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News Briefs

Bush Draws Congressional Fire Over Farm Conservation Spending


The White House has agreed to supply less than 20 percent of the money requested by the Agriculture Department to support a major expansion of two farm conservation programs, prompting alarm from conservation groups and some influential members of Congress.

Following a congressional directive, the Agriculture Department asked the White House for $34.5 million this year to hire experts and provide support for two conservation programs. One helps land owners turn plowed fields back into wetlands, and the other pays land owners not to sell to developers. Instead, the White House released $5.9 million for the programs, infuriating members of Congress who sponsored them.

“Maybe I should conclude that this administration does not support conservation, and this is the way they’ll get at it -- they’ll bleed it dry by not providing technical assistance money,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman at a hearing earlier this week.

Administration officials responded that they are committed to the goals of helping farmers restore wetlands and conserve open spaces. The programs will not be diminished by the reduced funding for technical assistance, they said.

Senate Remains Deadlocked Over Security Bill


The Senate’s debate on a homeland security bill remained stuck on the issue of workers’ rights Thursday, even as a pair of senators attempted to broker a compromise that would speed the creation of a new department focused on the terrorist threat.

Sens. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) and Zell Miller (D-Ga.) offered a proposal that would give President Bush much of what he wants in shaping new work rules for the 170,000 employees who would be part of the new Department of Homeland Security. In a nod to labor unions, both proposed that Bush be required to notify Congress before acting to remove employees from collective bargaining units for national security reasons. Their proposal mirrors the homeland security legislation that passed the House in July and has the White House’s support.

But it remained unclear whether Gramm and Miller will be able to muster enough votes to break a stalemate over the volatile issue. The Senate’s Democratic leadership wants to protect civil service rights and require Bush to seek the approval of the Federal Labor Relations Authority if it removes workers from unions. The Democrats attempted to call for a vote on their homeland security package Thursday, but couldn’t muster enough votes to end more than two weeks of debate.

Stocks Lowest Since July


The stock market Thursday dropped to its lowest levels since July, amid worries about corporate earnings, a decline in new housing construction and the economic impact of a war in Iraq.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 230.06 points, or 2.8 percent, to 7,942.39, closing under the 8,000 level for the first time since July 25. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 35.68 points, or 2.8 percent, to 1,216.45. And the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index fell 26.14 points, or 3 percent, to 843.32.

The damage was particularly hard in the technology industry, after Electronic Data Systems Corp. cut its earnings forecast. While some analysts had thought those forecasts were too optimistic, the warning increased fears that EDS’s competitors and other tech firms will have similar hard times meeting their targets.

“I see no signs of tech coming back,” said Henry Herrmann, chief investment officer of Waddell & Reed. “In fact, I’m seeing signs of it having another leg down.”