Congress Increases

Flood Insurance Funds

The federal flood insurance agency, broke because of hurricane-related claims, will be able to resume payments to flood victims, the result of a vote by Congress to increase its borrowing powers.

The Senate and the House yesterday both approved, by voice vote, legislation that raises to $18.5 billion the amount the National Flood Insurance Program can borrow from the Treasury every year. In September, Congress voted to raise the borrowing authority to $3.5 billion from $1.5 billion.

Butch Kinerney, spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the NFIP's parent agency, said insurers have been told to stop paying claims because the program has run out of money. Kinerney said current estimates are that there will be $23 billion in claims from hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

Some States Get Break

On Student Progress

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings told state school chiefs that some of them will win freedom in the area they worry about most: showing student progress. But every child, she said, must still be up to par in reading and math by 2014.

Spellings announced she will let as many as 10 states measure student progress by tracking children over time, her latest effort to be flexible in enforcing President Bush's education law.

Until now, states could meet their annual goals only by comparing the scores of different groups of students from one year to the next, a system that many educators consider unfair.

House Votes to Sell Off

Public Lands for Mining

The House agreed to reinstate sales of mining lands at cheap prices as part of its budget cut plan approved yesterday, a move that could transfer into private hands up to 20 million acres of public lands on Western ranges, in national forests and even in national parks.

The measure would end a congressional ban that since 1994 has prevented mineral companies and individuals from submitting new applications for "patenting," or buying, public land, including some in national forests and parks.

No such provision is contained in the Senate version of the budget measure, so the issue will be one of the items to be resolved when lawmakers return in December and try to merge the two bills.

U.S., E.U. Agree

On Airport Access

U.S. and European negotiators announced yesterday that they had agreed to let their airlines fly between every city in the European Union and every city in the United States.

The European Union will approve the agreement if the United States makes progress on a proposal that would allow more foreign control of U.S. airlines, E.U. Air Transport Director Daniel Calleja said in a conference call with reporters.

The pact would give U.S. airlines something they have coveted for a long time: more access to London's Heathrow Airport, Europe's largest gateway for transatlantic flights.

-- From News Services