In other news Wednesday, a jobs bill passed the Senate with some bipartisan support and a new economic report indicates that wholesale prices plunged in February because a big drop in energy prices offset higher food costs.
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Amid the health care battle, a jobs bill won final passage in the U.S. Senate today, with some bipartisan support. It includes about $18 billion in business tax breaks and $20 billion for highway and transit programs. Eleven Republicans voted for the bill.
And, later, President Obama voiced his thanks.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:
I appreciate their willingness to work with Democrats in a bipartisan fashion to get America moving again. And, as I said, I hope that, on a series of future steps that we take to help small businesses get financing, to help improve our infrastructure around country, to put people back to work, that we're going to see more progress on that front.
Jobs bills on a larger scale are also in the works.
Wall Street took heart from a drop in wholesale prices last month keeping inflation in check. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 47 points to close at 10733, its best finish in 18 months. The Nasdaq rose 11 points to close at 2389.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is now investigating several large financial firms involved in the Wall Street meltdown. The agency's chairman, Mary Schapiro, confirmed it today at a House hearing. She didn't name the companies. A federal bankruptcy examiner has reported, Lehman Brothers used an accounting gimmick to hide bad debts before it collapsed.
The chairman of the Federal Reserve urged Congress today not to scale back the Fed's oversight role. A financial reform bill in the Senate would strip the Fed of authority over smaller banks.
But Ben Bernanke told a House hearing, it's crucial to know what's happening at all levels.
BEN BERNANKE, Federal Reserve chairman: Smaller and medium-sized banks are very valuable to us. And they provide irreplaceable information, both in terms of making monetary policy, in terms of us understanding the economy, but also in terms of financial stability.
The Fed has faced criticism that lax oversight helped cause the financial crisis in 2008. Bernanke said the agency is taking steps to improve.
A court in Pakistan has indicted five young American Muslims on terror charges. The men are all from the Washington, D.C., area. They were taken into custody last December in Punjab province. The court charged the five with plotting attacks inside Pakistan and Afghanistan and on U.S. territory. Their trial is set to begin on March 31.
In Afghanistan, the top NATO commander said today initial operations have begun to get control of Kandahar, birthplace of the Taliban. General Stanley McChrystal said the campaign is a gradual effort, not one main military assault. Also today, the British military announced two of their soldiers died Tuesday in a bombing in the Helmand Province. And up to 35 Afghans died when a bus smashed into other vehicles and caught fire in a mountain pass north of Kabul.
Shiite rebels in Yemen released at least 170 government soldiers today under a truce. The hostages were handed over in the northern province of Saada, where most of the fighting has taken place. The release came a day after the government charged, the rebels were not living up to their terms of the truce.
State prison populations in the U.S. have dropped for the first time since 1972. A report by the Pew Center on the States found more than two dozen states cut their number of inmates last year. California and Michigan led the way. Together, they reduced their populations by 7,500 fewer inmates. According to the report, the decreases are due in part to budget cuts.