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Political Notebook

Pelosi tightens travel rules for House lawmakers

President Obama greeted Sergeant Kimberly Munley (center) of the Fort Hood Police Department after presenting her and other officers with awards at the White House yesterday. President Obama greeted Sergeant Kimberly Munley (center) of the Fort Hood Police Department after presenting her and other officers with awards at the White House yesterday. (Associated Press/ Pablo Martinez)
May 15, 2010

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WASHINGTON — House lawmakers traveling on official business will be sitting back with the tourists and spending their own money on souvenirs under new rules announced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday.

Lawmakers and their staffs will have to fly coach or economy class for almost all overseas trips, with business-class seats allowed only when a trip is more than 14 hours, Pelosi said. The new rule applies to domestic flights, too.

“These travel policy announcements are part of our continuing effort to ensure transparency and accountability in congressional management,’’ the California Democrat said.

They also come six months before congressional elections in which government overspending is certain to be an issue.

Pelosi, in a letter to committee chairs, makes clear that per diem payments provided to members or staff can be used only for official purposes: That would exclude spending on gifts or souvenirs or personal side trips. And all excess funds are to be returned to the Treasury.

Per diems amounts are determined by the State Department and vary widely, depending on the location. The per diem for Paris is $481, but in Afghanistan, where official visitors are housed in government facilities, the per diem is $28.

Pelosi also restates or strengthens existing rules: That any member seeking to travel must provide an itinerary, an explanation of purpose, and a cost estimate to the relevant committee chairman and that spouses and other family members may accompany a member only when necessary for protocol purposes and at no cost to the government. -- Associated Press

Kennedy decries narrow questioning of nominees
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Justice Anthony Kennedy criticized the way some senators question Supreme Court nominees and defended President Obama’s pursuit of empathetic judges in a speech yesterday in south Florida.

Kennedy said the Senate should not try to determine how high court nominee Elena Kagan would rule on specific issues, but should focus broadly on whether she has the qualities of a good judge.

“Just to ask questions to try to figure out how the judge would rule on a specific question seems to me a rather short-term exercise,’’ he said, responding to a question from an audience member. “What you should ask is whether the judge has the temperament, the commitment, the character, the learning to assume those responsibilities.’’

The president drew wide criticism from Republicans last year when he said Sonia Sotomayor would bring “empathy’’ to the bench. Critics said that meant judges could bring personal whims and prejudices, but Kennedy disagreed.

“You certainly can’t formulate principles without being aware of where those principles will take you, what their consequences will be,’’ he told an audience of about 750 at a joint meeting of the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches and the Palm Beach County Bar Association. “Law is a human exercise.’’ -- Associated Press

Obama presents award for bravery to officers
WASHINGTON — President Obama honored more than two dozen police officers as “shining examples’’ of a profession that requires them to put the welfare of their fellow citizens ahead of their own.

Every day officers “put on a badge and go to work knowing danger could be waiting around the corner,’’ the president told recipients of the TOP COPS award, which is given to officers who go “above and beyond the call of duty,’’ according to the National Association of Police Organizations.

Those honored were nominated by fellow police officers for accomplishments of the previous year. They represented nine states and the federal government, including Sergeants Kimberly Munley and Mark Todd of the Fort Hood Police Department, who were credited with stopping the shooting spree at the Army base in Texas last year. -- Bloomberg News

Business lobby will join suit to stop health law
WASHINGTON — Attorneys general and governors for 20 states won’t be alone in their legal challenge to President Obama’s health care overhaul.

One of the nation’s most influential small business lobbies is going to court with them.

The National Federation of Independent Business will join the argument that Americans cannot be required under the Constitution to obtain insurance coverage, the group’s president, Dan Danner, said yesterday.

Regardless of whether that argument sways federal judges hearing the case, the group’s involvement ensures that the point will be heard extensively during the fall political campaigns. With 350,000 members, the group has a network of local activists. -- Associated Press