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Americans are volunteering more but contributing less to charities, a new Gallup poll indicated. Two of its key findings: Fifty-six percent of adults volunteered in 1998 - the highest level recorded since annual surveys began in 1995. And average contributions have declined from 2.2 percent of household income in 1995 to 2.1 percent last year.

President Clinton and top congressional Republicans were to hold budget talks at the White House, 19 days into a new fiscal year in which only five of 13 annual spending bills have become law. Five others have either been vetoed or face veto threats. Congress was expected to approve an eight-day extension of a measure that has kept US agencies open since Oct. 1.

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The Senate was expected to defeat campaign-finance reform in two scheduled votes, despite passage of a purely symbolic measure against unlimited "soft money" donations. Proponents had hoped Monday's vote would prove that a Senate majority favors banning such gifts. But Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, who has led the opposition to reform, told his Republican colleagues to vote for the resolution, rendering the vote meaningless.

Among top military officers, Republicans outnumbered Democrats 8 to 1, an academic report indicated. The Triangle Institute for Security Studies Project, led by Peter Feaver and Richard Kohn of Duke University, included the results of mailed surveys and a telephone poll. It found 64 percent of military respondents saying they're Republicans, 8 percent saying they're Democrats, 1 percent supporting other parties, and 27 percent claiming independence or no preference. Only 6.2 percent of "elite" officers called themselves liberal.

A measure that would severely penalize Mexican shipping companies whose trucks venture more than a short distance into the US has passed the House and seems "almost certain" to be signed into law, the Los Angeles Times reported. It said the House approved the item 415 to 5 last week as an amendment to a highway-safety bill. It's "the most concrete victory yet for labor interests opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement," the Times said. The Teamsters Union and other groups say Mexican trucks and their drivers are unsafe.

The 44.2 million people getting Social Security checks will see a 2.4 percent increase next year, the biggest cost-of-living jump in three years. The increase - to show up in January benefit payments - is nearly twice this year's 1.3 percent rise, mainly because of a recent upward creep in consumer prices. Also receiving the 2.4 percent increase: 6.6 million people receiving supplemental security income.

Sen. Jesse Helms posed a threat to former colleague Carol Moseley-Braun's bid to become US ambassador to New Zealand. Helms, a North Carolina Republican and head of the Foreign Relations Committee, suggested his panel would probe allegations raised in the Democrat's 1998 Illinois reelection campaign, including charges that she used campaign funds to buy luxuries. Helms and Moseley-Braun had clashed while she was in Congress, most memorably over use of the Confederate Flag.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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