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Washington in brief

Senate passes intelligence overhaul

By wire services
Published October 7, 2004

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to approve a bipartisan bill to reorganize the way the nation gathers and shares intelligence, including the creation of the job of national intelligence director and the establishment of a national counterterrorism center.

The bill largely follows the major recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission.

The lopsided Senate vote, 96-2, is likely to increase pressure on House Republican leaders to adopt a similar measure, especially because the Senate bill had the support of all 51 Senate Republicans, as well as the endorsement of both the White House and the leaders of the Sept. 11 commission.

Opinion polls show that the independent commission, which used its final report in July to catalog years of incompetence and turf battles among the nation's intelligence and counterterrorism agencies, has widespread support among likely voters in next month's election. And the commission's members have proved themselves potent lobbyists for their recommendations.

The two Democrats who voted against the measure were Sen. Robert C. Byrd, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, and Fritz Hollings of South Carolina. The two senators who did not cast a vote on the measure were John Kerry and John Edwards, who were both on the campaign trail on Wednesday.

Analysts: $415-billion deficit for 2004

The 2004 federal deficit will hit a record $415-billion, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday in an informal estimate likely to cause barely a blip in the presidential and congressional campaigns.

The figure, an estimate based on Treasury Department data, is $7-billion less than Congress' nonpartisan budget scorekeeper projected just a month ago. The budget office attributed the improvement to better than expected corporate tax collections.

The administration is expected to release the final, official figure later this month - shortly before the Nov. 2 elections. The 2004 budget year ended Sept. 30.

The new estimate marks an improvement over the $477-billion deficit the congressional analysts predicted in March, and the $445-billion shortfall the Bush administration said it expected in July.

GOP makes drought aid proposal in House

House Republicans offered a $2.9-billion aid package Wednesday for farmers and ranchers hurt by drought and other emergencies as they waded into an issue that has become an election-season battleground.

Republicans were hoping to add the drought assistance to a bill providing roughly $11-billion for victims of hurricanes that in recent weeks have raked Florida and other Eastern states. The House planned to vote on the overall legislation Wednesday night.

The House GOP drought plan drew opposition from the American Farm Bureau Federation and more than two dozen other farm groups. In a letter to lawmakers, the groups said it was unfair to cut benefits paid to some farmers to help finance disaster aid to others.

House passes bill to increase DNA testing

Rape victims and felons would have greater access to DNA testing under legislation the House passed Wednesday.

The bill would provide $755-million in grants over the next five years to clear the backlog of some 350,000 untested DNA samples in rape evidence kits, and an additional $350-million to improve legal representation in death penalty cases. Similar legislation is stalled in the Senate, where negotiators have struggled to get a deal before Congress adjourns at the end of the week. The House vote was 393-14.

Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., said the bill is aimed at repairing the two sides of injustice when mistakes happen.

"Think of the human costs when an innocent person is executed or spends long years in jail," he said. "Imagine the scars when a victim waits years to know the identity of their assailant."

[Last modified October 7, 2004, 00:30:24]

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