyer as Dania Londono Suarez, would merely be “a publicity stunt.”

The New York Republican’s panel is conducting its own investigation of the incident in which several Secret Service agents consorted with prostitutes in advance of President Obama’s arrival for a regional summit in Cartagena, Colombia, in April.

Asked in an interview Monday about reports the woman wants to meet with him, Mr. King replies, “There’s been enough cheap publicity.” He says, “I’m not going to give her another forum.”

Nine Secret Service agents have lost their jobs in the scandal.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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