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Judge Refuses To Delay Libby Prison Sentence

A federal judge refused Thursday to delay the start of the prison sentence for I. Lewis Libby Jr. in the CIA leak case while he appeals his conviction, meaning he could be ordered to surrender within two months.

The ruling intensifies the legal and political drama surrounding Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted of perjury, making false statements and obstructing justice.

Judge Reggie B. Walton said Thursday that he found no reason to postpone Libby’s sentence of two and a half years in prison for four felony counts. Defense lawyers had asked that he be allowed to remain free while pursuing appeals.

Walton’s decision means that the defense lawyers will probably ask a federal appeals court to block the sentence, a long-shot move. It also sharpens interest in a question being asked by Libby’s supporters and critics alike: Will President Bush pardon Libby?

So far, the president has expressed sympathy for Libby and his family but has not tipped his hand on the pardon issue.

Four Senators Seek Penalty For China

Four leading Democratic and Republican senators proposed legislation Wednesday aimed at penalizing China over its export practices and predicted that they would have the votes to pass it in Congress this year even if it was vetoed by President Bush.

The administration indicated it would oppose the bill, which appeared certain to aggravate tensions with China at a time when Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. has sought to use negotiations to change Chinese economic policies, particularly those keeping the value of its currency low in relation to the dollar.

The legislation would set up an elaborate mechanism to punish China if it did not change its policy of intervening in currency markets to keep the exchange value of the currency, the yuan, low. Such low Chinese currency rates are a spur to exports by making them cheaper for foreign consumers.

House Panel Passes Bill To Cut Subsidies To Student Lenders

The House education committee voted Wednesday to cut subsidies to student lenders and to halve the interest rates on a key student loan program over the next five years.

The bill, approved in a 30-16 vote that included many Republicans on the yes side, underscored the vastly changed landscape facing the student loan industry, which is facing major challenges this year, including investigations of its marketing and underwriting practices. The Senate education committee is taking up its own bill next week, expected to include even deeper cuts in subsidies to lenders than the $19 billion in the House bill, and President Bush also proposed cuts in payments to lenders.

The bill met with sharp criticism from the lending industry. In a statement, the Consumer Bankers Association, which represents lenders, called it an “anti-student bill in pro-student clothing,” predicting that it would result in fewer services to students as lenders seek to cut overhead costs.

The bill raises the maximum Pell grants for low- and moderate-income students over the next five years, to $5,200 from the current $4,700.