By Joanne von Alroth and Karen Pierog SPRINGFIELD, Illinois (Reuters) - Illinois' Democratic-controlled legislature on Tuesday passed a landmark pension reform bill, choosing to address the state's crumbling finances over strong public labor union opposition to cuts in retirement benefits. The bill addresses problems that have built up over decades in the nation's worst-funded state pension system, which is underfunded by $100 billion. The vote comes despite union threats to challenge pension reform in state court, based on claims it would violate a state constitution provision that guards against cuts to pension benefits. It now heads to Governor Pat Quinn, who told reporters he hopes to sign the bill into law soon, although it will not take effect until June.
By Patricia Zengerle and Steve Holland WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Tuesday it opposes a fresh effort by some members of the U.S. Senate to impose new sanctions against Iran, even if the new restrictions would not take effect for months. Some senators have been discussing the idea of imposing new sanctions on Iran that would kick in after six months or if Iran violated terms of an interim deal reached 10 days ago that attempts to contain its nuclear program. "If we pass sanctions now, even with a deferred trigger which has been discussed, the Iranians, and likely our international partners, will see us as having negotiated in bad faith," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. Administration officials have been pushing lawmakers not to move ahead with a sanctions package, saying doing so risked alienating Tehran and other countries engaged in the talks by making Washington seem to be acting in bad faith.
Congress could enact a new U.S. farm law that cuts food stamps for the poor and expands federally subsidized crop insurance in January if negotiators soon break a deadlock, the lawmaker overseeing the negotiations said on Tuesday. Cuts in food stamps are the paramount issue for the farm bill, which is more than a year overdue. Conservative Republicans want the largest cuts in a generation, $40 billion over 10 years. House Democrats solidly oppose any cuts.
TOKYO (AP) — In what was supposed to be a warm reunion, Vice President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet instead Wednesday in a climate fraught with tension over an airspace dispute that has put Asia on edge. A day before seeing Xi, Biden stood in Japan and publicly rebuked China for trying to enforce its will on its neighbors, escalating the risk of a potentially dangerous accident.
By Richard Cowan WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. immigration reform supporters, reeling from their failure to get legislation enacted this year, saw a new ray of hope on Tuesday as House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner announced he had hired a long-time immigration specialist to advise him. "The speaker remains hopeful that we can enact step-by-step, common-sense immigration reforms," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, who added, "Becky Tallent, a well-known expert in this field of public policy, is a great addition to our team and that effort." Tallent, director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, is a former aide to Republican Senator John McCain, a major player in the long-running immigration debate. She helped write several bills over the past decade that would have accomplished the first major rewrite of immigration policy since 1986.
By David Lawder and Richard Cowan WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives might seek a vote next week on a short-term government funding measure as a backup plan in case budget negotiators fail to reach a deal by a December 13 deadline, lawmakers said on Tuesday. It would demonstrate Republicans intend to fund the government beyond a January 15 deadline, rather than resort to the tactics they employed in October that led to the closing of many federal agencies. "I don't think anybody wants to be worried about a government shutdown over Christmas," said Republican Representative Blake Farenthold, who in mid-October voted against a deal to end the 16-day government shutdown. Although House Speaker John Boehner has not yet made a decision to proceed with another temporary spending bill, aides were taking the steps necessary to allow a vote before a planned December 13 recess if a budget deal is not enacted by then.
BRUSSELS (AP) — World diplomats issued a stern warning Tuesday to Afghan leaders in a new effort to help secure the war-torn nation's future with thousands of foreign forces after 2014. But officials backed off earlier U.S. threats to withdraw all troops if Afghan President Hamid Karzai doesn't agree to the offer before the end of the year.
By Jim Finkle BOSTON (Reuters) - A U.S. senator has asked 20 of the world's biggest automakers for information on how they secure their vehicles from cyber attacks, in light of reports by security experts who say they have identified ways to hack into cars. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, asked the companies to respond to a series of questions including how they test electronic components and wireless networks to make sure that attackers cannot gain access to onboard networks. He cited recent research by security experts who uncovered cyber vulnerabilities in cars that they said hackers might be able to exploit to cause them to crash.
By Thomas Ferraro WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday to extend for 10 years a ban against firearms that cannot be detected with metal detectors or X-ray scanners. On a voice vote, the Republican-led House sent the measure to the Democratic-led Senate, which is expected to consider a tougher alternative before likely approving it. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urged Congress last month to extend the ban, citing a proliferation of plastic guns made with 3-D printers. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York has proposed plugging "a loophole" in the ban by requiring that all firearms include at least four ounces of metal that cannot be removed.