Senate Passes Extension of Patriot Act Provisions, Sends to House

Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate Thursday evening passed a four-year extension of expiring Patriot Act provisions, only hours before they were due to lapse at midnight.

The Senate voted 72-23 on final passage of the bill. The measure now moves on to the House, which is expected to approve the extension in the next few hours. It will then go to President Obama for his signature.

The vote came after Senate leaders reached an agreement with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. The agreement stipulated that a final vote on passage of the Patriot Act extension could occur if the Senate also voted on two amendments offered by Paul.

One of his amendments sought to clarify that the authority to obtain info under the Patriot Act did not include the authority to obtain certain gun records.

“I think it’s very important that we protect the rights of gun owners in our country not only for hunting, but for self-protection, and that the records of those in our country who own guns should be secret,” Paul said on the Senate floor before the vote. “I don’t think the government, well-intentioned or not well-intentioned, should be sifting through millions of records of gun owners.”

Another amendment attempted to make financial firms issue suspicious activity reports only in certain cases when initiated by an appropriate law enforcement agency.

“My Visa bill sometimes have been $5,000," Paul said. "Sometimes we pay for them over the phone, which is a wire transfer. Have I been investigated by my government? I don’t know. It’s secret. What I want are protections.”

Ultimately, both of Paul’s amendments failed to advance in the Senate.

The feud between Paul and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the days leading up to this evening’s final vote led to fears that the Patriot Act provisions – despite bipartisan support for them – would not be extended before the midnight deadline.

But in the end, the feud in the Senate was resolved, the Senate passed the provisions and sent them along to the House, leaving the Obama administration and 72 senators pleased. The Senate is now set to leave for its week-long Memorial Day recess.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


White House Responds to Senate's Rejection of Obama Budget

ABC News Radio(WASHINGTON) -- The White House responded Thursday to a unanimous 0-97 Senate vote against a motion to vote on President Obama's budget.

White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, traveling with the president in France for the G8 Summit, said "Yesterday's votes in the Senate against the president's budget plan and the Republican budget plan only reinforce what the president has said many times: both sides will need to give some ground in order to reach a bipartisan agreement on meaningful deficit reduction. This is precisely the goal of the bipartisan, bicameral working group that vice president is leading and that met again today."

President Obama sent the $3.7 trillion budget to Capitol Hill in February. In April, he updated his budget to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over 12 years.

The Senate also voted against the budget plan offered by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., 40-57.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Rick Santorum to Officially Launch Presidential Campaign

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Rick Santorum will announce his candidacy for president on June 6 in Pennsylvania, a source close to the former Pennsylvania senator told ABC News on Thursday.

Santorum will be the sixth major candidate to declare his candidacy in the wide open race for the Republican nomination.

The announcement will take place at a location in southwestern part of the state, near where his grandfather worked in the coal mines after arriving in America from Italy.

A social conservative, Santorum served as a Pennsylvania senator for two terms until 2006 when he was defeated by 18 points. However, this loss has not deterred him from a 2012 run.

Well before many of his contenders, Santorum was out campaigning heavily in battleground states. Last week he completed his 14th visit to Iowa. He's visited the Hawkeye State far more than any of the other Republican presidential nominees. Earlier this week, Santorum was in Sarasota, Florida meeting with supporters and local Republican leaders.

According to a campaign source, the location of Santorum's June 6 announcement "is significant because when Senator Santorum's grandfather left fascist Italy, he came to this country for America's freedom and the opportunity our nation afforded him."

Santorum launched his presidential exploratory committee in May and has since beefed up his staff in Iowa and New Hampshire.  He will be joining other presidential hopefuls -- former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

It will be an uphill battle for the former senator, who is a well-known conservative voice, but is still polling in the low single digits in most national surveys.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'President Pawlenty' Would Sign Paul Ryan's Budget

Mn[dot]gov(WASHINGTON) -- After facing criticism in recent days for sidestepping the issue, Tim Pawlenty on Thursday in New Hampshire said if he were president and Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal came to his desk, he would sign it.

The Pawlenty team is circulating the following remarks that the former Minnesota governor made to reporters in the Granite state:

"First of all, I applaud Congressman Ryan for his courage and his leadership in putting his plan forward. At least he has a plan. President Obama doesn't have a plan. The Democrats don't have a plan. And I really applaud his leadership and his courage in putting a plan on the table. Number two, we will have our own plan; it will have many similarities to Congressman Ryan's plan, but it will have some differences, one of which will be we'll address Social Security. He chose not to; we are addressing Social Security. And the Medicare part of our plan will have some differences, too. It will have some similarities also. So we'll have our own plan. But if I can't have my own plan -- as president, I'll have my own plan -- if I can't have that, and the bill came to my desk and I had to choose between signing or not Congressman Ryan's plan, of course I would sign it."

As Pawlenty said Wednesday in Washington and reiterated Thursday in New Hampshire, he is planning to release his own budget proposal, with key differences from Ryan's plan on how to handle Medicare, sometime in the coming months.

Pawlenty is in New Hampshire as part of his week-long whirlwind tour that started in Iowa Monday with his formal announcement that he is running for president.

Ryan's plan -- especially its controversial proposal on how to overhaul Medicare -- has been criticized by some as the reason for the Republicans' defeat earlier this week in the special election in NY-26.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Sarah Palin to Launch Multi-State Bus Tour

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sarah Palin announced on Thursday that she'll embark on an East Coast bus tour, kicking off Sunday, May 29 in Washington, D.C. and going up the northeast coast.

Called the One Nation Tour, a post on the website of Palin's political action committee said the former governor of Alaska will visit "historical sites that were key to the formation, survival, and growth of the United States of America."

Its goal, according to a message on the SarahPAC site, is "to educate and energize Americans about our nation's founding principles, in order to promote the Fundamental Restoration of America."

The bus boasts a triumphant One Nation Tour logo, a rendition of the constitution, Palin's signature and a quintessential American landscape.

The tour is the latest sign pointing to a possible Palin run for presidency, on top of reports that she's reshuffled her staff of aides, bought a house in Arizona, and supports a documentary about her that's due out next month.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Christie Pulls New Jersey Out of Greenhouse Program

Governor's Office/Tim Larsen(TRENTON, N.J) -- On Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced that he is withdrawing New Jersey's membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

RGGI, a regulatory program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, has a membership of 10 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states.

"Our analysis of the RegionalGreenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) reveals that this program is not effective in reducing greenhouse gases and is unlikely to be in the future, in other words the whole system is not working as it was intended to work, it's a failure," said Christie at a news conference.

Christie has been under pressure from conservative groups to pull out of the so-called "cap and trade" program. However, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a poll on Thursday which shows that a majority of New Jersey residents support programs that focus on curbing climate change. NRDC found that 47 percent of respondents said that pulling out of RGGI was inconsistent with Gov. Christie’s stated commitment to the clean energy sector.

The RGGI responded to the withdrawal:

"RGGI CO2 Allowance Auction 12 will be held as scheduled on Wednesday, June 8, 2011," read the statement.  "Based on information provided by the state of New Jersey, the participating states will evaluate how New Jersey's proposed withdrawal might affect New Jersey allowances currently in circulation."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Democrats Will Retake House in 2012, DNC Chair Claims

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Six months after Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz thinks voters have seen enough and are ready to return Democrats to power.

"The election results of the past two weeks of special elections really bode well for Democrats chances up and down the ticket in 2012," Wasserman Schultz told reporters Thursday.

The election last week of an African-American Democratic mayor in Jacksonville, Fla., a staunchly conservative city, a Democratic state representative in a conservative New Hampshire District, and a Democratic U.S. Representative from the solidly-red 26th district of New York are all indicators Democrats have momentum, she said. 

"All of those elections turned on the hardcore, radical, right-wing agenda that the Republicans have given us a preview of if they were given total control of all branches of government," said Wasserman Schultz. "And the voters have resoundingly rejected those overtures, their agenda."

"The reason that we believe that this is an indicator that we will continue to make progress and re-take majority of the House and re-elect the president is that the voters got a glimpse of what it would be like under Republican control," she said. "And they don't like it."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Rosalynn Carter Advocates for Older Americans Act

Rick Diamond/The Carter Center(WASHINGTON) -- Former first lady Rosalynn Carter was on Capitol Hill Thursday to advocate on behalf of the older generation, urging Congress to reauthorize the Older Americans Act, which provides seniors with access to care giving services.

Carter's personal stake in the OAA stems from her early years as a caregiver for her father. At the age of twelve, Carter, the oldest of four children, joined her mother in caring for her father, who was diagnosed with leukemia, and her grandfather who was bedridden in the late years of his life.

"I still vividly remember going to my secret hiding place, the outdoor privy, to cry," Carter was scheduled to say, according to written testimony to the Senate Special Committee on Aging. "I was the oldest child, I felt the burden of needing to help care for my father and my three younger siblings; yet I was scared and didn't always feel like being strong."

The former first lady also established the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving in Georgia, which supports caregivers and their loved ones dealing with chronic illnesses and disabilities.

Originally enacted in 1965, The Older Americans Act devised programs to ensure communities have the means to develop social services for older people.

Carter's advocacy comes as Congress debates cuts in the Medicare program and new Census data reveals men are narrowing the female advantage gap, particularly in older generations.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Patriot Act Passes Key Vote

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate on Thursday voted to pass three expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, but the provisions could still lapse at the end of the day if Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky insists on 30 hours of debate before allowing a final vote.

On the back of resounding bipartisan support, the four-year extension survived the procedural vote by a count of 79-18.

The Patriot Act extensions continue powers for investigators in national security cases to conduct "roving" wiretaps, seek certain business records, and gather intelligence on lone terrorists who are not affiliated with a known terrorist group.

The problem is not support, however, but time. The provisions are set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Friday. Once the Senate passes them, they will still have to be approved by the House. That is why the bill’s chief advocates, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, have cautioned that time is of the essence. If Congress does not reauthorize the provisions in time, then "that is not good for the world," Reid warned Wednesday evening.

What will happen next is unclear. The Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, emphasized that "nothing in this extension has ever been found to be unconstitutional," telling his colleagues that it is "absolutely imperative" that they pass the extension. But the Senate can only waive some of the 30 hours of debate if every senator agrees to do so, including Paul.

"If one person wants to be a demagogue, he can do that," Reid said Wednesday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Exclusive: Taxpayer Money Spent on Shrimp on Treadmills

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- You've probably heard of shrimp on the barbie, but what about shrimp on a treadmill?

The National Science Foundation has, and it spent $500,000 of taxpayer money researching it.  It's not entirely clear what this research hoped to establish, but it's one of a number of projects cited in a scathing new report from Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, exclusively obtained by ABC News.

It's not just shrimp on a treadmill.  The foundation spent $1.5 million to create a robot that can fold laundry.  But before you try to buy one to save some time, consider that it takes the robot 25 minutes to fold a single towel.

The list goes on.  Lots of people love to use FarmVille on Facebook, but lots of people probably don't love the government's spending $300,000 in taxpayer money to study whether it helps build personal relationships.

"What it says to me is, they have too much money if they're going to spend money on things like that," Coburn said in an interview.

But there's more.  The National Science Foundation has its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, just across the river from Washington, D.C., a building it pays $19 million a year to rent.  But now that the 20-year lease is nearly up, it has decided that it is time to move; into a new building that will cost $26 million annually to rent.

Even gelatin wrestling has been the subject of an agency project -- in Antarctica, no less.  The foundation notes that the project is the work of contractors, not agency employees.

Whatever the case might be, Coburn said, the situation is another example that federal spending has gotten out of control.

"We have 12 different agencies doing pure research, and we're duplicating and we're not sharing the information across and it's siloed," he said.

In response to Coburn's report, the National Science Foundation launched a vigorous defense of its projects.  Agency officials said they "have advanced the frontiers of science and engineering, improved Americans' lives, and provided the foundations for countless new industries and jobs."

And the facts back up that statement.  One agency project helped lead to the creation of Google, while another led to the invention of bar codes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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