Nation, Washington briefs
BY Wire reports
Saturday, December 29, 2012
12/29/12 at 3:03 AM
Senate approves $60.4 billion Sandy aid bill
WASHINGTON - The Senate on Friday approved a $60.4 billion emergency spending aid package for victims of superstorm Sandy that had been backed by Senate Democrats.
Democrats had to turn back Republican efforts to cut programs such as $150 million in fisheries aid that Republican lawmakers said was unrelated to the storm that hammered the East Coast late in October. The measure cleared the Senate on a 62-32 vote, with 12 Republicans supporting the bill. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., was the only Democrat to vote against the bill, but he later switched his vote to support the measure.
The bill faces uncertain prospects in the House, where GOP leaders appear reluctant to move quickly on a big spending bill in the final days of a lame duck session. Congress' attention is focused on talks over the so-called fiscal cliff of tax hikes and automatic spending cuts.
Sandy was blamed for at least 120 deaths and battered coastline areas from North Carolina to Maine. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were the hardest-hit states and suffered high winds, flooding and storm surges. Sandy damaged or destroyed more than 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey. In New York, 305,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed and more than 265,000 businesses were affected.
Idaho senator will not fight DUI charge
WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Michael Crapo, the Idaho Republican arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, doesn't plan to fight the charges when he appears in court in January, a spokesman said Friday.
Meanwhile, results from a secondary blood alcohol test performed at the jail show the conservative three-term senator registered a higher level about an hour after being arrested than when he was first tested by the police officer who stopped him.
Police have said Crapo registered a blood alcohol level of 0.11 percent when he was pulled over early Sunday in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va., after running a red light. But a secondary test performed after Crapo was brought to the jailhouse - the one that will be used in court - registered at 0.14, nearly twice the legal limit, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the arrest. The official wasn't authorized to release information publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
"He does not plan to contest the charges," said Crapo spokesman Lindsay Nothern, adding that Crapo has consulted with a local Virginia attorney ahead of his Jan. 4 court hearing.
Congress extends foreign surveillance law
WASHINGTON - The Senate gave final congressional approval Friday to a bill renewing the government's authority to monitor overseas phone calls and emails of suspected foreign spies and terrorists - but not Americans - without obtaining a court order for each intercept.
The classified Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act program was on the brink of expiring by year's end. The 73-23 vote sent the bill to a supportive President Barack Obama, whose signature would keep the warrantless intercept program in operation for another five years.
The Senate majority rejected arguments from an unusual combination of Democratic liberals and ideological Republican conservatives, who sought to amend the bill to require the government to reveal statistics showing whether any Americans were swept up in the foreign intercepts. The attempt lost, with 52 votes against and 43 in favor.
The Obama administration's intelligence community and leaders of the Senate's intelligence committee said the information should be classified and opposed the disclosure, repeating that it is illegal to target Americans without an order from a special U.S. surveillance court.
Tens of thousands still without power in Arkansas
LITTLE ROCK - A cold rain fell across Arkansas on Friday, washing away some of the Christmas Day ice and snow that knocked out power to 194,000 customers - including businesses that rely on post-Christmas sales - of the state's largest electric utility.
Entergy Arkansas said it had completed about 40 percent of its repairs by Friday, but that just under 100,000 were still without electricity. The pace of repairs has slowed, the utility said, because crews are going into areas with more significant damage.
Many in Little Rock, Hot Springs and Malvern won't have their lights and heat back until Tuesday - longer in areas with the most difficult repairs. The forecast for Little Rock for Friday night was a low of 26 degrees, with a chance of freezing rain.
Couple says pet chicken alerted them to blaze
MILWAUKEE - A Wisconsin couple says clucks, not fire trucks, helped them escape a blaze at their home.
Dennis Murawska, 59, said a pet chicken named Cluck Cluck woke his wife, Susan Cotey, 52, with loud clucking from its cage in the basement two floors below about 6:15 a.m. Thursday. The couple's two cats also were running around the main floor.
Murawska said he had been half awake but didn't know about the fire because the smoke alarms hadn't gone off. He realized something was wrong when his wife got up.
"The chicken gets quite vocal when she gets excited," he said.
Cluck Cluck and one of the cats were rescued. The other cat is missing.
Health of George H.W. Bush improving
HOUSTON - Former President George H.W. Bush remained in intensive care at a Houston hospital on Friday but his condition continues to improve, a spokesman said.
"The President is alert and, as always, in good spirits - and his exchanges with doctors and nurses now include singing," family spokesman Jim McGrath said in a brief statement.
The 88-year-old Bush, the nation's oldest living former president, was admitted at Methodist Hospital in Houston on Nov. 23 because of a bronchitis-related cough, after spending about a week there earlier in November for the same condition.
The cough was mostly resolved by the time he was moved to intensive care on Sunday for treatment of a fever that doctors were having difficulty controlling.