Congress pulls in big spending bill

WASHINGTON - Congressional negotiators sealed agreement last night on sweeping spending legislation that boosts housing and heating subsidies but curbs President Obama's requests for aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan. A House vote could happen as early as tomorrow.

The move comes as lawmakers wrapped the budgets of nine cabinet agencies into a $1.1 trillion spending bill they hope to complete by Christmas.

The measure would combine six of the dozen annual appropriations bills for the budget year that began Oct. 1. It combines a huge increase in foreign aid with an 18 percent cut to a program that helps states with the cost of incarcerating criminal illegal immigrants.

The proposal continues current policy that permits detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center to be transferred to the United States to stand trial but not to be released. And in a victory for gun-rights advocates, Amtrak passengers could carry handguns in their checked baggage. - AP

Salahis intend to take the Fifth

WASHINGTON - Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the couple who crashed a White House state dinner, plan to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights and refuse to testify if subpoenaed to appear on Capitol Hill about the security breach.

The reality-TV hopefuls said through their lawyer, Stephen Best, yesterday that the House Homeland Security Committee had drawn premature conclusions about the Nov. 24 incident. Best cited, as an example, District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton's characterization of the Salahis as "practiced con artists."

The House committee plans to vote today on subpoenaing the Virginia couple, who were no-shows at a hearing last week, as was White House social secretary Desiree Rogers. The committee's top Republican, Peter King of New York, said he planned to ask committee chair Bennie Thompson (D., Miss.) to amend his subpoena to include Rogers. - AP

FAA will examine telecom network

WASHINGTON - The Federal Aviation Administration said yesterday that it was forming a panel to examine the reliability of a telecommunications network that broke down Nov. 19, snarling air traffic across the country.

The episode - which forced air traffic controllers to manually enter flight information into computers - was unacceptable, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said in a statement. He said the agency must understand what happened so it can prevent further incidents.

FAA said at the time that the incident began with the failure of a circuit board in a router; a backup circuit board then also failed. It was four hours before the glitch was fixed. FAA has spent years installing the multibillion-dollar telecommunications network. - AP

Elsewhere:

Ex-FBI Director William Webster will independently review the bureau's handling of information gathered about the Fort Hood shooting suspect, Maj. Nidal Hasan, before the Nov. 5 Texas military-base rampage that killed 13 people, officials said yesterday.