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Obama faces spying critics

Struggling to salvage a massive surveillance program, President Barack Obama faced congressional critics of the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ telephone records Thursday as snowballing concerns made new limitations on the intelligence effort appear increasingly likely. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden joined lawmakers on both sides of the issue for an Oval Office meeting designed to stem the bleeding of public support and show Obama was serious about engaging. Among the participants were the NSA’s most vigorous congressional supporters — the top Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate intelligence panels — alongside its most stern critics,
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40th vote to repeal Obamacare?

Maybe the 40th vote to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law will be a charm for opponents of the overhaul. House Republicans are scheduled to vote Friday on a bill that would prevent the Internal Revenue Service from enforcing or implementing any part of the law they call “Obamacare.” It’ll mark the 40th vote by the Republican-controlled House to repeal some or all of the law. Such measures have died in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Next year, the IRS will begin enforcing the requirement that most individuals have health insurance, collecting fines from people who don’t. The IRS also will
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Budgets? What budgets?

Leaving piles of unfinished business for the fall, Congress began exiting Washington Thursday for a five-week vacation with its accomplishments few, its efforts at budgeting in tatters and its collective nerves frayed by months of feuding. The House’s chief accomplishment for the week was a bipartisan Wednesday vote to deal with spiking student loan interest rates, readying that legislation for President Barack Obama’s signature. But that bit of progress came the very day that a Republican strategy of embracing painful automatic budget cuts imploded with the collapse of a major transportation and housing bill. That measure fell victim, top lawmakers
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Road bill hits GOP pothole

A measure awarding generous funding to road and bridge projects, community development grants and housing help for the poor is running into stiff Republican opposition in the Senate. The bill appeared likely to fall prey Thursday to a filibuster by Republicans unhappy that the legislation breaks through budget limits required by automatic spending cuts known as budget sequestration. “Voting for appropriations legislation that blatantly violates budget reforms already agreed to by both parties moves our country in exactly, exactly the wrong direction,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. Far more austere companion legislation was pulled off the House floor
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Weiner’s woes help Quinn

Mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn suddenly finds herself in demand on national political television talk shows, and they all want to ask her the same question: Should Anthony Weiner drop out of the race? Quinn, the pugnacious City Council speaker who has now vaulted ahead of the former congressman in the wake of his latest sexting scandal, answers questions about her embattled rival the same way: She touts her own track record while carefully disparaging his “pattern of reckless behavior.” But, unlike other Democratic rivals, Quinn has always stopped short of calling for Weiner to bow out. Truth is, she may
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Budget cuts hurt defense

Pentagon officials insist they are not crying wolf when they say proposed budget cuts could severely harm the military. In a detailed and stark warning, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said about $500 billion in automatic budget cuts scheduled to take effect over the next decade could leave the nation with an ill-prepared, underequipped military doomed to face more technologically advanced enemies. If Congress doesn’t act to avoid the cuts, he said, the Pentagon may be forced to mothball up to three Navy aircraft carriers and order additional sharp reductions in the size of the Army and Marine Corps — shortfalls
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Harsh Pentagon budget cuts

A second, deeper round of automatic federal budget cuts is on its way, and it’s going to hit the Pentagon hard. Already reeling from a $34 billion budget blow this year due to deficit-driven spending reductions known as sequestration, the Defense Department would feel an additional $20 billion punch in 2014. All told, the Pentagon’s budget for next year would be cut by about 10 percent below levels approved just six months ago. Domestic programs are spared further automatic budget cuts, a little-known wrinkle that could give Democrats some advantage in upcoming negotiations over repealing sequestration — or at least
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Limits on NSA spying?

Senators are questioning top Obama administration officials about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs for the first time since the House narrowly rejected a proposal last week to effectively shut down the NSA’s secret collection of hundreds of millions of Americans’ phone records. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday will include testimony from the No. 2 officials at the Justice Department, FBI and NSA, plus the top lawyer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It will also include testimony from James G. Carr, a senior federal judge who previously served on the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
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Open season on leakers

The successful prosecution of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning gives a boost to the Obama administration’s aggressive pursuit of people it believes have leaked national security secrets to the media. Manning was acquitted Tuesday of the most serious charge he faced, aiding the enemy, but he was found guilty by a military judge of enough charges to send him to prison for many years, and perhaps the rest of his life. Legal scholars said they expect the government’s case against National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to be similar to the Manning prosecution, although it would take place in a federal
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Hillary prepping for 2016 run?

When is a lunch more than just a midday meal? When the two diners are President Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and inquiring minds want to know who, if anyone, the president will endorse in 2016. A summertime meal shared by Obama and his rival-turned-ally threw the political speculation machine into overdrive Monday, highlighting how closely both are being watched for signs of their intentions in the next presidential race. For Clinton, it’s a question of whether the former first lady will take the plunge, launching another campaign eight years after she lost to Obama in a hard-fought primary.
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