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Senate near deal on background checks

A bipartisan deal seems imminent on expanding background checks to more gun buyers, an agreement that could build support for President Barack Obama’s drive to curb firearms violence. Meanwhile, the Senate is ready for an opening vote on restricting guns as Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., set a roll call for Thursday on starting consideration of the firearms legislation. Odds are growing that Democrats will win enough Republican support to thwart an effort by conservatives and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to block consideration from even starting. “I hope Republicans will stop trying to shut down debate and start
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Deal on farm workers could clear way for immigration bill

A tentative deal has been reached to resolve a dispute between agriculture workers and growers that was standing in the way of a sweeping immigration overhaul bill, a key senator said Tuesday. The agreement could smooth the way for release of the landmark legislation within a week or so. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who’s taken the lead on negotiating a resolution to the agriculture issue, didn’t provide details, and said growers had yet to sign off on the agreement. The farm workers union has been at odds with the agriculture industry over worker wages and how many visas should be
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Arkansas takes aim at abortion providers

The Republican-led Arkansas Senate, in the latest statehouse swipe at abortion providers around the country, approved a bill on Tuesday that sponsors said was aimed at cutting off the last vestiges of state funding to groups such as Planned Parenthood. While it does not explicitly name Planned Parenthood or any other organization, the bill would bar all Arkansas state funds from going to any entity that provides abortions, refers patients to abortion providers or contracts with any group that does so. The measure cleared the state Senate on a mostly party-line 19-11 vote, and now moves to the Republican-controlled House,
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Federal judge rules Obama administration broke law by ignoring fracking

A federal judge has ruled the Obama administration broke the law when it issued oil leases in central California without fully weighing the environmental impact of “fracking,” a setback for companies seeking to exploit the region’s enormous energy resources. The decision, made public on Monday, effectively bars for the time being any drilling on two tracts of land comprising 2,500 acres leased for oil and gas development in 2011 by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management in Monterey County. The tracts lie atop a massive bed of sedimentary rock known as the Monterey Shale Formation, estimated by the Energy
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Obama promises gun control determination to Newtown families

With time running out on the chance to pass gun control legislation, President Barack Obama on Monday warned Congress not to use delaying tactics against tighter regulations and told families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims that he’s “determined as ever” to honor their children with tougher laws. Obama’s gun control proposals have run into resistance on Capitol Hill, leaving their fate in doubt. Efforts by Senate Democrats to reach compromise with Republicans over expanding required federal background checks have yet to yield an agreement, and conservatives were promising to try blocking the Senate from even beginning debate
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Maggie Thatcher remembered for her strong bond with Reagan

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, two self-assured and firm-speaking conservatives, joined forces in the early 1980s and drastically changed the economic and political landscapes in both of their countries. Their calls for more-austere government and lower taxes still resonate with conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic. And their side-by-side standing up to Soviet communism is credited by those of all political stripes as hastening the end of the Cold War. Thatcher died Monday in London of a stroke at 87. The British prime minister and the American president had the kind of personal bond that is extremely rare at
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Maryland passes medical marijuana bill

The Maryland General Assembly on Monday approved a measure allowing medical marijuana programs at research centers that choose to participate. The state Senate approved the measure, 42-4. Ten of the Senate’s 12 Republicans joined 32 Democrats, while two Democrats and two Republicans voted against it. The action sends the bill to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who indicated he is likely to sign the bill. “I’d like to read it first, but I probably would,” O’Malley told reporters. The Democratic governor noted his decision would hinge on whether the bill includes provisions enabling the governor to suspend the program if the federal
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High tech visas become hot button topic in immigration debate

Senators finalizing a massive immigration bill are arguing over plans to boost visas for high-tech workers, Senate aides and industry officials say, with disputes flaring over how best to punish companies that train workers here only to ship them overseas. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who’s taken the lead in pushing to crack down on outsourcing firms, also is seeking higher wages for workers brought in on the H-1B visas that go to specially skilled foreigners, aides and officials say. High-tech industry officials say his efforts risk punishing companies not involved in the abuses he’s trying to target, and lawmakers including
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Look for a loud, raucous debate on immigration reform

Senators writing a comprehensive immigration bill hope to finish their work this week, opening what’s sure to be a raucous public debate over measures to secure the border, allow tens of thousands of foreign workers into the country and grant eventual citizenship to the estimated 11 million people living here illegally. Already negotiators are cautioning of struggles ahead for an issue that’s defied resolution for years. An immigration deal came close on the Senate floor in 2007 but collapsed amid interest-group bickering and an angry public backlash. “There will be a great deal of unhappiness about this proposal because everybody
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High cost of health care attacks Pentagon

The loud, insistent calls in Washington to rein in the rising costs of Social Security and Medicare ignore a major and expensive entitlement program — the military’s health care system. Despite dire warnings from three defense secretaries about the uncontrollable cost, Congress has repeatedly rebuffed Pentagon efforts to establish higher out-of-pocket fees and enrollment costs for military family and retiree health care as an initial step in addressing a harsh fiscal reality. The cost of military health care has almost tripled since 2001, from $19 billion to $53 billion in 2012, and stands at 10 percent of the entire defense
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