By Charles Abbott WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House Speaker John Boehner, in his gloomiest assessment yet, lamented the lack of "real progress" toward a compromise $500 billion farm bill and said on Thursday the House would try to head off a potential doubling of milk prices in January. Congress is more than a year behind schedule in overhauling U.S. farm law, hobbled by a disagreement over cuts in food stamps for the poor. Some level of food stamp cuts seem certain, however. Senate negotiators have offered $4.5 billion in savings, by closing a loophole on utility costs, and say they are open to additional savings if they do not push vulnerable families out of the program.
The White House said on Thursday that the air defense zone declared by China over parts of the East China Sea is provocative and not consistent with the behavior of a major power, and again urged Beijing not to implement it. "We, the United States, do not recognize and we do not accept it, and will not change the way the United States conducts military operations in the region," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. Carney stopped short, however, of demanding that Beijing rescind its proclamation last month of what it has called an air defense identification zone in an area that includes disputed islands.
By Patricia Zengerle WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representative Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday he wants his fellow Republicans to be more "sensitive" as they seek to appeal to women voters in next year's congressional elections. "I try to get them to be a little bit more sensitive," Boehner said at his weekly news conference, when asked what advice he was giving his fellow Republicans as they campaign against Democratic women candidates, and try to attract female voters. There are 81 women members of the House, of whom 62 are Democrats, compared with 19 Republicans. In the Senate, 16 of the 20 women are Democrats and four are Republicans.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill aimed at reining in "patent trolls," companies that buy or license patents from others, then extract licensing fees after filing infringement lawsuits viewed by many as frivolous. The House passed the bill overwhelmingly by a vote of 325 to 91. The Senate is considering a similar measure and could act before the end of the year. The White House has expressed support for the bill. ...
By Richard Cowan and David Lawder WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. congressional negotiators on Thursday aimed to put the finishing touches on a two-year budget deal that would avoid another federal shutdown next month and suspend some across-the-board spending cuts set to hit military and other domestic programs, congressional sources said. Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray and House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan were trying to seal a deal before a December 13 deadline. If the House, led by Republicans, were to approve the measure, it would be up to the Democratic-controlled Senate to sign off too, probably the following week. But first, Ryan and Murray had difficult issues to resolve, including the size of benefit cuts to federal workers' retirement programs and possible fee increases for air travelers.
By Emily Flitter NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors have charged 49 current and former Russian diplomats and their family members with participating in a scheme to get health benefits intended for the poor by lying about their income. Each of the 49 people was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and one count of conspiracy to steal government funds and make false statements relating to healthcare matters, according to the charges. A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Peter Donald, said no one was arrested. A person briefed on the matter said the diplomats all had diplomatic immunity and Russia would have to waive it in order for any arrests to be made.
By Chris Francescani NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bill Bratton, who has run police departments in New York, Los Angeles and Boston, was tapped on Thursday by New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio to become the city's next police commissioner. Bratton, 66, will take over from Ray Kelly, who along with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has overseen the city's security in the years after the September 11, 2001, attacks and the historic, two-decade long drop in murders and violent crime. "Bill Bratton is a proven crime-fighter," de Blasio said in a statement. Together, we are going to preserve and deepen the historic gains we've made in public safety - gains Bill Bratton helped make possible." "And we will do it by rejecting the false choice between keeping New Yorkers safe and protecting their civil rights," de Blasio said.
The White House piled pressure on Republicans on Thursday to extend U.S. jobless benefits with a report that estimated a failure to take action could lead to a loss of 240,000 jobs in 2014. About 1.3 million Americans stand to lose jobless benefits on January 1 unless Congress agrees on an extension, and President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats are trying to overcome opposition from Republican lawmakers to extend the benefits as part of a budget deal. A joint report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers and the Labor Department estimated that without an extension of the benefits, GDP could be .2 percent to .4 percent lower. Failing to extend jobless benefits, the report said, would reduce economic demand and cost 240,000 jobs next year.