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News Briefs

Senators Clear Way to Grant Bush Fast-Track Trade Authority


Democratic and Republican negotiators announced Thursday that they had cleared obstacles to Senate passage of a bill granting President Bush greater authority to negotiate international trade agreements.

Central to the agreement is a package of expanded benefits -- including a 70 percent federal health insurance subsidy -- for qualified workers who lose jobs in domestic industries hurt by foreign competition.

Republicans also agreed to roughly double the number of workers eligible for the program known as “trade adjustment assistance.” Overall, the worker-aid provisions would cost $10 billion to $12 billion over 10 years.

In exchange for those GOP concessions, Democratic negotiators agreed to drop demands for a costly federal subsidy of retirement benefits for steelworkers and certain restrictions on Mexican trucking on the United States.

The accord was reached by Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, Phil Gramm, R-Texas, and John B. Breaux, D-La., and had the blessing of the Senate majority and minority leaders. Senators also said the White House was pleased with the progress.

“We have an agreement,” Baucus told reporters. He called the worker-assistance provisions “a huge improvement over current law.”

Students’ History Knowledge Lacking, Test Finds


Nearly six in 10 of the nation’s high school seniors lack even a basic knowledge of American history, a finding virtually unchanged from seven years earlier, according to results released Thursday from a widely respected national test.

The results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often referred to as the nation’s report card, were more encouraging for fourth- and eighth-graders, who showed modest gains in their knowledge of U.S. history. But even with their improvement, just 67 percent of fourth-graders and 64 percent of eighth-graders demonstrated basic knowledge of U.S. history. Meanwhile, fewer than one in five students in both grades were deemed proficient in the subject.

The exam, administered last year to a nationally representative sample of 29,000 students, found that many students knew neither the basic facts of American history nor understood their importance.

“What this report card is telling us is that too many of our public school children are still struggling in this critical core subject area,” said Education Secretary Roderick Paige.