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News Briefs

Senate Acts to Cap Farm Subsidies


In an effort to rein in large payments to corporate agriculture, the Senate voted Thursday to cap annual federal subsidies at $275,000 per farm family.

The amendment, approved on a voice vote after an effort to derail it was defeated 66 to 31, also would make the nation’s richest farmers ineligible for federal crop support.

The amendment represents an effort by senators to target assistance to small and mid-sized family farms, as well as change the image of agriculture subsidies, which have become increasingly viewed as another form of corporate welfare.

“Capping farm payments will restore integrity to farm programs,” said Sen. Charles. E. Grassley, R-Iowa, one of the amendment’s authors.

The Senate also heeded a request from President Bush and voted to restore food stamp benefits to legal immigrants who have been in the country for five years.

The votes came as part of debate of a five-year farm bill that would undo a 1996 law that aimed to wean farmers off federal subsidies. Overall, the bill would expand federal financial support for farmers, many of whom have been struggling through tough economic times for years, and would increase agriculture funding by $45 billion over five years.

A final vote on the Senate’s farm bill is expected next week.

Microsoft and Justice Department Jointly File for Shortened Hearing


Microsoft Corp. and the Justice Department asked a federal judge Thursday to condense a fairness hearing on their controversial antitrust settlement to a single day and bar competitors from speaking.

In a joint filing, the two sides said the federal court weighing the proposed resolution of the case has more than enough written commentary -- an unprecedented 10,000 pages.

About 30,000 people submitted comments to the Justice Department during the prescribed 60-day period, ranging from detailed 100-page analyses to such terse statements as “I hate Microsoft.”

The substantive comments ran 2 to 1 against the deal, according to Thursday’s filing. Among other things, the settlement would forbid Microsoft retaliating against companies that install non-Microsoft programs on personal computers.

Nine states oppose the deal and will push at a March trial for harsher remedies, including publication of the source code for Microsoft’s now-dominant Web browser.

The new filing asks that only the states supporting the agreement -- not private companies -- be permitted to debate the proposed settlement at the fairness hearing, which could come in early March.