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Federal Reserve officials began two days of crucial talks yesterday to set the course for interest rates. Economic analysts are divided on whether the Federal Open Market Committee will signal a change in its monetary policy by cutting rates to stimulate the economy or decide to wait for further economic data. The Fed has not changed rates since February.

Gathering in Minneapolis for their annual convention, many teachers in the country's largest teachers' union, the National Education Association, criticized proposals in Congress to eliminate the Education Department. Many of those supporters said they want the agency to stay mostly hands-off. Teachers said they worry that recent Supreme Court actions allowing student-led prayer at graduations could erode church-state separation.

Since 1991, four top universities have charged the government at least $17 million to pay tuition for relatives of faculty working on federal research, according to the US General Accounting Office. The four are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins. Of the faculty members whose relatives' tuition was covered by the government, about one-fifth earned more than $100,000 annually, the GAO investigation found. The federal Office of Management and Budget recommends that the government stop the practice, but the universities have filed objections.

GOP presidential candidates used Independence Day celebrations to proclaim their conservative credentials in New Hampshire. Five of the major GOP candidates, speaking at a picnic in Dunbarton, N.H., pledged lower taxes and a balanced federal budget. Senator Gramm vowed not to seek a second term if the budget is not balanced during his first four years in office.

Senator Helms has called for reduction in federal funding for people with AIDS, according to a report in the New York Times. Helms is a longtime foe of rights for homosexuals, who comprise the largest group of Americans infected with the HIV virus. Helms argued that AIDS is only the ninth-leading cause of death in America but accounts for more federal financing than diseases that kill more people.

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