USA

The Senate was on the verge of taking up a $2.4 trillion budget that passed by only three votes in the House Wednesday. The House approved the measure, which calls for increases in spending on defense and homeland security while extending popular tax cuts. Its Senate passage, however, appeared in doubt as moderate Republicans joined Democrats in questioning whether the bill sufficiently addresses rising deficits. The bill includes no provision to require Congress to make spending reductions to balance every tax cut and spending increase.

By a 99-to-0 vote Wednesday, the Senate approved "Project Bioshield" legislation aimed at speeding the development of vaccines and treatments for use in preventing harm to Americans from possible bioterrorism. The recent discovery of sarin gas in Iraq, along with past ricin and anthrax discoveries at the Capitol complex, has increased the sense of urgency. The Senate must now agree on a final form for the bill with the House, which previously passed its own version.

President Bush rejected calls to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an attempt to ease gasoline prices, which have risen to $2 or higher across the nation. Bush contends that using the reserve of about 660 million barrels in salt domes on the Gulf Coast would leave the US vulnerable during wartime. Some Democratic oppponents of the White House stance have urged him to pressure OPEC to increase production, which cartel members cut in March and April. His main focus, however, remained on his energy proposal, which he chastised Congress for not passing.

In a showdown with Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), the Democratic-controlled state Senate repealed a 1913 law he has cited in trying to bar local officials from issuing marriage licenses to out-of-state homosexual couples. The law bans nonresidents from marrying in Massachusetts if their union is not legal elsewhere. On Monday, Massachusetts became the only state to legalize same-sex marriages. Romney opposes them and believes that only couples who reside in or are moving to the state should be eligible for such licenses. He is considered certain to veto the repeal if it passes the House.

Despite concerns that independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader could damage Democrat John Kerry's election prospects, the latter did not ask his new rival to bow out of the race when they met Wednesday in Washington. Kerry also told the Associated Press that, if elected, he would consider nominating federal judges with known views opposing abortion so long as doing so didn't threaten to overturn the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the procedure.

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