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Other News: Congress Demands Bank Repayment, Solis Confirmed as Labor Secretary

February 24, 2009 at 6:10 PM EST
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JIM LEHRER: Another bank that received federal rescue money is in trouble with Congress. More than a dozen leading Democrats demanded today that Northern Trust repay some of the $1.6 billion it got. They attacked the company for lavish parties at a professional golf tournament it sponsored last week. Northern Trust said the events were planned long ago and did not use taxpayer funds.

The 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia are a big step closer to gaining a real vote in Congress. The Senate has agreed to take up a bill giving the city of Washington a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The longstanding arguments over the issue were fought out on the Senate floor.

SEN. JON KYL, R-Ariz.: Article I says that the House shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states and the elections in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature. Obviously, that doesn’t apply to the District of Columbia.

SEN. DICK DURBIN, D-Ill.: I don’t think that’s a strong argument. Our federal judiciary has long treated the District of Columbia as a state for many purposes. For example, D.C. residents pay federal income tax, serve on federal juries, register for Selective Service. Why should the right to vote be different?

JIM LEHRER: Washington, D.C., is overwhelmingly Democratic, so the bill also includes an extra House seat for Utah, a strongly Republican state. The Senate could vote on the bill by the end of the week. If it passes, the House is expected to go along, and President Obama has said he’d sign it.

Another member of the Obama cabinet is ready to begin work. The Senate confirmed Congresswoman Hilda Solis as labor secretary. The California Democrat had faced questions about tax liens against her husband’s business. Ultimately, Republicans agreed not to filibuster the nomination.

President Obama has settled on another nominee for commerce secretary. It was widely reported former Washington state Gov. Gary Locke will be announced tomorrow. The president’s first two choices pulled out. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson stepped aside over a probe of state contracts; Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire withdrew citing policy differences.

The pilot who safely landed an airliner in the Hudson River off New York City has issued a warning. Captain Chesley Sullenberger told a House hearing the economy will hurt flight safety. He said pay cuts are driving away many seasoned pilots.

CAPT. CHESLEY SULLENBERGER, U.S. Airways: In aviation, the bottom line is that the single most important piece of safety equipment is an experienced, well-trained pilot.

Despite the economic turbulence hitting our industry, the airline companies must refocus their attention and their resources on the recruitment and retention of highly experienced and well-trained pilots and make that a priority that is at least equal to their financial bottom line.

JIM LEHRER: Sullenberger has been a pilot since 1980. He said his own pay was cut 40 percent in recent years. Last month, he put his U.S. Airways plane in the water after a bird strike knocked out his engines. All 155 people aboard survived, but the air traffic controller who handled the flight said he expected the worst. He said he thought the water landing was a “death sentence.”

A roadside bombing has killed four U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan. It was the worst attack on coalition forces there so far this year. The U.S. military also reported police in Iraq opened fire on U.S. troops in Mosul. One American was killed; three were wounded.

There’s been a rise in U.S. casualties in Iraq in recent days, including three soldiers killed on Monday.

Meanwhile in Pakistan, Taliban militants in the northwestern Swat Valley said they will extend a nine-day truce with the government for an indefinite period. The government has offered to impose Islamic law in the region if the militants disarm. It remained unclear if the Taliban fighters are ready to give up their guns.