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WASHINGTON: Stopgap deadline near

With the clock ticking toward a possible government shutdown April 8, spending-cut talks between Senate Democrats and the Republicans controlling the House have broken off in a battle over legislation to keep operations running for another six months. Democrats have readied a proposal to cut $20 billion more from this year's budget, a party official said, but they say it's unclear whether the majority Republicans would accept a split-the-difference bargain they'd hinted at earlier or will yield to tea party-backed freshmen's demands for a tougher measure.

INDIANA: Democrats end boycott

House Democrats who fled the state five weeks ago to protest a Republican agenda they considered an assault on labor unions and public education returned to the Statehouse on Monday and resumed work. Minority Leader Patrick Bauer said they ended one of the longest legislative walkouts in recent U.S. history after winning concessions on several issues. Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma gaveled in the chamber in the evening, giving the House its first quorum since Democrats fled to Illinois on Feb. 22. What Democrats actually achieved is a matter of debate. The concessions are probably more than they would have gained had they not boycotted -- but won't stop the GOP agenda. Republicans had vowed that they wouldn't remove items from their agenda, and by and large they won't have to. The only bill actually killed by the boycott was a "right-to-work" plan prohibiting union representation fees from being a condition of employment.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Fluorescent lights out

Lawmakers are taking a stand in favor of states' lights. With incandescent bulbs being phased out under federal law in favor of energy-efficient compact fluorescents, legislators want to exempt South Carolina from the measure, saying Washington has no business telling the state how to light its closets and countertops. The proposed state law is called the Incandescent Light Bulb Freedom Act.

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