Vice President Cheney cut short his overseas diplomatic mission after meeting Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf to fly home and, if necessary, cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate on a key deficit-reduction bill. The legislation, which would make deeper cuts in the Medicaid healthcare program while trimming the budget deficit by $40 billion through the end of the decade, is a priority of the Bush administration. A vote could occur Wednesday or Thursday. Cheney is skipping visits to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Aided by falling energy costs, wholesale prices dropped 0.7 percent last month, the biggest decline since a 1.5 percent plunge in April 2003, the Labor Department reported. Meanwhile, construction of new homes and apartments rose 5.2 percent, with solid growth in all parts regions except the South.

US relief groups have spent about 42 percent of the $1.78 billion raised from private donations to aid victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, according to a report released Tuesday. InterAction, an umbrella group representing 165 US-based aid organizations, said spending levels in the nine months following the Dec. 26 tsunami reflected the fact that many projects were only in the first year of multiyear commitments. The report also attributed delays to the uneven pace of recovery from the deadly earthquake and waves.

Investigators searching for the cause of Monday's fatal crash of a seaplane that plunged into the ocean just off Miami Beach, killing all 18 people on board, said they will focus on locating the cockpit recorder and maintenance and operation records. The plane was en route to Bimini in the Bahamas when it exploded seconds after takeoff. There was no immediate indication of terrorism or criminal intent. The crash was the first in the history of Chalk's Ocean Airways to involve a passenger fatality.

In a settlement of a suit brought by a black inmate, California's prison system said that beginning in March, officials will end the longstanding practice of using race as a principal criterion in segregating inmates. In an effort to reduce the risk of racial violence, inmates have been bunked with those of the same race for their first 60 days. After that they are assigned mostly on a nonracial basis, but are resegregated after transfers.

For the second time since being formed in 2003, the Commission for Assistance to Free Cuba, a federal panel, convened in Washington under the leadership of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. According to Rice, the group's goal is to find ways to "marshal our resources and expertise and encourage our democratic allies to be ready to support Cuba when the inevitable opportunity for genuine change arises."

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