Will Sen. Tim Johnson’s retirement help GOP pick up a seat?

The anticipated retirement announcement from South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson gives Republicans one of their best chances of picking up a seat in their quest to regain control, as the veteran moderate Democrat steps aside. Johnson, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, is expected to say Tuesday afternoon that he will not seek a fourth term in the Senate next year. The fifth Senate Democrat to call it quits, Johnson was facing a potentially difficult challenge from popular Republican Gov. Mike Rounds and still coping with the constraints of a 2006 brain hemorrhage that left his speech impaired and
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Gay marriage issue before Supreme Court Tuesday

The Supreme Court is wading into the fight over same-sex marriage at a time when public opinion is shifting rapidly in favor of permitting gay and lesbian couples to wed, but 40 states don’t allow it. The court’s first major examination of gay rights in 10 years begins Tuesday with a hearing on California’s ban on same-sex marriage. On Wednesday, the justices will consider the federal law that prevents legally married gay couples from receiving a range of benefits afforded straight married Americans. People have been waiting in line — even through light snow — since Thursday for coveted seats
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Punxsutawney Phil’s handler takes blame for blown call on Spring

An Ohio prosecutor who light-heartedly filed a criminal indictment against the famous Pennsylvania groundhog who fraudulently “predicted” an early spring said he may consider a pardon now that the animal’s handler is taking the blame. Bill Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle, told The Associated Press on Monday that the animal rightly predicted six more weeks of winter last month, but he mistakenly announced an early spring because he failed to correctly interpret Phil’s “groundhog-ese.” “I’m the guy that did it; I’ll be the fall guy. It’s not Phil’s fault,” Deeley said. Butler County, Ohio, prosecutor Mike
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The couple in the middle of the Supreme Court fight on gay marriage

Big change is coming to the lives of the lesbian couple at the center of the fight for same-sex marriage in California no matter how the Supreme Court decides their case. After 13 years of raising four boys together, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier are about to be empty nesters. Their youngest two children, 18-year-old twins, will graduate from high school in June and head off to college a couple of months later. “We’ll see all the movies, get theater season tickets because you can actually go,” Stier said in the living room of their bungalow in Berkeley. Life will
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Both sides of gun debate get loud and demanding

Two of the loudest voices in the gun debate say it’s up to voters now to make their position known to Congress. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and National Rifle Associate Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre claim their opposing views on guns have the support of the overwhelming number of Americans. They are looking at the next two weeks as critical to the debate, when lawmakers head home to hear from constituents ahead of next month’s anticipated Senate vote on gun control. Bloomberg, a former Republican-turned-independent, has just sunk $12 million for Mayors Against Illegal Guns to run television ads
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Employment of disabled in America continues to lag

Whether it means opening school track meets to deaf children or developing a new lunch menu with safe alternatives for students with food allergies, recent Obama administration decisions could significantly affect Americans with disabilities. But there’s been little progress in one of the most stubborn challenges: employing the disabled. According to government labor data, of the 29 million working-age Americans with a disability — those who are 16 years and older — 5.2 million are employed. That’s 18 percent of the disabled population and is down from 20 percent four years ago. The employment rate for people without a disability
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In wee hours of morning, exhausted Senate nears budget passage

An exhausted Senate neared approval early Saturday of a $3.7 trillion budget for next year that will let majority Democrats highlight their fiscal priorities, but won’t resolve the deep differences the two parties have over deficits and the size of government. Senators sorted through a final batch of amendments and were on course to approve the measure in the pre-dawn hours and leave town for a two-week spring recess. The non-binding plan would shrink annual federal shortfalls over the next decade to nearly $400 billion, raise taxes by nearly $1 trillion and cull modest savings from domestic programs. In contrast,
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Lawyer claims defense contractor guilty of love, not espionage

An attorney for a defense contractor accused of giving military secrets to his Chinese girlfriend said Friday there was no evidence that classified information was given to China or to any other foreign country. Benjamin Bishop, 59, was in love with the 27-year-old woman, who is a student, his attorney Birney Bervar said. “He says he was in love with her and she led me to believe she was in love with him. It’s not an espionage case, it’s a case about love,” Bervar told reporters after a detention hearing for Bishop. Bishop is charged with one count of communicating
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IRS admits ‘Star Trek’ video parody was a stupid idea

Nobody’s going to win an Emmy for a parody of the TV show “Star Trek” filmed by Internal Revenue Service employees at an agency studio in Maryland. Instead, the IRS got a rebuke from Congress for wasting taxpayer dollars. The agency says the video, along with a training video that parodied the TV show “Gilligan’s Island,” cost about $60,000. The “Star Trek” video accounted for most of the money, the agency said. The IRS said Friday it was a mistake for employees to make the six-minute video. It was shown at the opening of a 2010 training and leadership conference
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Will the Senate actually pass a budget?

Democrats controlling the Senate appear on track to pass their first budget in four years, promising a second, almost $1 trillion round of tax increases on top of more than $600 billion in higher taxes on the wealthy enacted in January. The nonbinding but politically symbolic measure would protect safety-net programs for the poor and popular domestic priorities like education, health research and federal law enforcement agencies from cuts sought by House Republicans, who adopted a far more austere plan on Thursday morning. The Democratic plan caters to party stalwarts on the liberal edge of the spectrum just as the
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