Nation roundup for June 21


House rejects farm bill, 62 Republicans vote no

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House rejected a five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill Thursday that would have cut $2 billion annually from food stamps and let states impose broad new work requirements on those who receive them.

Those cuts weren’t deep enough for many Republicans who objected to the cost of the nearly $80 billion-a-year food stamp program, which has doubled in the past five years. The vote was 234-195 against the bill, with 62 Republicans voting against it.

The bill also suffered from lack of Democratic support necessary for the traditionally bipartisan farm bill to pass. Only 24 Democrats voted in favor of the legislation after many said the food stamp cuts could remove as many as 2 million needy recipients from the rolls. The addition of the optional state work requirements by Republican amendment just before final passage turned away many remaining Democratic votes.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and No. 2 Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland, both of whom voted for the bill, immediately took to the House floor and blamed the other’s party for the defeat.

Cantor said it was a “disappointing day” and that Democrats had been a “disappointing player.”

Hoyer suggested that Republicans voted for the food stamp work requirements to tank the bill.

“What happened today is you turned a bipartisan bill, necessary for our farmers, necessary for our consumers, necessary for the people of America, that many of us would have supported, and you turned it into a partisan bill,” he said.

The Senate overwhelmingly passed its version of the farm bill last week, with about $2.4 billion a year in overall cuts and a $400 million annual decrease in food stamps — one-fifth of the House bill’s food stamp cuts. The White House was supportive of the Senate version but had issued a veto threat of the House bill.

If the two chambers cannot come together on a bill, farm-state lawmakers could push for an extension of the 2008 farm bill that expires in September or negotiate a new bill with the Senate and try again.

Some conservatives have suggested separating the farm programs and the food stamps into separate bills. Farm-state lawmakers have for decades added food stamps to farm bills to garner urban votes for the rural bill. But that marriage has made passage harder this year.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said Thursday that the committee is assessing all its options and will continue its work in the “near future.”

Just before the vote, Lucas pleaded with his colleagues’ support, saying that if the measure didn’t pass people would use it as an example of a dysfunctional Congress.

“If it fails today I can’t guarantee you’ll see in this Congress another attempt,” he said.

Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, said he believes the work requirements and a vote that scuttled a proposed dairy overhaul turned too many lawmakers against the measure.

“I had a bunch of people come up to me and say I was with you but this is it, I’m done,” Peterson said after the vote.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, voted for the bill but lobbied for the dairy amendment that caused some dairy-state lawmakers to eventually turn on the legislation. Cantor vocally supported the amendment that imposed the work requirements, coming to the House floor just before that vote and the final vote to endorse it.

Though passage has been in the balance all week, the vote against the bill was larger than many expected. When the final vote count was read, House Democrats cheered loudly, led by members of the Congressional Black Caucus who had fought the food stamp cuts.

The defeat is also a major victory for conservative taxpayer groups and environmental groups who have unsuccessfully worked against the bill for years. Those groups have aggressively lobbied lawmakers in recent weeks, hoping to capitalize on the more than 200 new members of the House since the last farm bill passed five years ago. Many of those new members are conservative Republicans who replaced moderate rural Democrats who had championed farm policy.

Those groups were emboldened after the vote.

“We need to put farm subsidies on a path to elimination and we need to devolve food stamps to the state level where they belong,” said Chris Chocola, president of the conservative advocacy group Club for Growth.

All-women jury chosen for George Zimmerman’s trial

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — A jury of six women, five of them white, was picked Thursday to decide the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who says he fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in self-defense.

Prosecutors have said Zimmerman, 29, racially profiled the 17-year-old Martin as he walked back from a convenience store on a rainy night in February 2012 wearing a dark hooded shirt.

The race and ethnicity of the sixth juror was not immediately available. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic.

Two of the jurors recently moved to the area — one from Iowa and one from Chicago — and two are involved with rescuing animals as their hobbies.

One juror had a prior arrest, but she said it was disposed of and she thought she was treated fairly. Two jurors have guns in their homes. All of their names have been kept confidential and the panel will be sequestered for the trial.

Opening statements are scheduled for Monday.

The central Florida community of Sanford is in Seminole County, which is 78.5 percent white and 16.5 percent black, roughly mirroring the jury’s racial makeup.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys chose the panel of six jurors after almost two weeks of jury selection. In Florida, 12 jurors are required only for criminal trials involving capital cases, when the death penalty is being considered.

If convicted, Zimmerman could face a potential life sentence.

On Feb. 26, 2012, Zimmerman spotted Martin, whom he did not recognize, walking in the gated townhome community where Zimmerman lived and the fiancee of Martin’s father also resided. There had been a rash of recent break-ins at the Retreat, and Zimmerman was wary of strangers walking through the complex.

The two eventually got into a struggle and Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest with his 9mm handgun. He was charged 44 days after the shooting, only after a special prosecutor was appointed to review the case.

Martin’s shooting death and the initial decision not to charge Zimmerman led to public outrage and demonstrations around the nation, with some accusing Sanford police of failing to thoroughly investigate the shooting.

The six jurors were culled from a pool of 40 candidates who made it into a second round of jury questioning. Two men and two women also were picked as alternate jurors.

Before selecting the jurors Thursday, defense attorney Mark O’Mara explored potential jurors’ views on guns, self-defense and justifiable use of force.

Under Florida law, Zimmerman could shoot Martin in self-defense if it was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm. O’Mara previously decided not to invoke a “stand your ground” hearing in which a judge alone would decide whether to dismiss the case or allow it to proceed to trial.

After the jury was picked, Judge Debra Nelson continued a hearing on whether to allow experts to testify about screams heard on 911 calls made during the struggle. Prosecutors want their expert to testify it was Martin screaming on the calls. An expert for Zimmerman’s defense has said there is not enough audio to determine who the screams are coming from.

New Colo. law strikes all-online firearm training

DENVER (AP) — In an age where you can buy a car or get a college degree without ever leaving the house, Colorado lawmakers have made one thing impossible to obtain from comfort of the couch: A concealed weapon permit.

A new law requires people to show a firearm instructor in person that they can safely handle a gun before they get a permit, seeking to close what lawmakers say is an Internet-era loophole they didn’t envision 10 years ago.

“There was no thought of anyone going and sitting in front of a computer and doing the whole course online,” said Democratic Sen. Lois Tochtrop, a sponsor of the new law, and one of the legislators who voted in favor of Colorado’s concealed-carry law in 2003.

Most states require proof of training to carry a concealed weapon. Instructors teach basics like how to load and unload a gun, how to hold it and fire it and ways to store it properly. Only a few states allow people to complete a concealed-carry training course entirely online.

Some Colorado lawmakers were astonished at the ease with which people could get a concealed-carry training certificate. Democratic Rep. Jenise May, who sponsored the bill with Tochtrop, said one of her staffers found a course online and got a certificate in less than an hour after answering eight questions and skipping a training video.

Colorado was one of the few states to pass gun legislation this year, despite national outrage over mass shootings and President Barack Obama’s failed attempts to get federal gun laws through Congress. Laws to provide for universal background checks and limits on ammunition magazines made it through the state Legislature with no Republican support.

The change in training rules got a handful of Republican votes, although most in the state GOP rejected the idea of scrapping all-online training permits.

“We allow people to obtain full, four-year college degrees online. Why wouldn’t you be allowed to obtain the training for a concealed carry weapons permit completely online?” said Republican Sen. Greg Brophy.

The importance of in-person gun training is debated.

Those who offer the all-online courses insist their teachings are rigorous, and say they’re filling a market need of the digital age by allowing people to complete a class quicker and cheaper than before.

Eric Korn, the president and CEO of Virginia-based American Firearms Training, said he started offering online handgun training in Colorado about two years ago, and his company also offers training in other states where all-online permits are allowed — Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Iowa, Missouri and Virginia.

He said the online courses are just as effective. His company’s training includes six videos and more than 100 exam questions, and is much cheaper than in-person training: $50 once you pass the course to get the certificate, free if you don’t pass. In-person training courses can cost three times as much.

“I think what we did was socially conscious and relevant,” Korn said.

Other firearm trainers say there’s no substitute for learning gun safety in person.

“My point of view is, nobody knows everything about firearm safety,” said Kevin Holroyd, who runs a business called Colorado Concealed Carry. He said his training — which is offered at his Aurora location — lasts about eight hours and includes information on shooting fundamentals such showing people to always keep a gun pointed in a safe direction and always keep their finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.

Colorado county sheriffs, who are the final authority on whether to approve or deny concealed-carry training permits, supported the bill, even though they opposed the other new firearm restrictions.

Some counties already refused to approve permits if the training was done entirely online. Sheriffs don’t keep track of how many certificates were approved from all-online courses, said Chris Olson, the executive director of the County Sheriffs of Colorado.

Sheriffs had concerns about the online training, saying it wasn’t enough to learn proper safety procedures, Olson said.

In Oregon, Democratic lawmakers also want to get people away from their computer and to a real instructor. The proposal would specify that training courses could not be taken online. However, the bill doesn’t appear to have enough support to get out of committee.

“There are responsibilities that come with having a concealed handgun permit, and one of them is knowing how to use it,” said Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Eugene Democrat and chief sponsor of the bill. His proposal would’ve also required people to pass a “live” fire test but that provision has been dropped from the bill.

John W. Jones, the executive director of the Virginia Sheriff’s Association, said online training has not surfaced as a big concern for his group. Although in Virginia the court clerks issue concealed-carry permits, the sheriffs have veto authority, Jones said.

“Everybody does things online. My sense is that we can live with it if it’s good course,” he said.

Wyoming is even more unusual: A concealed-carry permit is only required if people want to use it in another state.

Colorado’s new law, which took effect after the governor signed it last month, still allows most of the training to be done online. It requires, though, that a gun owner complete show an instructor in person they know how to handle a gun.

It’s like driver’s training, May said: People can learn the basics of driving and the rules of the road online, but have to take the actual driving test in person.

“People need to know how to shoot a weapon and store correctly so it doesn’t go off,” May said. “Those are all things that you can’t necessarily learn from the Internet.”

Stocks extend slide as China adds to worries

NEW YORK (AP) — There was no let-up in the flight from stocks and bonds Thursday as the Dow Jones industrial average plunged 353 points and wiped out almost two months of gains.

A day after the Federal Reserve roiled U.S financial markets when it said it could step back from its aggressive economic stimulus program later this year, financial markets continued to slide. A slowdown in Chinese manufacturing added to Wall Street’s worries.

The breadth of the sell-off was seen across global financial markets, from sharply lower stock markets in Asia to falling government bond prices in Europe and the U.S. Gold also plunged.

The Dow’s drop — which knocked the average down 2.3 percent to 14,758.32 — was its biggest since November 2011. It comes just three weeks after the blue-chip index reached an all-time high of 15,409.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 lost 40.74 points, or 2.5 percent, to 1,588.19. It also reached a record high last month, peaking at 1,669.

Small-company stocks fell more than the rest of the market, a sign that investors are aggressively reducing risk.

In U.S. government debt, the yield on the benchmark 10-year note rose to its highest level since August 2011.

A Fed policy statement and comments from Chairman Ben Bernanke started the selling in stocks and bonds Wednesday. Bernanke said the Fed expects to scale back its massive bond-buying program later this year and end it entirely by mid-2014 if the economy continues to improve.

The bank has been buying $85 billion a month in Treasury and mortgage bonds, a program that has kept borrowing costs near historic lows for consumers and business. It has also helped boost the stock market.

Alec Young, a global equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ, said investors weren’t expecting Bernanke to say the program could end so quickly, and are adjusting their portfolios in anticipation of higher U.S. interest rates.

“What we’re seeing is a pretty significant sea-change in investor strategy,” Young said.

As financial markets dropped, investors likely put the proceeds of their sales in cash as they waited for the dust to settle, said Quincy Krosby, a market strategist at Prudential Financial.

Investors “are raising cash right now, for fear the deterioration will continue,” said Krosby.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.41 percent, from 2.35 percent Wednesday. It’s up sharply since May 3, when it hit a year low of 1.63 percent.

Government bonds are used as benchmarks for mortgage rates. The sharp increase in yields prompted investors to sell the stocks of homebuilders, whose business could be hurt if the pace of home buying slows down. Even an encouraging report on home sales Thursday failed to arrest the slide.

PulteGroup plunged $1.89, or 9.1 percent, to $18.87. D.R. Horton fell $2.13, also 9.1 percent, to $21.31.

Markets were also unnerved after manufacturing in China slowed at a faster pace this month as demand weakened. That added to concerns about growth in the world’s second-largest economy. A monthly purchasing managers index from HSBC fell to a nine-month low of 48.3 in June. Numbers below 50 indicate a contraction.

 

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