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Nation news briefs
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SENATE STRUGGLES TO PAY FOR HIGHWAY PROGRAMS: WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate was scheduled to take up a bill to extend federal highway and transit programs later this week even though Democrats were still struggling Tuesday to find a way to pay for the programs.

The Senate Finance Committee approved a measure that raises about $10 billion to make up a shortfall between the $109 billion in spending authorized by the transportation bill and the amount of money projected to be raised by federal gasoline taxes, the principal source of highway funds.

The $10 billion would be raised over 10 years even though the transportation bill lasts only two years. The actual amount needed in those two years to make up the shortfall is less than $6 billion, but that would leave highway and transit programs without a financial cushion in case gas tax revenues turn out to be less than anticipated.

Instead, the bill would provide the cushion from money raised in later years. That drew complaints from several Republican members of the committee, who said the plan spends money that hadn't been raised yet.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the committee's chairman, also promised Republicans he will work with them to find a replacement for a provision that changes how inherited Individual Retirement Accounts are taxed before the Senate votes on the transportation bill. That provision would raise an estimated $4.6 billion over 10 years, about half the money the committee is trying to raise over 10 years.

FEDERAL JUDGE GIVES POT GROWER 9-YEAR SENTENCE: SACRAMENTO (AP) — A federal judge has sentenced a northern California marijuana grower to nine years in prison for running a sophisticated pot operation in El Dorado County.

U.S. District Court Judge John Mendez on Tuesday said 39-year-old Ryan Ennis led a well-funded marijuana operation with at least five cultivation sites, an electrician, an attorney on retainer and at least five general workers.

Ennis claimed he grew for medical marijuana dispensaries, but investigators said evidence showed he was providing pot for east coast distributors.

More than 1,100 plants and 600 pounds of processed marijuana were seized along with two shotguns, three handguns and a rifle. Investigators also found more than $635,000 cash.

OBAMA'S INNER GEEK: ROBOTS TO FLYING MARSHMALLOWS: WASHINGTON (AP) — For a president who promotes technology at every opportunity, Barack Obama often strikes an awed, self-effacing pose in the presence of technicians, scientists and high tech machinery.

"If I'm nodding, you should just assume that everything you said is going completely over my head," he once told winners of a New York science fair.

Still, he loves the stuff.

At no point has his inner geek been more evident than on Tuesday as he mischievously — "The Secret Service is going to be mad at me about this" — helped fire an eighth-grader's award winning high-speed marshmallow air cannon at the drapes of the White House's elegant State Dining Room.

From factory floors to classrooms, from high-tech centers to the White House residence itself, Obama steeps himself in the innovative, sometimes feigning interest while at others showing genuine delight.

AIDE CHARGED WITH MAKING CHILD PORN IN NYC SCHOOL: NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City teacher's aide already accused of possessing child pornography was jailed Tuesday after prosecutors brought new allegations that he videotaped himself spanking one naked child and fondling another in a public elementary school classroom.

FBI agents arrested Taleek Brooks, 40, at his Brooklyn apartment on Monday night after an investigation uncovered the videos on a computer seized last month from the home, authorities said.

A criminal complaint mentioned only two alleged victims — both believed by the federal authorities to be current or former students at the Weeksville School in Brooklyn, where Brooks had worked since 1995.