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Nation in brief: Journalism grad chosen Miss USA

 (The Spokesman-Review)
Smith (The Spokesman-Review)

Rachel Smith, a journalism graduate from Tennessee, was crowned Miss USA on Friday, winning the contest to replace a titleholder whose reign was marred by a much-publicized struggle with alcoholism.

Smith, 21, of Clarksville, Tenn., graduated from Belmont University and interned last year for the production company behind “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Contestants from all 50 states and the District of Columbia vied to succeed Miss USA Tara Conner, who entered rehab after accounts surfaced suggesting the Kentucky native was boozing at New York clubs.

The episode might have cost her the crown, but Donald Trump, who co-owns the pageant with NBC, gave her a second chance.


Senate passes budget plan

Senate Democrats on Friday pushed to pass a budget they said would boost spending for domestic programs, renew some of the tax cuts from President Bush’s first term and still balance the books in five years.

The 52-47 vote represented a victory for Democratic leaders, who viewed passing the $2.9 trillion budget plan as a key test of their ability to govern.

But the narrow margin of Democratic control of the Senate was on ample display through four days of debate, particularly when party moderates favoring extending middle-class tax cuts forced a rewrite.

Moderates insisted on extending the most popular of Bush’s tax cuts, including the $1,000 child credit and marriage penalty relief. On the spending side of the ledger, there are big increases for defense, education, veterans medical treatment and other programs popular with both Democrats and Republicans.

The Democratic blueprint is nonbinding but sets guidelines for follow-up legislation.


Press secretary to have surgery

Presidential spokesman Tony Snow is undergoing surgery Monday to remove a small growth in his lower abdomen, a procedure he said was being done “out of an aggressive sense of caution” because he had colon cancer two years ago.

Snow said Friday that cancer tests have been negative since the growth – about the size of the tip of his small finger – was discovered in his lower right pelvic area. He said he feels fine but decided to have it removed now rather than having to continue monitoring it.

“Please do not leap to conclusions about this because we don’t know what this is,” Snow told reporters. “We know it’s coming out, and I know I’ll be back soon.”

Snow, 51, had his colon removed in 2005 and underwent six months of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with colon cancer.

Deputy press secretary Dana Perino will assume Snow’s duties in his absence.