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The special conference committee in Wisconsin -- convened in order to strip out the fiscal elements of Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill, in order to pass the anti-public employee union proposals and avoid the state SenateDemocratic boycott of the three-fifths budget quorum -- just met for roughly five minutes and passed the bill.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D) attempted to make a motion to delay the meeting or make amendments -- and was not recognized for a motion by the chair, state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. Barca argued, over Fitzgerald's attempts to say there would be no motions, that the conference committee violated the state's open meetings law, which requires at least 24 hours notice before a government meeting, unless there is good cause to act more quickly.

The bill then passed in committee on a 4-2, party-line margin -- and in a surreal sight, the online feed of the state equivalent of C-Span, Wisconsin Eye, faded out to tranquil music as the video was playing the shouting and ire of the meeting itself.

The bill to strip away most collective bargaining for public employee unions, and impose new limits on union organization, is now headed to the full chambers.

Late Update: Jessica Arp with the local CBS affiliate reports that the Senate has just passed the bill by a margin of 18-1 -- with only moderate Republican Dale Schultz voting no, in absence of the Democrats who had fled the state in order to block budget quorum.

Mary Spicuzza with the Wisconsin State Journal reports that the Assembly will move on the bill tomorrow.

Read our updated report on events in Wisconsin here.

Reports are coming in from Wisconsin that state Republicans could be on the verge of doing an end-run around state Senate Democrats -- who have fled the state in order to block the three-fifths budget quorum on Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill and its anti-public employee union provisions. The apparent solution: Convene a special conference committee this evening to strip out the fiscal elements of the budget repair bill -- and then pass the anti-union proposals with simple majority quorums.

Two weeks ago, state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) had ruled out such a tactic, but it appears things may have changed as tense negotiations have dragged on. If the bill now passes in this form, most collective bargaining rights of public employees in Wisconsin would be stripped, and new limitations on union organization would be imposed.

The Associated Press reports: "Democratic Sen. Bob Jauch says he thinks Republicans plan to 'ram through' parts of the bill that take away collective bargaining rights but that don't cost any money."

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who has been in exile in Chicago, expressed his outrage to the Wisconsin State Journal. "They have been saying all along that this is a fiscal item, we've been saying it is not," said Erpenbach. "They have been lying. Their goal is to bust up the unions."

If this maneuver goes through, it would have some enormous political ramifications in the state, as unions are an important base of the Democratic Party organization in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the unions and Democrats have been actively organizing recalls of Republican state legislators -- leveraging the power of the tens of thousands of people who have protested the bill, and numerous opinion polls showing that Wisconsin voters oppose breaking the unions.

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In a statement Wednesday night, House Speaker John Boehner officially announced his intent for the House to intervene as a third party defendant in court cases challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

"Today, after consultation with the Bipartisan Leadership Advisory Group, the House General Counsel has been directed to initiate a legal defense of this law," Boehner said in the statement. "This action by the House will ensure that this law's constitutionality is decided by the courts, rather than by the President unilaterally."

In a letter to Boehner announcing the administration's decision not to defend the law in court, Holder nudged at the idea that Boehner could step in and do it himself. Not that they want the law to prevail in court, of course, but because they're perfectly happy for a GOP leader to become the face of what has become an unpopular cause.

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Faulty counterfeit electronic parts are ending up in the Defense Department's weapons systems, and the problem poses a critical risk to national security, according to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI), who chairs the panel, and John McCain (R-AZ), its ranking member, on Wednesday called the presence of counterfeit electronic parts in the DoD supply chain a "growing problem" and announced an investigation into just how they are ending up there.

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Invoking the Tri-Valley University episode in California in which 1,500 Indian nationals were caught up in a visa scam, lawmakers led by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) have called on U.S authorities to launch an immediate crackdown on illegal use of student visas by foreign nationals to attend "sham universities."

"By abusing the system and ignoring our laws, these sham schools are threatening our security and threatening what student visas are supposed to accomplish," Tester said in a statement given to TPM. "I'm fighting to make sure every one of these shams gets shut down."

Tester noted that several of the terrorists who attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001, had entered the country using student visas.

Tester, joined by Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein (CA), Bill Nelson (FL) Claire McCaskill (MO), and Charles Schumer (NY), have outlined a plan to combat such fake universities, which includes developing a list of high-risk factors that point to fraud.

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Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is uncomfortable with singling out Muslims in House inquiries into radicalization, telling reporters that he favors a broader look at terrorism. Rep. Pete King (R-NY) is set to conduct hearings on Islamic radicalization Thursday amidst complaints from critics that that they'll be used to stigmatize Muslim Americans.

"I mean I think it's a problem obviously that radical Islam led to the murder of 3,000 Americans, so it was the greatest mass murder ring in the history of our country," Kirk told reporters Tuesday. "But it would probably be pretty good for Pete to follow up with hearings on radicals of all types and then certainly including radical Islam in his purview."

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) defended the hearings Tuesday, telling reporters in a briefing that King had "credibility" on the issue and that "we are threatened by the spread of radical Islam."

Wisconsin state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) appeared Wednesday afternoon on Fox News -- and as it turned out, Megyn Kelly gave him something of a grilling on his claim that the Obama administration is behind the effort to recall members of his caucus in the battle over Gov. Scott Walker's anti-public employee union proposals.

Kelly expressed skepticism of the new claim about the recall campaigns. In response, Fitzgerald revealed what he said was evidence that the White House is connected to the recall, for what he described during the interview as an effort to strengthen the unions and regain partisan advantage in this key swing state.

"Specifically, one of the targeted senators, Alberta Darling, the individual that filed the petition in that seat is a former member of MoveOn.org, and also was very much involved in President Obama's last election cycle in Wisconsin," said Fitzgerald.

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Last month, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) introduced legislation to crack down on government-paid foreign travel taken by lawmakers, calling it a "lax system that has led to abuses in the past." In 2009, she criticized the House Appropriations Committee for adding money to buy jets for government use. Now, her travel history is coming under scrutiny.

According to a report by Politico, McCaskill has spent nearly $76,000 in public funds since 2007 to fly on a private plane owned by her and her husband.

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There were some cryptic, but potentially key developments Wednesday in the ongoing debate about federal spending and the deficit.

After two Senate votes, in which both Democratic and Republican-backed plans to fund the government went down to filibusters, I and a handful of other reporters caught Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid walking into Sen. Jon Kyl's Capitol office. Reid had just come from a meeting with President Obama and other Senate Democratic leaders, where they discussed spending. Kyl is the retiring Senate Minority Whip.

On his way out Reid hinted at some big news.

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