A few items that caught our attention today:

(Spencer Platt/Getty)

• Congress has passed a $50.5 billion Hurricane Sandy relief bill minus the spending cuts Republicans had proposed to offset the aid package. But GOP lawmakers managed to strip the measure of spending unrelated to disasters, according to the Associated Press.

• Federal unions have bucked the national trend of declining membership numbers, showing growth during the past decade, according to Federal Diary columnist Joe Davidson. One exception is the union representing the postal service workforce, which has shrunk by 24 percent since 2006.

• Social Security Administration chief Michael Astrue plans to step down in February from his post as commissioner of the federal government’s largest program, according to the Associated Press.

• Meanwhile, Ashton Carter appears to be staying on as deputy secretary of defense after the president called on him to stick around, according to In the Loop columnist Al Kamen. Carter previously seemed to have the inside track to a nomination for Energy Secretary.

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