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Lobbyists Relent, for Now

The lobbyists crowding deliberations over an asbestos settlement held their fire Wednesday, a day after Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) delivered his 400-page draft bill. [IMGCAP(1)]

Business, insurance, labor and trial-lawyer groups took advantage of a one-week delay in negotiations mandated by Specter to read and reread the bill.

“We’re still analyzing it,” said Julie Rochman, of the American Insurance Association. “We want to see all the details and how the pieces fit together.”

Momentum toward a bipartisan agreement on the long-debated issue slowed Tuesday night, after committee Republicans objected to some provisions.

Specter’s bill would establish a federally run trust fund, sponsored by business and insurers, to compensate victims of asbestos-related illnesses.

In Search of $54.6 Million. The Federal Election Commission is seeking a 5.5 percent increase in its annual budget.

FEC officials this week submitted a $54.6 million budget request to Congress, which is identical to the Bush administration’s proposed appropriation for the elections agency. The FEC’s budget in the current fiscal year is $51.7 million.

Both the FEC and President Bush propose that the agency retain 391 full-time employees.

The agency listed three major accomplishments: praise from political committee officials and Members of Congress about education and outreach efforts; improvements in the speed and effectiveness of the campaign finance disclosure program; and improvements in enforcement.

New Assignment for Israel. Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) was tapped this week to take the newly created post of chairman of national Jewish outreach for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, not long after the three-term Member paid off a cycle’s worth of dues.

Israel said he wants to drive home the point that the Democratic Party better serves their interests than the GOP does. “I will be traveling to Jewish communities all over America … delivering the message that a Democratic majority in the House is better for U.S.-Israeli relations, better for constitutional issues and better for our economy,” he said.

Israel, a Financial Services Committee member, paid his entire $150,000 party obligation for the cycle in March — an unusual move, and one that leadership hopes will inspire other Members to pay their dues early in the cycle.

— Tory Newmyer, Josh Kurtz and Erin P. Billings