By David Alexander WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House Armed Services Committee approved a policy bill on Thursday that authorized a $496 billion Pentagon base budget for next year but rejected many of the department's attempts to cut spending, including on arms programs and military pay increases. Lawmakers on the Republican-dominated panel voted unanimously to send the measure to the full House of Representatives, where it must be passed and reconciled with a Senate version before going to President Barack Obama for his signature. Representative Buck McKeon, the committee chairman, said the annual legislation, the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2015 fiscal year, was expected to be considered by the full House in two weeks. The measure approved by the panel authorizes a $496 billion Pentagon base budget, plus $17.9 billion for defense-related nuclear programs in the Department of Energy.
By Steve Holland LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama issued a somber warning on Wednesday that the kidnapping of Nigerian girls and sectarian conflicts worldwide are a sign that \"we have not extinguished man's darkest impulses.\" Obama accepted a humanitarian award from director Steven Spielberg at the University of Southern California's Shoah Foundation, a Holocaust museum founded by Spielberg after he made the film \"Schindler's List.\" Obama spoke about a variety of global conflicts including Ukraine, Syria, and the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls by the Boko Haram Islamist militant group. \"We only need to look at today's headlines: The devastation of Syria, the murders and kidnappings in Nigeria, the sectarian conflicts, the tribal conflicts to see that we have not yet extinguished man's darkest impulses,\" Obama said.
Fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden is being manipulated by Russian authorities, the former director of the US National Security Agency reportedly said Thursday, adding that he believed the leaks would cost lives. General Keith Alexander, who retired in March, told the Australian Financial Review that Russia would be looking to capitalise on the fact that Snowden's leaks had been so disruptive and damaging to the US. \"I think he is now being manipulated by Russian intelligence. \"I suspect Russian intelligence are driving what he does,\" he added.
By Diane Bartz WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Comcast's plan to merge with Time Warner Cable Inc is expected to face criticism from an independent network, small and medium-sized cable operators and a former Internet partner when U.S. lawmakers meet on Thursday for a second time to discuss the controversial deal. The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel will hear from Comcast Corp Executive Vice President David Cohen. Among the critics due to testify is Dave Schaeffer, CEO of Cogent Communications Group Inc, which has been a high-speed go-between for Netflix and Comcast. In February, Netflix Inc agreed to pay Comcast an unknown sum to connect directly.
By David Morgan WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sylvia Mathews Burwell takes center stage on Thursday for the first of two Senate hearings that will determine whether the loyal White House insider will become the next public face of the controversial law known as Obamacare. The path to confirmation as U.S. health secretary is expected to be a smooth one for Burwell, a 48-year-old technocrat who was nominated on April 11 by President Barack Obama to replace outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Last year, Burwell sailed through the Senate on a 96-0 vote to become Obama's budget director.
By Steve Holland LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - President Barack Obama brought his fund-raising prowess to California on Wednesday and urged Democrats not to let increasing attention on the 2016 presidential race distract them from focusing on November 4 congressional elections. Obama issued the warning at the first of five Democratic events he will attend over three days that will raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for use by the party's candidates for the Senate, the House of Representatives and other races. At the Bel Air home of Disney chairman Alan Horn, Obama spoke to a crowd that included actress Barbra Streisand and her husband, actor James Brolin. He exhorted them to help turn back a strong challenge from Republicans who are trying to win control of the Senate and build on their majority in the House.
A U.S. House of Representatives committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to advance a bill that would end the National Security Agency's bulk collection of Americans' telephone records, one of the most controversial spy programs revealed a year ago by former contractor Edward Snowden. The House Judiciary committee voted 32-0 to back the measure, which would end the NSA's gathering information about telephone calls and storing them for at least five years. The bill would allow the NSA to collect a person's phone records, and those of two of their contacts, if investigators can convince a judge they have a reasonable suspicion that the person was involved in terrorism. \"This is a historic turn of events in our government's approach to counterterrorism policies,\" Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington Legislation Office, said in a statement.
Hundreds of thousands of individually packaged, ready-to-sell synthetic drugs and their ingredients were seized in 29 US states Wednesday as part of a major bust that also netted $20 million in cash and assets. Law enforcement agencies made more than 150 arrests over the course of the wide-ranging sweep, part of a crackdown on designer synthetic drugs by the US Drug Enforcement Administration. \"Many who manufacture, distribute and sell these dangerous synthetic drugs found out first hand today that DEA will target, find and prosecute those who have committed these crimes,\" said DEA administrator Michele Leonhart. The synthetic drugs seized under the DEA's \"Project Synergy\" operation are part of a swelling group of illicit compounds that traffickers have begun marketing in the West in recent years as herbal incense, bath salts, jewelry cleaner or plant food, a statement by the DEA said.