Following the House's rejection earlier this week of a federal buyout of tobacco farms, the Senate was preparing to vote Thursday on a buyout that would be financed by cigarette companies themselves. The latter plan would pay farmers $13 billion over six years to let go of government-guaranteed crop supports. In a companion bill, lawmakers were to vote on whether to give the Food and Drug Administration power to regulate the sale and marketing of cigarettes and tobacco products.

Illinois Republicans were left scrambling to find a replacement candidate for the US Senate after former Chicago Bears football coach Mike Ditka decided said he wouldn't run despite efforts to recruit him. The GOP ticket was vacated three weeks ago by banker Jack Ryan, who bowed out of the race following embarrassing allegations in his divorce papers. James Oberweis, runner-up to Ryan in the primary, is a possible candidate, but no one appeared eager to take on Democrat Barack Obama, a state senator who is seen as a rising star of the national party, which announced Wednesday that he'll deliver the keynote address at its convention in Boston July 27.

President Bush, who has come in for criticism for not addressing the NAACP's convention in Philadelphia, will speak July 23 at the annual meeting of the Urban League, another civil rights group, the White House announced Wednesday, citing "hostile rhetoric" by NAACP leaders for keeping him away. Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, a scheduled Thursday speaker at the NAACP meeting, was expected to tell conventioneers that, if elected, he'd commit to talking to people who disagree with him. (Editorial, page 8.)

With Bush's signature Thursday, a new law imposing mandatory five-year prison sentences for using fake IDs in terroristrelated crimes was scheduled to take effect. In a related development, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told USA Today that the federal government is dropping plans to collect personal data on airline passengers because of privacy concerns.

A crackdown on human smuggling at Los Angeles International Airport earlier this week resulted in the arrests of 64 illegal immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries, border-patrol authorities reported. All of the immigrants had planned to board flights to other parts of the US, according to officials who've focused on that airport as a new hub for smuggling rings.

Wholesale prices dipped by 0.3 percent in June, the Commerce Department reported. Meanwhile new claims for unemployment benefits jumped by a seasonally adjusted 40,000 last week to 349,000, according to statistics released by the Labor Department.

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