- - Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Senate panel has approved a foreign aid budget for next year that cuts U.S. assistance to Pakistan and Egypt.

By voice vote Tuesday, a Senate Appropriations subcommittee approved the overall bill totaling $52.1 billion. That is $2.6 billion less than what President Obama requested and $1.2 billion below current spending.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, cited the strained U.S. relations with Pakistan for reducing aid and imposing restrictions on $1 billion in assistance. Pakistan has closed supply routes for NATO forces in Afghanistan, angering the United States and lawmakers.

The panel also cut $5 million from the $250 million in economic assistance for Egypt. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said it equaled the amount the U.S. spent to get nongovernment workers out earlier this year.


Panel approves increase in airline security fee

A Senate panel Tuesday approved a $2.50 increase in airline security fees that would double the per-passenger fee for those taking nonstop flights.

The move by the Senate Appropriations Committee would increase the fee on a nonstop round-trip flight from $5 to $10. Fees on a one-way, nonstop ticket would increase from $2.50 to $5. Passengers who change planes to reach their destinations would continue to pay $5 each way.

A similar move last year failed because of opposition by Republicans in the House and the current effort faces long odds in an election year.

A move by panel Republicans to kill the higher fee — which is attached to a homeland security measure funding the Transportation Security Administration — failed on a 15-15 vote.

The author of the proposal, Sen. Mary Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, said the current fee structure only covers about one-fourth of TSA’s airport security costs and that people who fly should bear a greater cost of TSA’s $7.6 billion budget — rather than taxpayers as a whole.

Supporters of the fee point out that airlines are layering fee after fee upon their customers and that baggage fees in particular place a greater strain on TSA resources because people are checking far more luggage that needs to be screened at TSA checkpoints.


Lawmakers to end program that provides tuition waivers

SPRINGFIELD — After years of bad publicity over cronyism and clout, the Illinois Legislature has voted to end a longstanding program that allowed each lawmaker to hand out taxpayer-funded college tuition waivers to students.

The 79-32 vote Monday was the second overwhelming tally in the state House in two months. The latest approval was necessary to endorse changes made in the state Senate, which broke a historic logjam over the issue earlier this month by reversing course and voting to abolish the perk.

The measure now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn, who plans to sign it.

“Scholarships, paid for by Illinois taxpayers, should be awarded only to those with merit who are in true financial need,” the Democrat said in a statement. “Abolishing this program is the right thing to do.”

Under the program, each lawmaker was allowed to award two four-year waivers to public universities per year. Many spread the wealth by handing out eight one-year waivers.

For decades, though, waivers sometimes went to the politically connected rather than those most deserving. In the past year alone, a half-dozen lawmakers gave waivers to the relatives of lobbyists or friends, or violated the rules by awarding them to people who live outside their legislative districts. Some recipients have strangely listed addresses linked to their benefactors.


2010 count continues to miss minorities

A new government analysis shows the 2010 census generally was accurate, although it continued to disproportionately overlook minorities.

The Census Bureau reports that it over-counted the total U.S. population by about 36,000 people, or 0.01 percent. That is compared to an overcount of 0.5 percent in 2000.

Still, Census Bureau Director Robert Groves notes that traditional hard-to-count groups, including blacks and Hispanics, remained difficult to tally.

The census missed about 2.1 percent of black Americans and 1.5 percent of Hispanics. That’s statistically comparable to levels in 2000.

The South was more likely to have people who were missed, while the Midwest and Northeast posted small over-counts.

The once-a-decade population count is used to allocate House seats and more than $400 billion in federal money for roads, schools and social programs.


Obama to push tax credits in visit to battleground state

President Obama is heading to the political battleground state of Iowa this week to prod Congress to act on his agenda.

The president will visit TPI Composites, which builds large-scale structures used to produce wind energy, on Thursday to highlight his push for tax credits to encourage investments in clean energy technologies.

The trip to Newton is part of Mr. Obama’s “to-do list” for Congress, which he says is necessary to make sure the economy doesn’t lose steam.

The president’s action plan centers on a series of economic initiatives he has been pushing for months. None has gained any traction in Congress.

From wire dispatches and staff reports



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