- - Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Members of Congress expressed doubts Tuesday on plans by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ to hire 1,900 additional workers to improve access to mental health care.

Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House committee with jurisdiction over veterans’ issues, said the VA’s plans to beef up staffing looked like a knee-jerk reaction to a critical inspector general’s investigation that was in the works.

That investigation released two weeks ago found that nearly half of the veterans seeking mental health care for the first time waited about 50 days before getting a full evaluation. The VA had been reporting that the vast majority of evaluations were being conducted within 14 days.

Mr. Miller said the investigation also showed that the VA did not have reliable data to measure staffing needs.

“If VA doesn’t even have a complete picture of the problem, how confident can we be that access will be increased and care enhanced by the VA’s knee-jerk reaction,” Miller said during an oversight hearing. “This is not the first time we have been here.”

VA officials insisted that the plans to hire more workers had been in the works for months. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said that the department’s hiring proposal was based mostly upon an increase in patients that has occurred in recent years, in part because the department had made it easier for veterans to submit disability claims for post-traumatic stress disorder.


Adviser: Cooperation led to bomb intercept

President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser says the discovery of a new plot to take down a U.S.-bound airliner shows al Qaeda remains a threat a year after Osama bin Laden’s death.

John Brennan told network morning news shows the discovery of another bomb designed to be worn in the attacker’s underwear resulted from “very close cooperation with our international partners.”

The Associated Press on Monday reported the CIA intercept of a bomb device, citing government officials. Mr. Brennan made appearances Tuesday morning on NBC’s “Today” show, ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “CBS This Morning.”

On NBC, he said the “device and the bomber that would use it is no longer a threat.”

The device currently is being analyzed by the FBI, and Mr. Brennan said that al Qaeda remains very active in Yemen although it has been “degraded” in Pakistan.


Edwards donor says Obama camp knew about affair

GREENSBORO — A onetime donor to John Edwards has testified that he warned the campaign of then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 to look closely at rumors about the former North Carolina senator’s infidelity.

Chapel Hill developer Tim Toben testified Tuesday at Mr. Edwards’ campaign finance corruption trial that he was astonished when Mr. Edwards told him he still had lofty political aspirations during a dinner in the summer of 2008. By then, Mr. Edwards’ presidential bid had unraveled and affair rumors were surfacing.

Mr. Toben testified that Mr. Edwards told him he believed Mr. Obama might tap him to run as vice president or be a member of his Cabinet. Mr. Toben had firsthand knowledge of Mr. Edwards’ affair and told a friend in the Obama campaign to closely examine the infidelity rumors.

Mr. Toben’s testimony was also the first time that jurors heard a mention of a sex tape that showed Mr. Edwards and his mistress Rielle Hunter.


Sen. Manchin wins primary, to face Raese again in fall

Sen. Joe Manchin III on Tuesday defeated Democratic primary challenger Sheirl Fletcher, a former Republican and ex-legislator.

Unopposed on the GOP side was John Raese, who lost to Mr. Manchin in the 2010 special election that followed the death of Robert C. Byrd. The seat is now up for a full six-year term.


Walker easily wins GOP recall primary

MADISON — Republican Gov. Scott Walker has easily defeated token opposition in a GOP primary in a recall election that has become a nationally watched battle over union rights.

Preliminary results from Tuesday’s primary show Mr. Walker beat protester Arthur Kohl-Riggs with 96 percent of the vote.

The general election is June 5.


Soros’ $2M gift may show new support from liberals

Liberal financial heavyweights are becoming more involved in the presidential campaign.

The growing list now includes George Soros. The billionaire philanthropist has pledged $2 million to political groups supporting the re-election of President Obama, as well as progressive causes.

Mr. Soros’ new contributions include pledges of $1 million to the advocacy group America Votes and $1 million to American Bridge 21st Century, an independent super PAC supportive of Obama’s campaign.

Mr. Soros announced the donations in an email Monday night. The money is a sign that wealthy liberals are starting to write big checks to help finance what is expected to be a costly campaign.


Lawmakers spare Pentagon, homeland security from cuts

Republicans controlling the House are sparing the Pentagon, military veterans and most homeland security programs from the budget knife as action begins on a set of spending bills setting the day-to-day budgets for federal agencies.

Foreign aid programs would absorb a 5 percent cut in legislation released Tuesday, while the FBI would receive a 2 percent budget hike.

At issue is much of the nuts-and-bolts work of Congress, going line by line through the agency budgets funded each year through 12 appropriations bills. Democrats will support several of the early bills, but the Obama administration has already promised to veto the measures because Republicans are cutting domestic programs below levels agreed to in last summer’s budget pact.


‘Stand-your-ground’ laws rollback move postponed

Democrats backed off from an effort Tuesday to offer a “Trayvon amendment” to pressure states to drop their stand-your-ground laws after learning it was likely to be ruled out of order under the evening’s rules for debate on the House floor.

Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota Democrat, said he will still try to force a debate at a more “appropriate” time, saying action is demanded by the case of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen fatally shot by a neighborhood-watch volunteer.

The Ellison amendment would withhold federal funds from states with stand-your-ground self-defense laws.


Christie won’t say whether he’ll seek re-election

FREEHOLD — The political world has gotten used to hearing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dodge questions about whether he’s running for a job in Washington.

He was just as coy Tuesday about whether he’s running for re-election in his home state next year.

A boy who attended a town hall that Mr. Christie held in Freehold asked him the question. The governor said he loves the job but not the constant attention it brings him. Mr. Christie said he would need to discuss a run with his family and would decide by early next year.

The Republican has said repeatedly that he does not have designs on running for vice president but last week said Mitt Romney might be able to persuade him.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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