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Hutchison won't seek re-election to Senate

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican who was the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Texas and has held the seat for nearly two decades, announced Thursday she will retire next year when her current term ends.

In a letter, Hutchison, 67, said she would not seek re-election. She had previously signaled she might retire but changed her mind several times in the last few years. Last year, she challenged Gov. Rick Perry in the GOP primary for governor, but lost.

In her letter, the state's senior senator said she had intended to leave office sooner but was persuaded to stay on.

Her decision closes one of the more remarkable and eventful political careers in a state full of them. It is also likely to prompt a bruising race to succeed her.

Hutchison won a special election in 1993 to replace then-Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, who left his seat to serve as President Bill Clinton's treasury secretary. She was elected to a full term in 1994 and comfortably won re-election in 2000 and 2006.

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Rate for heavier mail to increase April 17

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Postal rates will go up in April, but the cost of sending the basic letter will remain the same.

The Postal Service said Thursday that most rates will increase April 17 under a formula that allows the agency to raise prices within the rate of inflation.

The post office said the 44-cent price of a first-class stamp won't change, but heavier letters will cost more. The basic rate covers the first ounce, and the price for each extra ounce will rise to 20 cents from 17 cents.

"While changing prices is always a difficult decision, we have made every effort to keep the impact minimal for consumers and customers doing business with us at retail lobbies," Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said in a statement.

The Postal Service lost $8.5 billion last year.

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IRS to test debit cards for paying tax refunds

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Low-income taxpayers who don't have bank accounts will be able to get their tax refunds this year on prepaid debit cards supplied by the government, the Treasury Department said Thursday.

The department plans to send letters to 600,000 households next week, asking them to join a pilot program to put their tax refunds on the debit cards, which can be used to get money from automatic teller machines, pay bills or to buy goods and services from retailers.

The Internal Revenue Service is aiming to reduce the amount of paper it handles. To encourage taxpayers to file their returns electronically, for instance, the agency is not mailing paper forms to taxpayers this year.

It will still be sending out refund checks but is seeking to reduce the number by encouraging direct deposit.

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