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Senate to start concentrating on gun control bills next week

The Senate Judiciary Committee seems all but certain to start voting on an assault weapons ban and other gun curbs next week, Congress’ first roll calls in response to the Newtown, Conn., slayings of 26 students and staff at an elementary school in December. The Democratic-written bills largely follow President Barack Obama’s proposals for limiting gun violence, which have been opposed by the National Rifle Association and generated little support from congressional Republicans. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the committee chairman, said Monday that the panel would consider: —A bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., banning assault weapons and ammunition magazines
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NRA uses more lies to promote its pro-gun agenda

In a typical stunt, the often fact-challenged National Rifle Association is lying in a new ad that claims a Justice Department memo shows President Barack Obama wants the federal government to seize firearms and require national gun registration. The White House has not proposed either idea and does not support such proposals, but those facts don’t bother the NRA, which often uses such wild conspiracy theories to raise money and add sensational lies to the national debate on gun violence. The Justice Department memo, written by one of the agency’s crime researchers, does raise legitimate questions about the effectiveness of
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Supremes set to look at Voting Rights Act

When the Supreme Court last scrutinized the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2009, Justice Anthony Kennedy peered down from the bench and asked why federal rules were tougher for Alabama and Georgia than for Michigan and Ohio. Chief Justice John Roberts pointedly added that it seemed lawyers defending the rules, which were created to protect black voters, believed that even in modern times “southerners are more likely to discriminate than northerners.” Now four years later, as the landmark law faces another challenge, the skepticism of Roberts and of Kennedy, often the decisive vote on racial dilemmas, is likely to emerge
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Governors join Obama in fighting budget cuts

Governors from both parties are warning of the damaging economic impact if the White House and Congress fail to reach a deal to stave off across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect Friday. “It’s senseless and it doesn’t need to happen,” said Gov. Martin O’Malley, D-Md., during the annual meeting of the National Governors Association this weekend. “And it’s a damn shame, because we’ve actually had the fastest rate of jobs recovery of any state in our region. And this really threatens to hurt a lot of families in our state and kind of flat line our job growth for
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Why doesn’t Washington work? Our leaders are just too human

Turns out politicians are people, too, only worse. Just ask pros who make their living in the trenches of everyday human drama such as divorce, family feuds or schoolyard scraps. They recognize in Washington’s bitter budget standoff a hint of human nature as they know it, but with the crazy pumped up to absurd levels. “We’re seeing middle school behavior here,” says Barbara Coloroso, who crusades against childhood bullying. Psychologist Piers Steel, an expert on procrastination, says Congress has the worst case of it he’s seen. Divorce attorney Sanford Ain’s assessment is blunter: “It’s nuts!” A sampling of conflict-savvy professionals
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Obama to Hill: Make the right choices on budget problems

President Barack Obama, intensifying pressure on congressional Republicans, said Friday that lawmakers still have “the opportunity to make the right decisions” and avert a series of mandatory budget cuts by March 1. Despite little sign of a deal emerging with Republicans, Obama said he does not believe it is inevitable that the $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts will take effect. He said finding a way to avert the cuts should be a “no-brainer” for congressional lawmakers. Speaking in the Oval Office during a meeting with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Obama said that in contrast to earlier Washington
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New governors, new chance to grab the limelight

For governors with national ambitions, this is pad — and promote — your record time. Republicans Bobby Jindal of Louisiana is trying to ditch his state’s income tax while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is working to shift people off his state’s Medicaid rolls and onto private insurance. They are among the Republicans trying to claim an outside-the-Beltway mantle in a GOP lacking a single standard bearer. Their Democratic counterparts, like Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Andrew Cuomo of New York, are putting themselves at the vanguard of Democratic wish lists — from gay marriage and gun control to manufacturing jobs
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NRA, other gun proponents, play down increase in violent crimes by ‘law abiding’ citizens

While gun ownership proponents like the National Rifle Association claim increased availability of firearms does not affect the threats of violence by ‘law-abiding’ gun owners, a study of crime records show an increasing number of such crimes involve those who purchased guns legally and had no previous run-ins with the law. Relaxed gun laws that allow holders of concealed carry permits to carry guns in bars have resulted in upturns of violent acts by gun owners in such establishments. And the NRA is taking steps to ignore or conceal such statistics from the public and press by slanting their own
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GOP threats of cuts lead to voluntary downsizing by governments

Republicans and other fiscal conservatives keep insisting on more federal austerity and a smaller government. Without much fanfare or acknowledgement, they’ve already gotten much of both. Spending by federal, state and local governments on payrolls, equipment, buildings, teachers, emergency workers, defense programs and other core governmental functions has been shrinking steadily since the deep 2007-2009 recession and as the anemic recovery continues. This recent shrinkage has largely been obscured by an increase in spending on benefit payments to individuals under “entitlement” programs, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans benefits. Retiring baby boomers are driving much of this increase. Another
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Oregon gov. will brief other state leaders on health overhaul plan

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber will brief other state leaders this weekend on his plan to lower Medicaid costs, touting an overhaul that President Barack Obama highlighted in his State of the Union address for its potential to lower the deficit even as health care expenses climb. The Oregon Democrat leaves for Washington, D.C., on Friday to pitch his plan that changes the way doctors and hospitals are paid and improves health care coordination for low income residents so that treatable medical problems don’t grow in severity or expense. Kitzhaber says his goal is to win over a handful of other
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