New U.S. food rules promote safety

U.S. lawmakers are getting ready for another political fight over the country’s budget woes.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell warned Sunday his party will not consider any more tax increases. He told ABC television’s This Week that “the tax issue is finished.” He said President Barack Obama and lawmakers now need to focus on cutting spending, calling Washington’s “spending addiction” the nation’s biggest problem.

But the top House Democrat says lawmakers still need to raise more revenue. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told CBS’ Face the Nation” that the tax issue is still on the table.

Ms. Pelosi said lawmakers need to look at ending tax breaks for special interest groups and industries that are doing well and do not need them.

Congress last week passed a compromise deal combining tax hikes and spending cuts that puts off for now, much more drastic measures.

Meanwhile, White House and Congressional sources tell U.S. news agencies that President Obama will nominate a former Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, as the new secretary of Defense as early as Monday.

This could lead to another fight with the White House with some lawmakers accusing Hagel of being tough on Israel and willing to compromise with Iran.

Obama told NBC television last month that Hagel is a patriot who has done extraordinary work in the Senate and served his country with valor during the Vietnam war. The U.S. Senate must approve the president’s pick for defense chief.

Republican lawmakers are not ruling out using America’s debt limit as a bargaining chip in looming deficit reduction battles with congressional Democrats and the Obama administration. A similar partisan dynamic in 2011 led to a downgrade of the nation’s credit rating.

A new year and the swearing in of a new Congress have not erased familiar battle lines between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to reining in America’s runaway national debt.

Failure to grant additional borrowing authority could cause the federal government to run out of funds in coming months, and could shake global confidence in U.S. credit worthiness.

As in 2011, many Republicans today are demanding a dollar in spending cuts for every dollar increase in the debt ceiling. But unlike two years ago, President Barack Obama says he will not bargain over the debt limit, a stance that all but dares Republicans to follow through on a threat that economists warn could inflict massive damage to the U.S. and global economy.

Democrats, like House Minority Leader Pelosi, point out that a higher debt ceiling is required to cover spending Congress already approved. She argues it is a separate issue from looming budget battles over future federal spending.

“Right now we have to pay the bill that has been incurred. If you want to cut spending for what we do next, fine. But you cannot say, ‘I am not paying the past debt’,” she said.

Republicans counter that absent dire consequences for inaction Congress will never agree to the painful spending cuts and reforms required to solve America’s fiscal woes. Democrats point out they have already voted in favor of more than $1 trillion in federal spending cuts. President Obama has said he is open to reforming costly programs that provide health care and other benefits to retirees.

Last week, Congress approved a measure to avert automatic tax hikes and delay deep spending cuts mandated under the so-called “fiscal cliff.” The last-minute deal raised income tax rates for top earners.

President Obama says a mix of spending cuts and additional revenues will be needed to reduce America’s trillion-dollar federal deficit. Republicans say taxes have already been dealt with, and debt-reduction efforts must now focus on spending alone.

New U.S. food rules promote safety

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

New rules hailed as the biggest improvements in U.S. food safety since the 1930s took a step forward Friday. Regulators say the proposals may prevent more than one million cases of food borne illness each year.

They come two years to the day since President Barack Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act. They are the first step in implementing that law, which puts the Food and Drug Administration in charge of preventing food borne disease outbreaks. Experts say that’s a change from the reactive role it has played in the past.

Passage of the law followed a string of high-profile nationwide disease outbreaks linked to bagged spinach, peanut butter and other foods, in which hundreds of people became ill.

The new approaches the Food and Drug Administration has proposed call for food manufacturers to show that they have identified where contamination is most likely to happen, and taken steps to prevent it. The proposed rules also set safety standards for raising and harvesting fruits and vegetables.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that implementing all of the law’s provisions will cost the government $1.4 billion dollars. Food makers support the law, though the Grocery Manufacturers of America, a major industry trade group, declines to estimate what it will cost producers.

The new food rules are likely to have an effect on Costa Rica’s export business. A number of fresh products are welcomed into the United States each day. The impact here has yet to be determined.

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