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Sept. 13, 2011 at 10:00 PM
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'Pass this bill' mantra for Obama, crowd

WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama, in House Speaker John Boehner's state, urged people to show their support for his jobs plan by telling Congress to "pass this bill."

Holding a copy of the American Jobs Act, Obama Tuesday told an enthusiastic crowd at Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School in Columbus, Ohio, the bill does two things.

"It puts people back to work and puts more money in the pockets of working Americans," he said to rousing applause.

Everything in his proposal sent to Congress Monday has enjoyed support by Republicans and Democrats and "everything will be paid for," he said.

And "every one of you can help make it happen by sending a message to Congress … Pass this bill," Obama said.

"There are millions of unemployed construction workers looking for work," Obama said. "So my question to Congress is, 'What on earth are we waiting for?'"

Among other things, Obama's plan calls for extending and expanding the current payroll tax cut, due to expire at the end of the year. Obama's plan also would cut the payroll tax businesses pay in half on the first $5 million in wages, provide tax breaks for small businesses and extend unemployment benefits.

Obama proposes targeting $30 billion for critical repairs and renovation projects in public schools and community colleges, saying the investment would put thousands of Americans back to work. He has said the investment would help modernize at least 35,000 public schools and community colleges.

The audience reacted to Obama's fervent delivery by interrupting several times, chanting, "Pass this bill."

"Instead of talking about helping America's job creators, let's to something to help America's job creators," Obama said, repeating"pass this bill" to spark hiring and goose the economy.

If Congress fails to act, "middle class families will be hit with a tax increase at the worst possible time," Obama said. "We can't let that happen."

Obama said everyone must pay "their fair share," including the wealthiest Americans and corporations.

"We need to build an economy that lasts. That starts now," Obama said.

Obama said there were those in Washington who "think they shouldn't pass [the bill] because it would give me a win. That's the kind of games-playing we've gotten used to in Washington. This isn't about giving me a win. … This is about giving America a win."

"The time for gridlock and the time for games are over," Obama said. "The time for action is now."

Katia flails Ireland, Britain

LONDON, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Parts of Scotland were threatened by flooding Tuesday as the vestiges of Hurricane Katia lashed the British Isles, officials said.

The BBC reported the Scottish Environment Protection Agency had issued flood warnings across parts of Tayside and Callander, and heavy rains were posing concerns in western Scotland. Winds were still whipping up to 55 mph, one day after gusts hit close to 90 mph, the British news network said.

Hundreds of homes were without electricity in Ayrshire, and Dumfries and Galloway.

Roads were generally passable, though police in central Scotland said a section of the A85 between Crianlarich and Killin Junction had 4 inches of standing water in some places, the BBC said.

Wind-blown trees were a hazard in some areas and some ferry services were suspended.

The worst effects of the storm were felt in Ireland, Scotland and Northern England, The Guardian reported. The storm claimed at least one life, when a driver was killed by a falling tree in County Durham in the north of England.

At its peak, the storm had effectively shut down Ireland's Atlantic coast, The Irish Independent reported. Fishing boats remained in harbor in Galway, and thousands of people in the region lost power, with the most severe outage in Donegal in the northwest.

Capt. Brian Sheridan, the harbormaster in Galway, described the situation there as "pretty severe."

Ferry service across the Irish Sea was canceled. Many roads in Ireland were closed due to downed trees.

Thousands of homes and businesses lost electricity in northern England. Sean Kelly, a manager for Bako Northern, said a group of industrial units under construction in Langley Moor, Durham, were brought down by the wind "as if it had been subject to a controlled explosion."

The second stage of the Tour of Britain, which was to have included the seafront in Blackpool, a resort on the Irish Sea, was canceled. Riders instead did an exhibition run in an inland area to give fans who had come to Cumbria "something to see."

T.S. Maria shows little change in strength

MIAMI, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Tropical Storm Maria picked up forward speed without generating stronger winds as it moved northward in the Atlantic Ocean Tuesday, U.S. forecasters said.

A tropical storm warning was posted for Bermuda, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said in its 5 p.m. EDT advisory.

Maria, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, was about 320 miles east of the southeastern Bahamas and about 685 miles south-southwest of Bermuda as it headed to the north at 8 mph, up from 5 mph in the morning.

Maria was expected to pick up more forward speed and keep on a northerly track for the next 24-36 hours, then turn to the north-northeast. That would put the storm on a path to pass west of Bermuda on Thursday.

Tropical-storm-force winds extended out up to 175 miles from Maria's center, mainly to the east.

Puerto Rico is forecast to get at least 4-8 inches of rain with 15-20 inches possible in the higher elevations through Wednesday morning. The torrential rains could produce dangerous flash floods and mudslides in the mountainous regions.

Bermuda is expected to get just 1-3 inches.

The Virgin Islands and portions of the northern Leeward Islands also were expected to be lashed by strong winds and heavy rains through Tuesday evening, the hurricane center said earlier.

Cost of Texas wildfires hits record

AUSTIN, Texas, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Recent wildfires in Central Texas are the costliest in the state's history with a $250 million price tag, the Insurance Council of Texas said.

In 2009 wildfires statewide caused about $115 million in damage, while the destruction from the current Bastrop Country wildfire is already at $150 million, council spokesman Mark Hanna told the Austin American-Statesman Monday.

"There's just no comparison to any other wildfires we've ever experienced," Hanna said.

Firefighting teams worked Monday to control final stubborn flare-ups in the massive, week-old Bastrop blaze that consumed 34,000 acres, and said it was 70 percent contained Monday night.

"It seems like we've got a really good handle on the remaining fires," Nim Kidd, the state's emergency management director, said. "But we've still got work to do."

The fires were "not growing on the outside, but there are active areas inside the fire zone," Kidd said.

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