GOP chief says combine bills

WASHINGTON - President Bush's most powerful ally on Capitol Hill said yesterday that Congress should wrap its uncompleted budget work into a huge spending bill combining funding for the Iraq war with unfinished domestic spending bills.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) offered to work with Democrats seeking increases in domestic programs, provided any such "omnibus" bill also contain funding for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But top Democrats have vowed that Bush will not receive more troop funding this year without conditions. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) promised to bring up a bill providing $50 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, but faces a GOP filibuster since the bill sets a nonbinding goal that most troops come home by Dec. 15, 2008.

- AP

Clinton attacks Obama's record

CLEAR LAKE, Iowa - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday sharpened her attacks on rival Barack Obama, saying the country needs "a doer, not a talker" in the White House and mocking the senator's record in public office.

In points she once left to surrogates to make, Clinton assailed Obama for his series of "present" votes while in the Illinois legislature. She said: "It's kind of like voting 'maybe.' A president can't pick and choose which challenges he or she will face."

Among other votes, Obama voted "present" in 1997 on two bills that would have outlawed so-called partial-birth abortion and two 2001 bills on parental notification of minors seeking abortions. Obama's campaign said his "present" votes on abortion were cast with the support of the head of the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council. Spokesman Bill Burton said Obama "doesn't need lectures in political courage" from Clinton.

- AP

9/11 aid agency to be probed

WASHINGTON - Federal officials said yesterday that they would investigate why a $1 billion Sept. 11 insurance fund Congress created to cover claims of sick ground-zero workers is fighting the cases in court rather than distributing money.

The World Trade Center Captive Insurance Company has come under scrutiny from Congress and the federal government, as roughly 8,000 individual claims await judgment in the federal court system.

The Homeland Security inspector general told Congress his inquiry would determine why the company "has chosen to litigate all claims instead of settling whenever possible." The company said it was cooperating.

- AP

Elsewhere:

Seven astronauts

arrived for the start of countdown in Cape Canaveral, Fla., to Thursday's launch of the shuttle Atlantis as NASA wrapped up repairs on the shuttle's fuel tank.

A couple who sent

cruel Internet messages to a 13-year-old girl before she committed suicide won't face criminal charges, a St. Louis-area prosecutor announced yesterday.