Democrats hoping Rep. Weiner will quit on his own

Posted June 14, 2011, at 10:31 p.m.

WASHINGTON — House Democrats are counting on growing pressure from Rep. Anthony Weiner’s colleagues, a suggestion from the president and the return of Weiner’s pregnant wife from an overseas trip to persuade him to resign over a sexting scandal in which he sent lewd photos of himself and messages to several women.

The House’s top Republican, Speaker John Boehner, joined the chorus of Democrats calling for the New York Democrat to quit. House Democrats went behind closed doors for their regular party meeting, but they decided against taking action against Weiner in hopes that he’ll resign soon.

A fellow member of Weiner’s New York Democratic delegation, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, said before the meeting, “Hopefully, we are hearing he might resign in a couple of days.”When she emerged later, she added: “He’s waiting for his wife to come home. That’s what we’re hearing from his friends.

“Weiner’s wife, State Department official Huma Abedin, is due back from an overseas trip early Wednesday with her boss, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Weiner, meanwhile, has sought treatment at an undisclosed location and has been granted a two-week leave of absence from Congress.

The House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, made the suggestion again after the meeting, saying she wanted to make sure nobody missed her earlier resignation call while members were on a weeklong recess.

Pelosi said she concluded that “with the love of his family, the confidence of his constituents and the need for help … Congressman Weiner should resign from the Congress.”

Arizona wildfire near biggest in state history

LUNA, N.M. — An enormous wildfire in eastern Arizona is poised to become the largest in state history, as firefighters tried Tuesday to keep the blaze from crossing into New Mexico and devouring a small mountain town.Fires also grew elsewhere in New Mexico and at the state’s border with Colorado, where flames forced the closure of a busy interstate highway.

In Luna, N.M., evacuation plans are in place for the roughly 200 residents. Crews have been working to protect the town for days, hacking down brush, using chain saws to cut trees and setting small fires to burn anything that the approaching flames could use as fuel.

“That’s what’s saved the town,” fire incident command spokesman Sean Johnson said. “The line is holding.”Fires have devoured hundreds of square miles in the Southwest and Texas since the wildfire season began several weeks ago.

Scant winter precipitation in Arizona, New Mexico, part of west Texas and southern Colorado is blamed on La Nina, a term describing cooler waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean which keep the jet stream from dipping down and bringing storms to the region.

Those storms instead dropped their rain and snow farther north, which has led to huge snowpack in the Sierra Nevada range in California and in the Rockies.

The wildfire outlook issued by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, calls for above normal fire potential in those areas through September, but lower than normal or normal across the rest of the West.The huge blaze in Arizona was also made worse by the extremely thick forest, the result of a century of fire suppression that has let more trees grow in the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest.

Social Security makes $8B in improper payments

WASHINGTON — The Social Security Administration made $6.5 billion in overpayments to people not entitled to receive them in 2009, including $4 billion under a supplemental income program for the very poor, a government investigator said Tuesday.

In all, about 10 percent of the payments made by the agency’s Supplemental Security Income program were improper, said Patrick P. O’Carroll Jr., the inspector general for Social Security.

The program has strict limits on income and assets, and most of the overpayments went to people who did not report all their resources, O’Carroll said.Error rates were much smaller for retirement, survivor and disability benefits, which make up the overwhelming majority of Social Security payments, O’Carroll told a congressional panel.”By any standard, the scope of these problems is considerable,” said Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee.

“Regardless of whether a payment occurs because of simple error or outright fraud, improper payments harm Social Security programs in the long term, jeopardizing benefits for those who may need them in the future. They also cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year.

“Social Security also made nearly $1.5 billion in underpayments, raising the total amount of improper payments to $8 billion in the 2009 budget year, O’Carroll said.With lawmakers working to reduce soaring budget deficits, efforts to reduce improper government payments are getting attention in Congress and the White House.

In 2009, President Barack Obama directed federal agencies to reduce improper payments, and last year, Congress set a goal of reducing the payments by $50 billion by 2012.

Tanks, troops move to snuff out Syria resistance

BOYNUYOGUN, Turkey — Syrian tanks and the government’s most loyal troops pushed into more towns and villages Tuesday, trying to snuff out any chance that the uprising against President Bashar Assad could gain a base for a wider armed rebellion.

Facing the most serious threat to his family’s 40-year ruling dynasty, Assad has abandoned most pretenses of reform as his military seals off strategic areas in the north and east — including the town of Jisr al-Shughour, which was spinning out of government control before the military moved in on Sunday.

“The [Syrian forces] damage homes and buildings, kill even animals, set trees and farmlands on fire,” said Mohammad Hesnawi, 26. He fled Jisr al-Shughour over the weekend and spoke to The Associated Press from this border area of Turkey, where some 8,000 Syrians are seeking refuge in camps.

Pro-democracy activists, citing witnesses, said the military also surrounded al-Boukamal, along the Iraqi border, an area that was a major smuggling route for insurgents and weapons into Iraq in the 2000s. Syrian officials have expressed concern over a reverse flow of arms into Syria, and in March security forces seized a large quantity of weapons hidden in a truck coming from Iraq.Activists say more than 1,400 Syrians have died and some 10,000 have been detained in the government crackdown since the popular uprising began in mid-March, inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

Assad initially responded with vague promises of reform, but the increasingly deadly government crackdown has only added fuel to the movement. Thousands of protesters across the country now vow to continue until Assad leaves power.

There is no sign of that, however. The crackdown has obliterated a view held by many in Syria and abroad of Assad as a reformer at heart, one constrained by members of his late father’s old guard who were fighting change, especially privileged members of the Assads’ minority Alawite sect.

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