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Susan Smith-Harmon

Susan Smith-Harmon

A look at the congressional budget agreement

Thursday, 12 December 2013 01:54 Published in National News

   A proposed congressional budget agreement would avoid a government shutdown in January and set spending for defense and domestic programs. It would:

   —Establish overall non-war-related discretionary spending for the current fiscal year at $1.012 trillion and $1.014 trillion for fiscal 2015. Discretionary spending is the money approved by Congress each year for agency operations. The House budget level had been $967 billion and the Senate $1.058 trillion for the year that runs through next Sept. 30. Fiscal 2013 discretionary spending was $986 billion.

   —Ease the across-the-board "sequester" spending cuts by $63 billion over two years, split between defense and domestic programs. In the current fiscal year, defense would be set at a base budget of $520.5 billion and domestic programs at $491.8 billion.

   —Increase airline security fees from $5 to $11.20 for a typical round-trip ticket starting July 1, 2014. That would raise $13 billion over 10 years. Current fees are $2.50 per leg with a maximum fee of $10 for a round-trip with connecting flights or $5 for a nonstop round-trip fare.

   —Reduce retirement benefits for working-age military retirees. The cost-of-living adjustment would be modified equal to inflation minus 1 percent. The changes would be phased in, with no change in the current year, a 0.25 percent reduction in December 2014 and a 0.5 percent decrease in December 2015. The change would not apply to retirees who left the service because of disability or injury. It would apply to retirees under the age of 62. The change would save $6 billion.

   —Increase by 1.3 percentage points the pension contributions paid by federal civilian workers hired after Jan. 1, 2014. Raise $6 billion.

   —Restrict access to Social Security death records to prevent identity thieves from filing fraudulent tax returns. Save $269 million.

   —Raise premiums paid by corporations to the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. to guarantee pension benefits. Raise $8 billion.

   —Eliminate a requirement that the Maritime Administration reimburse other federal agencies for additional costs associated with shipping food aid on U.S. ships. Saves $731 million.

   —Cancel $1.6 billion in unobligated balances in Justice and Treasury Department funds that seize assets from criminals.

   —Cap the maximum government payment for contract employees at $487,000, indexed to inflation. Agencies could make exceptions for scientists, engineers and other specialists.

   —Give the Treasury Department greater access to prison data to prevent prisoners from claiming improper payments. Saves. $80 million.

   —Approve a U.S.-Mexico agreement on oil and gas exploration in waters outside their exclusive economic zones.

   —Permanently extend a requirement that states receiving mineral lease payments contribute to the federal government's administrative costs. Saves $415 million.

   —Extend Bureau of Customs and Border Protection user fees. Raises $7 billion.

Interpreter for Mandela event: I was hallucinating

Thursday, 12 December 2013 01:46 Published in National News

   JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The man accused of faking sign interpretation next to world leaders at Nelson Mandela's memorial told a local newspaper that he was hallucinating and hearing voices.

   Thamsanqa Jantjie did describe his qualifications for being a sign language interpreter, but told The Star he works for an interpreting company that paid him $85 for interpreting Tuesday's event. He told Radio 702 Thursday he's receiving treatment for schizophrenia and had an episode while on stage.

   Jantjie did not address allegations by sign language experts that he faked interpretation for the Mandela memorial attended by scores of world leaders and broadcast internationally.

   The Star quoted him as saying: "I tried to control myself and not show the world what was going on. I am very sorry, it's the situation I found myself in."

Thai protesters resume siege of PM's offices

Thursday, 12 December 2013 01:43 Published in National News

   BANGKOK (AP) — Anti-government protesters in Thailand's capital have resumed their tactic of besieging government offices, cutting off electricity to the prime minister's office compound and demanding that police abandon the premises.

   The protesters, who are seeking to force the replacement of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government before a Feb. 2 election, threatened Thursday to force their way in if police don't leave.

   In a previous confrontation, police withdrew from the compound to allow the demonstrators in without a fight. That withdrawal came after two days of increasingly violent standoffs.

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