Senate panel sets contempt vote

WASHINGTON - The Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled a vote tomorrow on contempt citations against White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten and three former presidential aides for refusing to cooperate with Congress' investigation into the firings of U.S. attorneys.

But the panel's ranking Republican, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said one of the Judiciary Republicans was likely to force a week's delay in the vote, as provided by committee rules.

President Bush invoked executive privilege to bar his aides from testifying or from giving Congress White House documents on the firings. Last week, Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D., Vt.) gave Bolten, Karl Rove, Sara Taylor and J. Scott Jennings one more chance to comply with the panel's subpoenas or face possible citations. Congress is trying to determine whether Rove, Bush's former top political aide, orchestrated the firings for improper political reasons.

- Bloomberg News

Plans to block disputed tax fail

WASHINGTON - The Senate failed yesterday to come up with a plan for blocking an unpopular tax that could affect millions of taxpayers and was causing disruptions in preparations for tax-filing season.

Senate Democratic and Republican leaders, while agreeing Congress must act immediately to stop the alternative minimum tax from affecting 25 million taxpayers in 2007, up from four million in 2006, mutually rejected plans from the other side on how to proceed.

"Each day we dally here" costs the government more money and "means a lot more frustration for taxpayers," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) said. The AMT was created in 1969 to prevent a small number of wealthy people from avoiding tax payments. But every year, more middle-income families are subject to it.

- AP

Padilla lawyers call for lenience

MIAMI - Attorneys for convicted terrorism conspirator Jose Padilla contend he was so badly mistreated by his own government during his earlier 31/2 years in military custody that he deserves far less than the life prison term federal prosecutors seek.

A sentencing hearing for Padilla was postponed yesterday because of a death in the judge's family, court officials said. The hearing, expected to last four days, was rescheduled to begin Jan. 7.

Padilla, 37, and two foreign-born codefendants were convicted Aug. 16 of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas, which carries a maximum life term, and of lesser counts.

- AP

Elsewhere:

The Bush administration

threatened yesterday to veto any bill that cuts payments to private insurers as a way to give doctors more money when treating Medicare patients. Starting Jan. 1, doctors face a 10 percent pay cut when treating the elderly and disabled, but Congress is likely to intervene.

Text messages, e-mail

and automatic phone calls will be tested in New York City as ways to spread information during potentially chaotic disasters and emergencies such as fires, floods and blackouts, city officials said yesterday.