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Total spending declined to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $866 billion. That is 16.1 percent above a 12-year low hit in February 2011. Even with the gain, the level of spending remained only about half of what's considered healthy.

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Boehner agrees to Sandy aid vote on Friday

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Under intense pressure from angry Republicans, House Speaker John Boehner agreed Wednesday to a vote this week on aid for Superstorm Sandy recovery.

The speaker will schedule a vote Friday for $9 billion for the national flood insurance program and another on Jan. 15 for a remaining $51 billion in the package, Republican Rep. Peter King of New York said after emerging from a meeting with Boehner and GOP lawmakers from New York and New Jersey. The votes will be taken by the new Congress that will be sworn in Thursday.

King left the session with Boehner without the anger that led him to rip into the speaker Tuesday night.

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2013 auto sales will be strong, firm predicts

DETROIT (AP) â¿¿ A healthier economy and more model introductions should push U.S. auto sales above the 15 million mark this year, predicts an auto industry research firm.

The Polk research firm says auto sales should continue to lead the country's economic recovery, rising nearly 7 percent over 2012 to 15.3 million new vehicle registrations.

Automakers release December and full-year sales for 2012 on Thursday. Analysts think sales reached 14.5 million last year, the strongest performance since 2007 â¿¿ just before Americans felt the impact of the recession. Sales of more than 15 million are considered a sign of health for the auto industry and the economy, many analysts say.

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Microsoft renews plea for crackdown on Google

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) â¿¿ Microsoft began the new year harping on a favorite theme: The software maker is arguing that government regulators need to crack down on Google to preserve fair competition in the Internet and smartphone markets.

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