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White house puts price on government shutdown

WASHINGTON — Lost work: 6.6 million days. Back-pay costs: $2 billion. Private-sector jobs lost: 120,000.

Those are just some of the costs of the 16-day partial government shutdown that ended last month, the Obama administration said in a detailed report released Thursday. The effects may seem small in the context of the $16 trillion economy, but they can add up to less effective government service, and at a higher cost.

The report comes as a second shutdown remains a possibility unless Congress can pass a budget or provide more stopgap financing for the government.

But top Republicans, wary since the backlash to the October shutdown, have made it clear they do not intend to force another impasse. A bipartisan group of legislators is working behind closed doors on a budget agreement, but expectations for a major deal are low, given the policy gulf between Democrats and Republicans.

The House-Senate negotiating committee has a mid-December deadline, and the government’s financing expires again in January. The Treasury would lose the authority to issue new debt in February.

—Annie Lowrey, The New York Times

FDA seeking near total ban on trans fats

The Food and Drug Administration proposed measures Thursday that would all but eliminate artery-clogging, artificial trans fats from the food supply, the culmination of three decades of effort by public health advocates to get the government to take action against them.

Artificial trans fats — a major contributor to heart disease in the United States — have already been substantially reduced in foods. But they still lurk in many popular products, like frostings, microwave popcorn, packaged pies, frozen pizzas, margarines and coffee creamers. Banning them could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year, the FDA said.

“This is the final slam dunk on the trans fat issue,” said Barry Popkin, a nutrition epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

The proposal is a rare political victory in an era when many regulations to protect public health have stalled. A landmark food safety bill took years to carry out, in part because it collided with the 2012 election season. And rules to regulate the tobacco industry are still stuck, four years after the law calling for them was passed. But just last month, the FDA toughened restrictions on narcotic painkillers over industry objections.

—Sabrina Tavernise, The New York Times

North Korea says it has arrested a South Korean spy

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Thursday that it had arrested a spy sent by the intelligence agency of South Korea.

The North’s intelligence authority recently apprehended the spy in Pyongyang, a spokesman for the Ministry of State Security of North Korea told the country’s official Korean Central News Agency. The agent confessed that he had come from South Korea and had been operating in a “third country” for six years, wearing “the mask of religion” to spy on and plot against North Korea, the spokesman said.

“He infiltrated all the way into our capital, Pyongyang, to rally unhealthy elements with the purpose of destroying our society and system and stability,” the unidentified spokesman was quoted as saying. “It shows how far the conservative puppet clique in the South is taking its racket against our republic.”

He said the investigation was continuing but gave no further details.

South Korean intelligence officials called the North Korean claim groundless and preposterous.

—Choe Sang-hun, The New York Times