National briefs: Senate OKs farm bill

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WASHINGTON -- Congress has given its final approval to a sweeping five-year farm bill that provides food for the needy and subsidies for farmers.

Ending years of political battles, the Senate on Tuesday sent the measure to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it. The Senate passed the bill 68-32.

The bill provides a financial cushion for farmers who face unpredictable weather and market conditions. But the bulk of its nearly $100 billion-a-year cost is for the food stamp program, which aids 1 in 7 Americans.

Partisan disagreements stalled the bill for more than two years, but conservatives were eventually outnumbered as the Democratic Senate, the White House and a still-powerful bipartisan coalition of farm-state lawmakers pushed to get the bill done.

Federal aid flows to Calif.

WASHINGTON -- The Agriculture Department on Tuesday offered new aid to water-starved California farmers, while lawmakers tussled over competing anti-drought proposals.

Underscoring how California's water crisis has reached a political boil, top federal and state officials jointly announced the relatively modest new package of aid that features $20 million for agricultural water conservation efforts. Additional aid for California will be announced by the Forest Service on Thursday.

Officials opened up the aid taps precisely as the Republican-controlled House prepared to approve today an ambitious California water package tailored for Central Valley irrigation districts.

NIH takes aim at diseases

WASHINGTON -- The National Institutes of Health announced a first-of-its-kind partnership Tuesday with pharmaceutical companies and patient advocacy groups to collaborate on research aimed at treatments for Alzheimer's, type 2 diabetes and autoimmune diseases.

The pilot projects, which will last three to five years, will involve an investment of more than $230 million over five years from industry and patient advocacy groups and is unique because it will not only involve the sharing of scientists but also of data, blood samples and tissue specimens.

Army recruiting fraud case

WASHINGTON -- An Army program meant to increase the number of recruits during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars devolved into an illegal free-for-all that could cost taxpayers close to $100 million, military investigators say.

Army officials appeared before a Senate hearing on Tuesday and sketched out a far-reaching criminal endeavor that has implicated more than 1,200 people -- 200 of them officers -- including two generals and dozens of colonels. Criminal investigators for the Army said soldiers, civilians and National Guard recruiters had used a recruiting bonus program as a "bounty" from which they could illegally collect funds for recruiting soldiers they had not actually recruited.

Also in the nation ...

The USS Forrestal, commissioned in 1955 as the first of the post-World War II supercarriers, began its final voyage Tuesday in the Delaware River near Philadelphia's Navy Yard. ... Hillary Rodham Clinton -- a prospective 2016 presidential candidate -- appeared at a New York City school to launch "Pequenos y Valiosos" (Young and Valuable), a multiyear partnership between Too Small to Fail, a charitable initiative that Mrs. Clinton started last year, and Univision, the influential Spanish-language media company.

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