AP News in Brief
Obama economic recovery plan tops $900B, could go higher if homebuyer tax break sweetened
WASHINGTON (AP) — The cost of President Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan is now above $900 billion after the Senate added money for medical research and tax breaks for car purchases.
It could go higher Wednesday if a tax break for homebuyers is made more generous, even as centrists in both parties promise to clear away spending items that won’t jump-start the economy right away.
In an interview on CNN, Obama signaled a willingness to drop items that “may not really stimulate the economy right now.” He also signaled he’ll try to remove “buy American” provisions in the legislation to avoid a possible trade war.
In a victory for auto manufacturers and dealers, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., won a 71-26 vote to allow most car buyers to claim an income tax deduction for sales taxes paid on new autos and interest payments on car loans. The break would cost $11 billion over the coming decade but could mean savings of $1,500 on a $25,000 car.
“Just as we need to get the housing market going, we need to get auto sales going,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
Obama faces challenge of weathering fallout of nomination glitches
WASHINGTON (AP) — His infant presidency already shaped by mounting national troubles, President Barack Obama now faces an added challenge: weathering the fallout of a spate of nomination glitches.
“I screwed up,” Obama said repeatedly after two top nominees withdrew their names from consideration, saying they wanted to avoid becoming distractions for the president as he seeks to move ahead with an ambitious agenda. “I’m frustrated with myself, with our team.”
In a series of Oval Office interviews with TV network anchors Tuesday, he took the blame for the nomination missteps and vowed to live up to the new era of responsibility he mapped out during his inauguration speech just two weeks ago.
Earlier, over the course of a few hours, Obama’s close friend Tom Daschle abandoned his bid to become health and human services secretary and the administration’s point man on reforming health care, and another high-profile nominee — Nancy Killefer — stepped down from a newly created position charged with eliminating inefficient government programs.
Personal tax failures dogged both, and Daschle’s woes only grew over the past five days; he also faced questions about potential conflicts of interest related to his work with health care interests. All that set the stage for potentially difficult Senate confirmation battles that could further damage and embarrass Obama
Obama wants to impose pay cap on execs whose firms receive government financial rescue funds
WASHINGTON (AP) — Call it the maximum wage. President Barack Obama wants to impose a $500,000 pay cap on executives whose firms receive government financial rescue funds, a dramatic intervention into corporate governance in the midst of financial crisis.
The new restrictions, described by an administration official familiar with the new rules, are to be announced Wednesday morning at the White House. The steps set the stage for the administration’s unveiling next week of a new framework for spending the money that remains in the $700 billion financial rescue fund.
“If the taxpayers are helping you, then you’ve got certain responsibilities to not be living high on the hog,” President Barack Obama said Tuesday.
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the plan had not yet been made public, said the most restrictive limits would apply only to struggling large firms that receive “exceptional assistance” in the future. Healthy banks that receive government infusions of capital would have more leeway.
Firms that want to pay executives above the $500,000 threshold would have to compensate them with stock that could not be sold or liquidated until they pay back the government funds, the official said.
Kyrgyzstan’s government submits bill to parliament to close US base
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — Kyrgyzstan’s government has submitted a draft bill to parliament calling for the closing of a U.S. base that is key to the military campaign in Afghanistan.
The bill comes one day after Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the closure of the Manas air base in the former Soviet Central Asian country.
The U.S. Embassy said Wednesday, however, that it had not been notified of any closure and that both sides were still in talks about maintaining an American base.
The bill would cancel the agreement that established the base after the September 2001 attacks.
Human rights groups charge Israel, Hamas violated laws of war during fighting around Gaza
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Human rights groups are seeking to build a case that Israel and Hamas violated the laws of war during the fighting last month in this tiny coastal territory — a charge both combatants reject.
On Tuesday, the International Criminal Court said the Palestinian Authority had recognized the court’s jurisdiction in a move aimed at allowing a war crimes investigation.
Given the clarity of Hamas’ violations, such as firing rockets at Israeli cities, organizations are focusing more on Israeli actions, the facts of which they say are harder to establish.
“The Israeli authorities deny everything, so one has to prove what happened in a way that you don’t need to do with the Palestinian rockets,” said Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International.
Among the questions being raised are whether Israel used disproportionate force and failed to protect civilians.
THE INFLUENCE GAME: Mixed martial arts lobbyists seek escape from federal regulation’s hold
WASHINGTON (AP) — Ultimate Fighting Championship has come to Washington to engage in the city’s ultimate sport: lobbying.
The biggest name in mixed martial arts, UFC is a multimillion-dollar business that fills arenas, broadcasts events on pay-per-view and has deals with cable networks like Spike TV. The sport, which combines jiujitsu, judo, karate, boxing, kickboxing and wrestling, has put off some critics with its ferocity, including such tactics as kicks to the head.
The sport’s owners are concerned that it could come under federal regulation by a proposed new commission to regulate boxing that two senior lawmakers are pushing. To help head that off, the Las Vegas-based UFC spent $240,000 last year lobbying Congress.
Its biggest task, said lobbyist Makan Delrahim, is to convince Congress that the sport has cleaned up its act since the 1990s, when it drew the opposition of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. He once referred to it as “human cockfighting” and called for it to be banned.
“Back then, it was no holds barred, marketed as two men walk in, one man walks out,” said Delrahim, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Bush administration. Now, he said, it’s a mainstream sport that is sanctioned and regulated by athletic commissions in 37 states. Delrahim said his clients don’t care whether boxing is regulated, as long as their sport isn’t included.
Japan’s Panasonic to cut 15,000 jobs, shut 27 plants to cope with slump; forecasts annual loss
TOKYO (AP) — Panasonic Corp. said Wednesday it will slash 15,000 jobs and shut down 27 plants worldwide to cope with plunging demand for its TVs, semiconductors and other electronics products.
The world’s largest maker of plasma display TVs also announced a net loss for the October-December quarter and lowered its forecast for the fiscal year through March to a net loss of 380 billion yen ($4.2 billion), its first annual loss in six years.
Panasonic joins a slew of other major Japanese companies, including Sony Corp. and Toshiba Corp., in announcing job cuts and forecasting a full-year loss and the global slowdown batters the world’s second-largest economy.
The Osaka-based manufacturer plans to cut the jobs — half of which will come in Japan — by the end of March 2010. They amount to about 5 percent of its 300,000-strong global work force.
Panasonic also will shutter 14 overseas plants and 13 plants in Japan to adjust production and cut costs, company spokesman Akira Kadota said.
Cash-strapped states consider changes to seat belt laws in order to qualify for federal money
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Drivers better buckle up or pay the price: More cash-strapped states want to give law enforcement officers the authority to pull over motorists just for not wearing their seat belts.
More than a dozen states that are considering making the switch to primary seat-belt enforcement laws need to do so before July to be eligible for millions in federal money.
One of those states is Ohio, which would get $26.8 million if it changes its law. Currently, officers in the state must first have some other reason to stop drivers over before issuing seat-belt citations.
States without primary seat-belt enforcement that want the federal money must pass a bill and have it signed by the governor by June 30 — and begin issuing citations by Sept. 30 — to qualify for federal funds, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The federal money attached to seat-belt enforcement can only be spent for highway-related projects.
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland proposed the change in his two-year budget plan released Monday. The state Legislature has previously balked at making the change.
‘American Idol’ axes 43 hopefuls during first round of Hollywood Week
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Hollywood was just a layover for the 43 hopefuls cut Tuesday during the first round of Hollywood Week on “American Idol.”
The 147 contestants plucked from nationwide auditions performed an a cappella song of their choosing on the Kodak Theatre stage with 104 singers advancing to the next step in the Fox singing competition.
Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell briefly sparred when hopeful Erika Wesley pleaded with the judges to give her a second chance. Abdul told Wesley she wanted her to advance, but the other three judges voted against her.
Cowell called Abdul out, noting that she had actually written down a “no” vote. Abdul claimed he could not read her handwriting.
Feds set to unseal Barry Bonds evidence, including drug tests and recordings
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The government’s case against Barry Bonds includes several positive drug test results that prosecutors say belong to the former San Francisco Giants slugger.
That evidence will be part of hundreds of pages of court filings by prosecutors and Bonds’ attorneys that a federal judge plans to unseal Wednesday.
The documents are expected to reveal details of the government’s allegations against Bonds, who is accused of lying to a grand jury about alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Among the positive drug test results is a urine sample submitted by Bonds during baseball’s anonymous testing program in 2003, according to a New York Times report.
Bonds’ sample did not test positive under MLB’s program but was retested by investigators after it was seized in a 2004 raid, anonymous sources told the newspaper.