NSA bill clears committee

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WASHINGTON -- The House Intelligence Committee unanimously passed a bill Thursday to replace the National Security Agency's program that is systematically collecting bulk records about Americans' phone calls.

The panel decided to abandon its own version of legislation to replace the program and instead embrace a bill developed by the House Judiciary Committee, which passed its measure, called the USA Freedom Act, unanimously Wednesday.

A single NSA reform bill now moves to the floor of the House of Representatives with unanimous and bipartisan backing from both committees with jurisdiction over the matter. President Barack Obama already has embraced its rough outlines.

The bill would replace the NSA's bulk collection program with a new kind of order allowing the government to obtain from phone providers the calling records of a person suspected of ties to terrorism and of people up to two links removed from the caller.

Burwell faces senators

WASHINGTON -- Sylvia Mathews Burwell emerged mostly unscathed Thursday from the first of two hearings on her nomination to head the Health and Human Services Department, even though her chief role will be to continue implementing the president's controversial health care law.

Ms. Burwell, whose confirmation is likely, did not get much of a grilling and even received strong vows of support from two influential Republicans: Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who introduced her warmly to the committee, and Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who promised to vote to confirm her at her next hearing before the Senate Finance Committee.

The gentle treatment underscored the broad support Ms. Burwell enjoys in her current role as head of the Office of Management and Budget, where she is viewed as a competent leader. It marked a contrast with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who clashed often with Republicans prior to announcing last month that she would resign.

Scientists lose patent fight

WASHINGTON -- The Scottish scientists famous for concocting "Dolly" the sheep lost a bid to get U.S. patent protection for a method of cloning as a court said their animal creations are just genetic copies of naturally occurring beings.

The Roslin Institute in Edinburgh had argued that, while the sheep used to create Dolly in 1996 could not be patented, the resultant clones are eligible because they are the "product of human ingenuity." The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington disagreed Thursday.

The court, in an opinion posted on its website, upheld the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's rejection of an application by Roslin, with Circuit Judge Timothy Dyk writing that "Dolly's genetic identity to her donor parent renders her unpatentable."

Group seeks Marine's return

SAN DIEGO -- A bipartisan group of 21 members of Congress has appealed to the Mexican government to free a Marine veteran of Afghanistan, who is being held on weapons charges in a prison in Tijuana.

Andrew Tahmooressi, 25, now in the Marine reserves, has been held in the La Mesa prison since April 1 after he was charged with being an arms trafficker.

Mr. Tahmooressi insists that he mistakenly drove across the border at San Ysidro in a truck stuffed with all of his possessions, including a handgun, rifle and shotgun.

Led by Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Juan Vargas, D-Calif., the 21 members of Congress sent a letter to the Mexican government through its embassy in Washington.

-- Compiled from news services

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