USA

Congressional Republicans reached tentative agreement Wednesday on a $70 billion tax-cut package extending the 2003 reduction in capital gains taxes for two more years, according to a Republican US Senate aide. The package also reduces the alternative minimum tax - designed to nab wealthy tax-evaders but increasingly affecting middle-income families - through the end of this year. A second bill to extend popular tax breaks for businesses is still under negotiation, the aide said.

Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell won 56% of the vote for governor in Tuesday's Republican primary, clinching the nomination. Blackwell, who portrays himself as the best candidate to deliver his party from a year of scandals and infighting, is the first black candidate to run for governor in Ohio. Two other states also held primaries Tuesday, including North Carolina, where the district attorney prosecuting the Duke University rape case successfully fought off two challengers.

The US Postal Service announced Wednesday it plans to raise the price of a first-class stamp by 3 cents in spring, 2007, to 42 cents. Postmaster General John Potter cited rising gas prices as a reason for the hike, claiming that each penny increase in the gallon price of gasoline costs the post office $8 million. USPS is also considering a "forever" stamp that senders could use regardless of future rate hikes, designed to generate an immediate influx of cash by giving Americans incentive to stock up on stamps.

Northwest Airlines pilots agreed Wednesday to take 24 percent pay cuts to help the carrier reorganize and emerge from bankruptcy protection. Three-fifths of Northwest's 4,800 pilots voted to approve the 5 1/2 year pact, which Northwest says will save it $358 million. Baggage handlers voted down a wage-cut proposal, and flight attendants will vote by June 6.

Ten states sued the federal government Tuesday, attempting to force the Bush administration to strengthen gas mileage requirements for SUVs and trucks. The lawsuit contends the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration failed to adequately include environmental impact in their standard-setting process, as they are required by law to do.

The nation's four largest beverage distributors have agreed to stop nearly all soda sales to public schools, according to a deal announced Wednesday by the William J. Clinton Foundation. Under the contract, Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the American Beverage Association will sell only water, unsweetened juice and low-fat milks to elementary and middle schools. Diet sodas will be sold only to high schools. "It's a bold ... step that industry and childhood obesity advocates have decided to take together," Clinton spokesman Jay Carson said.

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