By David Lawder WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A memo outlining the legislative agenda for Republicans in the House of Representatives lists replacement of President Barack Obama's healthcare law as a priority for the coming weeks but does not mention plans to tackle immigration reform. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor sent the memo to fellow Republicans as they returned from a two-week recess, employing a regular tool to help keep the party unified on its political message in the run-up to congressional elections in November. Republicans have put criticisms of Obama's healthcare reform law at the center of their efforts to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats and to boost their majority in the House. Cantor said House Republicans would work to "reform our healthcare system by replacing Obamacare with policies that improve patient choice, access to doctors and hospitals and lower costs." The memo also said the Republican-controlled House would pass permanent extensions of six temporary business tax breaks, including a credit for research and development activities.
Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel is ordering a review of rules on hairstyles for female troops after a wave of complaints charged the US military's policies discriminated against black women. In a letter obtained by AFP Wednesday, Hagel wrote to lawmakers promising that each of the armed services would look at hairstyle regulations that apply to African-American women "to ensure standards are fair and respectful of our diverse force." Sixteen female lawmakers from the Congressional Black Caucus had raised objections over hairstyle regulations saying the rules unfairly singled out black women in uniform. And a former member of the Georgia National Guard, Jasmine Jacobs, launched a White House petition against the rules that attracted more than 17,500 signatures along with a huge volume of online comments.
The worldwide terror threat is evolving as Al-Qaeda linked groups and other militants become increasingly violent and Syria spawns a new generation of global terrorists, the US warned Wednesday. The State Department's 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism showed the number of attacks around the world rose last year to more than 9,700 -- up some 43 percent from 6,700 in 2012. US counter-terrorism efforts to combat Al-Qaeda have "degraded" the core leadership, but "subsequently 2013 saw the rise of increasingly aggressive and autonomous AQ affiliates and like-minded groups in the Middle East and Africa," the report said. Al-Qaeda's leadership was also struggling "to maintain discipline within the AQ network and communicate guidance to its affiliated groups," said Counter-terrorism coordinator Tina Kaidanow.
The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on May 7 to discuss funding of the country's surface transportation systems, including a $302 billion, four-year bill proposed by the Obama administration, the committee's chairman said on Wednesday. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is the sole witness listed so far. "The hearing will highlight the need to allocate more resources to underfunded areas of the nation's transportation system, including to programs that move freight, focus on safety, and concentrate on growing rail service," said Senator John Rockefeller, a Democrat of West Virginia.
The United States said Wednesday that Ukraine's political crisis will shield it for the moment from any penalty or retaliation over its extensive violations of intellectual property rights. In its annual report on violations of US IP rights, the US Trade Representative gave major violator Ukraine relief from punishment threatened last year, pointing to the struggles facing the interim government in Kiev in the wake of the overthrow of the corrupt pro-Moscow regime on February 22. In May 2013 the USTR declared Ukraine one of the worst violators of US IP rights due to rampant software and Internet-based piracy, as well as fraudulent collection and payment of copyright fees owed foreign artists. The USTR also labeled Ukraine a safe haven for online piracy, allowing the operations of numerous entertainment and software pirates like ExtraTorrent.com.
Washington said Wednesday that China's efforts to steal US trade secrets are of "significant concern" as it again listed the country as a major violator of intellectual property rights. In its annual "Special 301" report on IP rights violators, China led 10 countries on the US Trade Representative's "priority watch list", marking its 25th year on the list. Despite some improvement in cooperation over combating counterfeit products and software and entertainment piracy, the USTR said, China is still the center of huge losses for US rights holders. IP rights holders still face "serious obstacles" to enforcing their rights in all forms inside China, the report said.
Corruption, not the Taliban, is the existential threat to Afghanistan which the next president must tackle with urgency, the former commander of NATO troops in the country said Wednesday. John Allen, who led the war effort for a year and half until stepping down in 2013, said Afghanistan's economic prospects will be bleak unless the next leader can root out corruption, including ending the influence of drug lords over government functions. "The great challenge to Afghanistan's future isn't the Taliban or the Pakistani safe havens (for militants) or even an incipiently hostile Pakistan," the retired four-star general told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.