USA

The US account deficit, the broadest measure of a trade imbalance, grew 8.2 percent to $856.7 billion in 2006, the fifth consecutive year it has set a record, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. During the fourth quarter, the deficit shrank 14.6 percent because of a lower foreign oil bill, but brought no overall gain.

The Energy Department has made "limited progress" in securing many of the world's most dangerous sources of radioactive material, the Government Accountability Office said Tuesday. In particular, con-gressional investigators said, more work needs to be done in Russia and in developing countries to prevent terrorists from obtaining nuclear materials that could be used to fashion so-called dirty bombs.

Congress is expected to vote Thursday on an early, nonbinding budget resolution that could set the stage for later showdowns with the White House. Democrats are calling for $18 billion more than President Bush is seeking in nondefense spending, much of it for education and veterans' medical programs. The proposal is for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

The leaders of the Big Three US automakers – General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler – made a rare joint appearance before Congress Wednesday. They highlighted industry strides in developing alternative vehicles while underscoring the costs (an estimated $100 billion) of raising fuel-economy standards to meet new federal rules.

The top 100 public pension funds invest in 101 companies with business interests in countries that sponsor terrorism, according to a report by the Center for Security Policy. The information was shared Tuesday at a Washington news conference in support of pending state legislative proposals to divest from companies in Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.

US Rep. Martin Meehan (D) of Massachusetts said Tuesday he will leave Congress after 15 years on the job to become the next chancellor at his alma mater, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. An intense campaign to fill his seat is expected.

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