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Obama to Sign Food Safety Overhaul

President Barack Obama, with first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia, 12, left, and Sasha, 9, right, return to the White House in Washington, 4 Jan 2011
President Barack Obama, with first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia, 12, left, and Sasha, 9, right, return to the White House in Washington, 4 Jan 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama signs a $1.4 billion overhaul of the U.S. food safety system on Tuesday, after returning from a nearly two-week vacation in Hawaii before the new Congress convenes.

The bill gives the government greater authority to inspect processing plants in the U.S. and abroad.  It also gives the government the power to order recalls.  Current regulations allow the government only to request recalls.

Large farms and manufacturers will be required to create detailed food safety plans and keep records, so the government can easily trace recalled foods.  Imported foods will also face tougher restrictions.

The president has been largely out of sight during his vacation in the Pacific island state.  He will be facing a divided legislature when the new Congress convenes Wednesday, with Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives and Democrats suffering a reduced majority in the Senate.

Republican leaders have already announced plans to try to repeal Mr. Obama's major health care overhaul.

The repeal is unlikely to succeed, as it would have to be approved by the Democratically-controlled Senate and Mr. Obama himself.

Republicans have also vowed to reduce federal spending and shrink the size of government.

Before Mr. Obama left for his holiday, he had several important victories in Congress, including passage of major compromise legislation extending tax cuts and Senate approval of a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia.

During his return flight to Washington, Mr. Obama admitted "there's going to be politics" as Republicans assert their newly won power. But he said he is confident "they're going to recognize that our job is to govern."

The president is set to reshuffle the White House staff as he gears up for his re-election bid in 2012.  Senior political adviser David Axelrod will return to Chicago to head that effort.  U.S. news outlets say Mr. Obama is considering naming William Daley as his new chief of staff.  Daley was a commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton, and is the brother of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.  

Mr. Obama is also due to announce a replacement for Larry Summers, who headed his council of economic advisers.

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