USA

The House opened consideration of reform legislation on lobbying and ethics Thursday in the wake of the Abramoff scandal. The measure would require lobbyists to report twice as often on their activities and would suspend privately sponsored trips by members through year's end. GOP leaders said the bill would help to restore public trust in how Congress does business. But Democrats and some liberal Republicans called it weak.

The Senate planned to vote Thursday on a series of amendments by Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma designed to cut add-ons from an emergency spending measure. President Bush requested the measure to fund the Iraq war and hurricane relief, but has threatened to veto it unless it is reduced by more than $10 billion. Coburn's attempt on Wednesday to eliminate a $700 million Mississippi railroad relocation project failed by one vote.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits grew by 315,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Applications increased by 11,000 from last week to the highest level since March 11. Economists had forecasted a increase of only 2,000 applicants.

Presidential adviser Karl Rove testified for the fifth time Wednesday before a grand jury considering evidence in the Valerie Plame affair. Rove underwent three hours of questioning about a new issue, raised since he last testified in October. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzerald did not comment on the session, but an uncorroborated source close to Rove said that the hearing focused on whether he misled a previous grand jury about his role in revealing the covert CIA identity of Valerie Plame.

Privately owned MediaNews Group Inc. of Denver agreed to pay $1 billion for three California newspapers and one in Minnesota in a deal that helps the seller avoid possible antitrust action. McClatchy Co. of Sacramento, Calif., said when it acquired the nation's No. 2 newspaper chain, Knight Ridder, last month that it intended to sell 12 dailies because they're in markets that are not growing rapidly. Among them is the Pioneer Press of St, Paul, Minn, McClatchy already owns the Star-Tribune in nearby Minneapolis.

Construction crews and excavation trucks reported to work Thursday at ground zero in New York, marking the beginning of work to build the Freedom Tower, the symbolic skyscraper that will replace the towers of the World Trade Center, destroyed on 9/11. For the next month, crews will be relocating utilities and doing other preparatory work before laying the building's foundation.

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