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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Senate again passes expanded wilderness bill

WASHINGTON – For the second time this year, the Senate has passed a long-delayed bill to set aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as protected wilderness, from a California mountain range to a forest in Virginia. The 77-20 vote on Thursday sends the bill to the House, where final legislative approval could come as early as next week.

House votes to tax AIG bonuses

WASHINGTON – Struggling to keep ahead of public outrage, the House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill to recoup most of the $165 million in bonuses paid to executives of American International Group, although its efforts were immediately swamped by news of more migraine-inducing corporate conduct. A prominent congressman said Thursday that 13 financial companies that received an injection of government money owe more than $220 million in unpaid taxes.

Pelosi dampens stimulus hopes

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that a second economic stimulus package is not “in the cards” in the short term, disappointing those seeking another quick infusion of federal dollars into the struggling economy. Pelosi’s statement came less than a month after President Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus measure into law and on the same day the Obama administration warned state officials gathered in Washington that it would keep a close eye on how they spend the money allotted to them from that package.

Lands bill falls short in House

WASHINGTON – Democratic leaders suffered an embarrassing defeat Wednesday as the House failed to pass a public lands bill. The 1,248-page bill, which included provisions ranging from new Pacific Northwest scenic trails to Everglades National Park additions, secured a solid House majority. The 282-144 vote, though, fell just short of the two-thirds margin needed under the special rules in play.

Obama signs bill despite earmarks

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama railed against pork-barrel projects Wednesday. Then he signed a massive spending bill stuffed with them. Still, Obama pledged to reform the process by which so-called earmarks end up in spending bills. He unveiled a plan that he said was designed to make sure all projects that benefit from earmarking have a “legitimate” purpose.

Senate approves spending bill

The Senate on Tuesday passed the $410 billion omnibus spending bill that critics say also includes billions of dollars of political pork. The bill, which will fund most Cabinet departments and some other federal agencies for 2009, passed in a voice vote after senators voted, 62-35, to end debate.

Mortgage relief bill clears House

WASHINGTON – The House on Thursday passed legislation that would allow bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of troubled home mortgages, overcoming fierce financial industry opposition. The bill, a package of housing-related initiatives, passed 234 to 191, largely along party lines. Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho, voted for the measure; Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., voted against it.

Congress might regulate tobacco

WASHINGTON – In what appears to be the best chance since public health groups started pushing for it in the 1970s, Congress is poised to regulate tobacco, a product linked to 1,200 deaths each day but sold largely unfettered for centuries. Legislation that will be taken up today by the House Commerce and Energy Committee would place tobacco under the control of the Food and Drug Administration. Among other things, the bill would restrict the ways tobacco companies market cigarettes, require them to disclose the ingredients in their products and place larger warning labels on packages, and give the FDA the authority to require removal of harmful chemicals and additives from cigarettes.

Trade pick Kirk owes back taxes

WASHINGTON – Another Obama administration nominee has tax troubles. This time, it’s Ron Kirk, the president’s choice to be U.S. trade representative. Kirk owes an estimated $10,000 in back taxes from earlier in the decade and has agreed to pay them, the Senate Finance Committee said Monday. The committee said the taxes arise from Kirk’s handling of speaking fees he donated to a scholarship fund that he set up at his alma mater, and for his deduction of the full cost of season tickets to the Dallas Mavericks professional basketball team.

Outside Voices: Facebook’s about-face

Chicago Tribune, Feb. 20: Thousands of Facebook users threatened to un-friend the entire Web site last week to protest what one consumer guardian called “a digital rights grab.” The Electronic Privacy Information Center and 25 other groups were poised to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over revisions to the site’s contract with users when Facebook retracted the changes, saying it was all a misunderstanding.

D.C. runs low on green power

WASHINGTON – As Congress tries to clean up the nation’s energy sources and cut gases blamed for global warming, it is struggling to do so in its own backyard. The Capitol Power Plant, a 99-year-old facility that heats and cools the hallowed halls of Congress, still burns coal and accounts for one-third of the legislative branch’s greenhouse gas emissions. For a decade, lawmakers have attempted to clean it up.

Bunning becoming prickly case for GOP

WASHINGTON – In just the past week, he clumsily pronounced a Supreme Court justice to be near death and threatened to sue a fellow senator and the Republican Party. He’s raised almost no money for his re-election bid next year and remains in serious danger of losing his once-safe seat to the other party. Party insiders are terrified practically every time he opens his mouth, but he seems determined not to go gently into the night.

Senate panel to investigate CIA’s actions under Bush

WASHINGTON – The Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing to launch an investigation of the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs under President George W. Bush, setting the stage for a sweeping examination of some of the most secretive and controversial operations in recent agency history. The investigation is aimed at uncovering new information about the origins of the programs as well as scrutinizing how they were executed – including the conditions at clandestine CIA prison sites and the interrogation regimens used to break al-Qaida prisoners – according to Senate aides familiar with the plans.

Senate passes bill giving D.C. a vote in the House

WASHINGTON – The Senate passed a bill Thursday that for the first time would give Washington, D.C., a full voting member of the House of Representatives. But senators managed to attach an amendment that would scrap most of the city’s local gun-control laws. The 61-37 vote marked the first time in 31 years that the Senate had approved a D.C. voting-rights bill. The addition of the gun language could complicate the bill’s passage into law, however, since it will be necessary to reconcile the Senate version of the legislation with the companion bill in the House. Voting-rights supporters hope the gun amendment can be removed in those negotiations.

Bernanke tells Senate panel recovery possible next year

WASHINGTON – The nation’s top economic policymaker Tuesday offered a sliver of optimism in a time of gloom, saying in carefully hedged comments that growth could return next year if the financial system is put in order. In congressional testimony, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke depicted an economy undergoing a “severe contraction.” But Bernanke said the recession could end in 2009, paving the way for a “year of recovery” in 2010.

Bill would ease Cuba restrictions

WASHINGTON – The 1,128-page budget bill that will begin to work its way through Congress this week contains key paragraphs that alter the shape of U.S.-Cuba policy and ease Cuba family travel restrictions by not funding enforcement. The provisions were written when the bill was first drafted last year – and faced the threat of a veto by former President George W. Bush. But the new White House resident, President Barack Obama, campaigned promising to lift the family restrictions, so the proposed changes are unlikely to meet much resistance by the administration, which is conducting its own review of Cuba policy.

Obama vows no retreat despite economic threats

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama offered a grim portrait of America’s plight in an address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, but he promised to lead an economic renewal that would lift the country out of its current crisis without bankrupting its future. Striking an optimistic tone that has been absent from his speeches in recent weeks, the president said his stimulus plan, bank bailout proposal, housing programs and health care overhaul would work in concert to turn around the nation’s struggling economy. And while he bluntly described a country beset by historic economic challenges and continued threats abroad, he said the solution lies in directly confronting those problems.

Text of President Barack Obama’s address

Text of President Barack Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday evening, as prepared for delivery and provided by the White House:

Our View: Cuban trade sanctions counterproductive

John F. Kennedy was president when the United States launched trade sanctions against Cuba. A total of nine presidents have upheld the restrictions without bringing about the desired result. Under President George W. Bush, the ban on trade was loosened when politicians, led by former Rep. George Nethercutt, made a strong case to allow trade between American exporters and the island nation. As a result, the United States has become the leading supplier of food to Cuba. But total free trade has not resumed, because Cold Warriors haven’t been able to admit failure. Fortunately, U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., is shining a spotlight on this failed strategy and pressuring the Obama administration to end the nearly half-century of fruitless posturing. As he writes in a report released this week: