Shutdown looms as US Senate, House advance separate spending plans

Shutdown looms as US Senate, House advance separate spending plans
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A countdown clock about the time left before a government shutdown is seen in the foreground as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is seen on a screen during a House Oversight Committee impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden on Sept. 28, 2023, in Washington. (AP)
Shutdown looms as US Senate, House advance separate spending plans
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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene stages a protest on the steps of the US Capitol building as the deadline to avert a government shutdown approaches in Washington on September 26, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 September 2023
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Shutdown looms as US Senate, House advance separate spending plans

Shutdown looms as US Senate, House advance separate spending plans
  • House Republicans are demanding a $120 billion cuts in an earlier agreed $1.59 trillion in discretionary spending in fiscal 2024
  • They also want tougher legislation that would stop the flow of immigrants at the US southern border with Mexico

WASHINGTON: The Democratic-led US Senate forged ahead on Thursday with a bipartisan stopgap funding bill aimed at averting a fourth partial government shutdown in a decade, while the House began voting on partisan Republican spending bills with no chance of becoming law.

The divergent paths of the two chambers appeared to increase the odds that federal agencies will run out of money on Sunday, furloughing hundreds of thousands of federal workers and halting a wide range of services from economic data releases to nutrition benefits.
The House of Representatives voted 216-212 on a bill funding the State Department and other aspects of foreign affairs, the first in a series of four partisan appropriations bills that would not alone prevent a shutdown, even if they could overcome strong opposition from Senate Democrats and become law.
The Senate earlier in the day had voted 76-22 to open debate on a stopgap bill known as a continuing resolution, or CR, which would extend federal spending until Nov. 17, and authorize roughly $6 billion each for domestic disaster response funding and aid to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia.
The Senate measure has already been rejected by Republicans, who control the House.
House Republicans, led by a small faction of hard-line conservatives in the chamber they control by a 221-212 margin, have rejected spending levels for fiscal year 2024 set in a deal Speaker Kevin McCarthy negotiated with Biden in May.
The agreement included $1.59 trillion in discretionary spending in fiscal 2024. House Republicans are demanding another $120 billion in cuts, plus tougher legislation that would stop the flow of immigrants at the US southern border with Mexico.
The funding fight focuses on a relatively small slice of the $6.4 trillion US budget for this fiscal year. Lawmakers are not considering cuts to popular benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
McCarthy is facing intense pressure from his caucus to achieve their goals. Several hard-liners have threatened to oust him from his leadership role if he passes a spending bill that requires any Democratic votes to pass.
Former President Donald Trump has taken to social media to push his congressional allies toward a shutdown.
McCarthy, for his part, suggested on Thursday that a shutdown could be avoided if Senate Democrats agreed to address border issues in their stopgap measure.
“I talked this morning to some Democratic senators over there that are more aligned with what we want to do. They want to do something about the border,” McCarthy told reporters in the US Capitol.
“We’re trying to work to see, could we put some border provisions in that current Senate bill that would actually make things a lot better,” he said.
The House Freedom Caucus, home to the hard-liners forcing McCarthy’s hand, in an open letter to him on Thursday demanded a timeline for passing the seven remaining appropriations bills and a plan to further reduce the top-line discretionary spending figure, among other questions.

The Senate measure has passed two procedural hurdles this week with strong bipartisan support.
“Congress has only one option — one option — to avoid a shutdown: bipartisanship,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Thursday. “With bipartisanship, we can responsibly fund the government and avoid the sharp and unnecessary pain for the American people and the economy that a shutdown will bring.”
Credit agencies have warned that brinkmanship and political polarization are harming the US financial outlook. Moody’s, the last major ratings agency to rate the US government “Aaa” with a stable outlook, said on Monday that a shutdown would harm the country’s credit rating.
Fitch, another major ratings agency, already downgraded the US government to “AA+” after Congress flirted with defaulting on the nation’s debt earlier this year.
 


As Biden prepares to address the nation, more than 6 in 10 US adults doubt his mental capability

As Biden prepares to address the nation, more than 6 in 10 US adults doubt his mental capability
Updated 04 March 2024
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As Biden prepares to address the nation, more than 6 in 10 US adults doubt his mental capability

As Biden prepares to address the nation, more than 6 in 10 US adults doubt his mental capability
  • Roughly 6 in 10 say they’re not very or not at all confident in Biden’s mental capability to serve effectively as president
  • Nearly 57 percent Americans think the national economy is somewhat or much worse off than before Biden took office in 2021

WASHINGTON: A poll finds that a growing share of US adults doubt that 81-year-old President Joe Biden has the memory and acuity for the job, turning his coming State of the Union address into something of a real-time audition for a second term.
Roughly 6 in 10 say they’re not very or not at all confident in Biden’s mental capability to serve effectively as president, according to a new survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That’s a slight increase from January 2022, when about half of those polled expressed similar concerns.
By the same token, nearly 6 in 10 also say they lack confidence in the mental capability of former President Donald Trump, the 77-year-old Republican front-runner.
For many voters, this year’s election looks like a showdown for the world’s toughest job between two men who are well beyond the standard retirement age. The next president will probably need to steer through global conflicts, fix domestic emergencies and work with a dysfunctional Congress.
Biden is likely to address those challenges and more in his State of the Union address on Thursday as he tries to convince Americans that he deserves another term.
Going into the big event, just 38 percent of US adults approve of how Biden is handling his job as president, while 61 percent disapprove. Democrats (74 percent) are much likelier than independents (20 percent) and Republicans (6 percent) to favor his performance. But there’s broad discontent on the way Biden is handling a variety of issues, including the economy, immigration and foreign policy.
About 4 in 10 Americans approve of the way Biden is handling each of these issues: health care, climate change, abortion policy and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. But people are less satisfied by Biden’s handling of immigration (29 percent), the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians (31 percent) and the economy (34 percent) — all of which are likely to come up in the speech before a joint session of Congress.
Nearly 6 in 10 (57 percent) Americans think the national economy is somewhat or much worse off than before Biden took office in 2021. Only 3 in 10 adults say it’s better under his leadership. Still, people are more optimistic about the state of their own bank accounts: 54 percent say their personal finances are good.
Many respondents to the survey were deeply pessimistic about their likely choices in November because of age and the risk of cognitive decline.
Paul Miller, himself 84, said Biden is just too old — and so is Trump.
“He doesn’t seem to have the mental whatever to be a president,” Miller said of Biden. He added that Trump is “too old, too, and half crazy.”
The retiree from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, said he voted for Trump in 2020 but he wouldn’t do so again.
“I don’t think I’m going to vote for either one of them,” he said. “I hope somebody else is available.”
The president faces added pressure about his age after unflattering descriptions of him contained in a special counsel’s report that did not recommend criminal prosecution of Biden for his mishandling of classified records, unlike Trump who was indicted for keeping classified material in his Florida home. The report said that Biden’s memory was “hazy,” “fuzzy,” “faulty,” “poor” and had “significant limitations.”
Biden has tried to deflect concerns by joking about his age and taking jabs at Trump’s own gaffes. Yet the president’s age is a liability that has overshadowed his policy achievements on infrastructure, manufacturing and addressing climate change.
About one-third of Democrats said they’re not very or not at all confident in Biden’s mental capability in the new survey, up from 14 percent in January 2022. Only 40 percent of Democrats said they’re extremely or very confident in Biden’s mental abilities, with approximately 3 in 10 saying they’re “somewhat” confident.
And in a major risk for Biden, independents are much more likely to say that they lack confidence in his mental abilities (80 percent) compared with Trump’s (56 percent).
Republicans are generally more comfortable with Trump’s mental capabilities than Democrats are with Biden’s. In the survey, 59 percent of Republicans are extremely or very confident that Trump has the mental abilities to be president. An additional 20 percent are somewhat confident, and 20 percent are not very or not at all confident.
But if there is one thing Democrats and Republicans can agree upon, it’s that the other party’s likely nominee is not mentally up to the task. About 9 in 10 Republicans say Biden lacks the mental capability to serve as president, while a similar share of Democrats say that about Trump.
Part of Biden’s problem is that his policies have yet to break through the daily clutter of life.
Sharon Gallagher, 66, worries about inflation. She voted for Biden in 2020, but believes he has not done enough for the economy. She also feels Trump is a bit too quick to anger. The Sarasota, Florida, resident said she doesn’t have the bandwidth to really judge their policies.
“I don’t pay enough attention to politics to even know,” Gallagher said. “I have grandchildren living with me and I have children’s shows on all day.”
Justin Tjernlund, 40, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, said Biden “seems like he’s mostly still there,” but even if he was in decline he has “a whole army of people to help him do the job.” Trjenlund said he voted for Trump in 2020 and plans to do so again because the Republican is “interesting” and “refreshing.”
Still, because of both candidates’ ages, Greg Olivo, 62, said he plans to focus on Vice President Kamala Harris and whomever Trump, if he’s the nominee, picks for a running mate.
“Keep a close eye on the vice president,” said the machinist from Valley City, Ohio, who voted for Biden in 2020 and would do so again. “Because that person will probably be the president in four years, one way or another.”


Indian train drivers in crash that killed 14 were watching cricket

Indian train drivers in crash that killed 14 were watching cricket
Updated 04 March 2024
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Indian train drivers in crash that killed 14 were watching cricket

Indian train drivers in crash that killed 14 were watching cricket
  • Fatal collision in Andhra Pradesh state took place in October as hosts India played England during World Cup 
  • The men were sacked for negligence after some 50 carriages barrelled on solo for close to two hours

New Delhi: The drivers of a train that missed a signal and plowed into another train, killing 14 people, were distracted because they were watching cricket on a phone, India’s railways minister said Monday.

The fatal collision in Andhra Pradesh state in October took place as hosts India played England during the one-day World Cup.

“The recent case in Andhra Pradesh happened because both the loco-pilot and co-pilot were distracted by the cricket match,” Minister of Railways Ashwini Vaishnaw said, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

“Now we are installing systems which can detect any such distraction and make sure that the pilots (train drivers) and the assistant pilots are fully focused on running the train.”

Hundreds of millions of fans in cricket-crazy India tuned in to watch the live broadcast of the World Cup match, which the hosts won.

Separately, officials sacked the station master and three other employees after a runaway freight train traveled 70 kilometers (40 miles) without a driver last month, the Hindustan Times reported.

The men were removed from their posts for negligence after some 50 carriages barrelled on solo for close to two hours.

India has one of the world’s largest rail networks and has seen several disasters over the years, the worst in 1981 when a train derailed while crossing a bridge in Bihar state, killing an estimated 800 people.

In June 2023, a three-train collision killed nearly 300 people in Odisha state.

In recent years India has been investing huge sums of money to upgrade the network with modern stations and electronic signalling systems.


Indian police detain three accused of raping Brazilian-Spanish tourist

Indian police detain three accused of raping Brazilian-Spanish tourist
Updated 04 March 2024
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Indian police detain three accused of raping Brazilian-Spanish tourist

Indian police detain three accused of raping Brazilian-Spanish tourist
  • Spanish couple said they were camped out in the open as they could not find hotels nearby 
  • Indian police are searching for four others who were allegedly part of the group that attacked couple

SAO PAULO/BENGALURU/BARCELONA: Indian police have detained three men and are searching for four others accused of attacking two tourists and gang-raping the woman, authorities and the couple said.

Police found the couple, who are Spanish citizens, around 11 p.m. local time (1730 GMT) on Friday on a roadside, looking like they had suffered a beating, Pitamber Singh Kherwar, superintendent of police in Dumka in eastern India, told reporters on Saturday.

He did not give details on the crime or identify the victims, adding the two people told authorities “their modesty had been outraged,” in an incident involving seven men.

The couple, who identified themselves as Vicente and Fernanda to Spanish TV channel Antena 3, said in a video interview on Saturday that the men raped Fernanda and hit Vicente repeatedly.

The couple said they had camped out near the site where they were attacked because they could not find hotels nearby.

“They raped me, they took turns while some watched and they stayed like that for about two hours,” Fernanda, who has joint Brazilian-Spanish nationality, said in the interview.

Earlier this weekend, the couple published a video describing what happened on their joint Instagram account, where they post images of their travels around the world by motorcycle to almost 200,000 followers. The video is no longer available.

In a new video, Vicente and Fernanda, who appears with bruises on her face, thanked their followers for the support.

The Spanish Foreign Ministry said on Sunday it was sending staff to the area and had been in touch with authorities, while its Brazilian counterpart said it had sought contact with the Brazilian citizen through its embassy in New Delhi and was available to give every assist applicable.

Kherwar, the superintendent of police in Dumka, said on Saturday one of the people detained had given the authorities names of other people involved. Kherwar added that a forensic science laboratory was helping in the case.
 


The US and South Korea begin large military drills to boost readiness against North’s threats

The US and South Korea begin large military drills to boost readiness against North’s threats
Updated 04 March 2024
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The US and South Korea begin large military drills to boost readiness against North’s threats

The US and South Korea begin large military drills to boost readiness against North’s threats
  • North Korea had no immediate response to the major annual drills it regards as a rehearsal for invasion

SEOUL, South Korea: South Korea and the United States began large annual military exercises Monday to bolster their readiness against North Korean nuclear threats after the North raised animosities with an extension of missile tests and belligerent rhetoric earlier this year.
The South Korean and US forces began a computer-simulated command post training called the Freedom Shield exercise and a variety of field exercises for an 11-day run, the South Korean Defense Ministry said.
North Korea had no immediate response to the major annual drills it regards as a rehearsal for invasion. The North has staged provocative weapons tests in the past in reaction to its adversaries’ joint drills.
South Korea’s military said last week that it would conduct 48 field exercises with the US forces this spring, twice the number conducted last year, and that they would involve live-firing, bombing, air assault and missile interception drills.
Since early 2022, North Korea has conducted more than 100 rounds of missile tests to modernize its arsenal as talks with the United States and South Korea have been stalled for an extended period. In response, the United States and South Korea have expanded their training exercises and increased the deployment of powerful USmilitary assets such as aircraft carriers and long-range nuclear-capable bombers.
This year, North Korea carried out six rounds of missile tests and barrage of artillery firing drills. Its leader Kim Jong Un also said North Korea would scrap its long-standing goal of peaceful unification with South Korea and take a more aggressive military posture along the disputed sea boundary with South Korea. He also vowed to “annihilate” South Korea and the United States if provoked, a threat that he had previously issued.
The North Korean steps raised worries that it might make provocations along the tense Korean sea and land borders. But experts say the prospect for a full-blown attack by North Korea is dim as the North knows its military is outmatched by US and South Korean forces.
North Korea’s moves to raise tensions are likely related to upcoming elections planned by its rivals: the US presidential election in November and South Korea’s parliament election in April. North Korea believes an advanced nuclear arsenal will increase its leverage in future diplomacy and it can win concessions like the easing of international sanctions, experts say.


4 new astronauts head to the International Space Station for a 6-month stay

4 new astronauts head to the International Space Station for a 6-month stay
Updated 04 March 2024
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4 new astronauts head to the International Space Station for a 6-month stay

4 new astronauts head to the International Space Station for a 6-month stay
  • SpaceX’s Falcon rocket blasted off from Kennedy Space Center, carrying NASA’s Matthew Dominick, Michael Barratt and Jeanette Epps and Russia’s Alexander Grebenkin

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: Four astronauts headed to the International Space Station on Sunday where they will oversee the arrivals of two new rocketships during their half-year stint.
SpaceX’s Falcon rocket blasted off from Kennedy Space Center, carrying NASA’s Matthew Dominick, Michael Barratt and Jeanette Epps and Russia’s Alexander Grebenkin.
The astronauts should reach the orbiting lab on Tuesday. They will replace a crew from the US, Denmark, Japan and Russia, who have been there since August.
“When are you getting here already?” space station commander Andreas Mogensen asked via X, formerly Twitter, after three days of delay due to high wind. SpaceX Launch Control termed it “fashionably late.”
There was almost another postponement Sunday night. A small crack in the seal of the SpaceX capsule’s hatch prompted a last-minute flurry of reviews, but it was deemed safe for the whole mission.
The new crew’s six-month stay includes the arrival of two rocketships ordered by NASA. Boeing’s new Starliner capsule with test pilots is due in late April. A month or two later, Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser, a mini shuttle, should arrive. It is for delivering cargo to the station, but not passengers yet.
Epps was originally assigned to fly Boeing’s Starliner, which got bogged down with problems and stalled. NASA finally switched her to SpaceX.
“I am in a New York state of mind right now, it is amazing,” she said upon reaching orbit, referring to the Billy Joel song.
Epps, who is from Syracuse, N.Y., is the second Black woman assigned to a long station mission. She said before the flight that she is especially proud to be a role model for Black girls, demonstrating that spaceflight “is an option for them, that this is not just for other people.”
An engineer, she worked for Ford Motor Co. and the CIA before becoming an astronaut in 2009. Epps should have launched to the space station on a Russian rocket in 2018, but was replaced for reasons never publicly disclosed.
Also new to space are Dominick, a Navy pilot, and Grebenkin, a former Russian military officer.
Barratt, a doctor on his third mission, is the oldest full-time astronaut to fly in space. He turns 65 in April.
“It’s kind of like a roller coaster ride with a bunch of really excited teenagers,” Barratt said after reaching orbit. As for his age, he said before the flight, “As long as we stay healthy and fit and engaged, we’re good to fly.”
Flight controllers are monitoring a growing cabin leak on Russia’s side of the space station. The leak has doubled in size in the past few weeks and the area has been sealed off, NASA program manager Joel Montalbano said. He stressed there is no impact to station operations or crew safety.