By Thomas Ferraro WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked one of President Barack Obama's top legislative priorities, a bill to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time in five years. Just one Republican, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, joined Democrats in voting to advance the bill, which would increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour during the next three years and then adjust it for inflation in the future. The federal minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid switched his vote from yes to no to reserve his right to bring up the bill again.
US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday praised the millions of Iraqis who "courageously voted" in general elections, saying many had acted "heroically" in standing up to militant threats. "With ink-stained thumbs, Iraqi voters sent a powerful rebuke to the violent extremists who have tried to thwart democratic progress and sow discord in Iraq and throughout the region," Kerry said in a statement. Queues had formed from early morning at tightly-guarded polling stations across Iraq despite a surge of violence before the elections targeting campaign gatherings and early voting by security personnel. They were the first parliamentary polls since US forces withdrew in December 2011, and some analysts had voiced fears that a wave of extremist violence which has killed 90 people in just two days would scare voters away.
US Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a hotly-contested measure to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, smothering President Barack Obama's priority effort to improve pay for working-class Americans. A united Democratic front convinced just one Republican, Bob Corker, to back the measure, and with a vote count of 54-42, it failed to earn the 60 votes necessary to overcome blocking tactics and begin debate on the bill. Democrats hope the emotional issue will propel supporters to the polls in November's mid-term elections, when Obama's party will find itself in a tough battle to hold on to the Senate. Even though the bill had little chance of passing a divided Congress, Democrats seek to capitalize on the effort, painting Republicans as out-of-touch elites unperturbed that those who work 40 hours per week at the current minimum wage of $7.25 still live in poverty.
The Obama administration is focused on finding ways to curb tax-motivated reincorporations to other countries by U.S. businesses, a U.S. Treasury official told Reuters on Wednesday. "Cracking down on companies that reincorporate overseas to reduce their U.S. taxes is a priority for the administration," a Treasury official said in an emailed statement. U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc said on Monday it has made takeover bids for UK rival AstraZeneca Plc in a possible deal to merge the two into a UK holding company with a UK tax domicile. Such deals, known as "inversion" transactions have been growing in popularity, and President Barack Obama's 2015 budget included a proposal to crack down on inversions.
U.S. administration officials, private sector executives and privacy advocates are reviewing a draft of a bill that would encourage sharing of cybersecurity data between the government and companies, two key Senators said on Wednesday. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, said they have circulated the draft to key stakeholders in its early stages to avoid the disagreements that have thwarted passage in the past. "We have worked together for months to draft a bill that allows companies to monitor their computer networks for cyber attacks, promotes sharing of cyber threat information and provides liability protection for companies who share that information," Feinstein and Chambliss said in a statement. Many companies have urged Congress to pass cyber legislation but ensure that it limits the private sector's liability in sharing cyber data.
An expert panel on Wednesday urged the United States to add Pakistan to a blacklist of violators of religious freedom, saying that the Ahmadi minority suffers "apartheid-like" conditions. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which advises the government on policy but does not take action on its own, urged the State Department to add Pakistan to its list of "countries of particular concern" subject to potential sanctions. In an annual report, the commission said Pakistan "represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom" among countries that are not already on the US blacklist and that conditions in the past year "hit an all-time low." Robert George, chairman of the commission, voiced alarm over treatment of the Ahmadis, who were declared by Pakistan to be non-Muslims in 1974.
By Gabriel Debenedetti WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate will vote this year on a proposed constitutional amendment that would let states and Congress regulate campaign finance laws, Senator Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday. The New York Democrat made the announcement weeks after a ruling on April 2 by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down aggregate campaign donation limits, a decision that could allow wealthy individuals to contribute even more to candidates and party committees. The proposed constitutional amendment, written by New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall, would empower Congress to regulate federal election spending and outside groups, and give states the chance to dictate their own internal campaign finance rules.
China is advancing rapidly to overtake the United States as the biggest economy in the world, new data shows, with the leader of the world economy since the 19th century possibly losing its top spot to the Asian giant from this year. "The United States remained the world's largest economy (in 2011), but it was closely followed by China" once data was adjusted for comparison on a standard basis, the World Bank said on Wednesday. In parallel, the OECD grouping 34 advanced economies and analysing the same data, said that "the three largest economies in the world were the United States with 17.1 percent (of global output), China 14.9 percent and India 6.4 percent." "Large emerging economies, China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Russian Federation and South Africa, accounted for about 30 percent of global GDP in 2011, up from about 20 percent in 2005," the OECD said.
Manila said Wednesday the United States had a treaty obligation to help the Philippines if it is attacked on its own territory or in the South China Sea, as it rejected criticism of a security agreement. President Barack Obama on Tuesday declared the US would support its ally in the event of being attacked, a day after his government signed an agreement allowing a greater American military presence on Philippine bases over 10 years. Obama cited a 1951 mutual defence treaty but did not specifically mention coming to Manila's aid in the South China Sea, where China and the Philippines are in dispute over tiny islets, reefs and rocks. "Under the mutual defence treaty, the United States will come to the assistance of the Philippines if our metropolitan territory is attacked or if our armed forces are attacked in the Pacific area," Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement.