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Washington in brief

Senate rejects changes to abortion bill

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The Republican-controlled Senate rejected a proposal Tuesday to make contraceptives more widely available through private health insurance and expand government health care for low income pregnant women.

The 49-47 vote fell 11 short of the 60 needed and came during debate on legislation to ban a procedure that critics have dubbed partial birth abortion.

The same roll call also torpedoed a proposal to made emergency contraceptives, known as the morning-after pill, available in hospital emergency rooms for victims of sexual assault.

The underlying abortion measure is expected to clear the Senate later this week, and House passage is assured. President Bush has said he would sign the legislation, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., an opponent, told reporters, "This will end up in court. That's absolutely true."

Also . . .

TELEMARKETERS: President Bush on Tuesday signed legislation creating a national "do-not-call" list intended to help consumers block unwanted telemarketing calls.

HOUSE BUDGET: House Republicans have written a budget that they say will be balanced within seven years and that leaves the door open for most if not all of President Bush's proposed tax cuts, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, said Tuesday.

ARCTIC REFUGE: Senate Republicans say they have moved to within a single vote of guaranteeing President Bush one of his top domestic priorities -- opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The issue could be decided as early as next week.

FILIBUSTERS OF JUDICIAL NOMINEES: President Bush urged the Senate on Tuesday to change its rules and ban the use of filibusters on judicial nominees and require direct yes-or-no votes on all court nominations submitted by the White House.

JIM MORAN APOLOGY: Rep. Jim Moran apologized Tuesday for his comments that Jewish support for war with Iraq was helping the administration move toward an attack.

Moran, D-Va., said he didn't blame some critics for urging him to step down, but he said, "I don't intend to resign."

Ashcroft says he'll get tough on safety laws

WASHINGTON -- Attorney General John Ashcroft said Tuesday he plans to crack down on companies that fall short of doing all they can to protect against possible environment-damaging terrorist attacks on pipelines, storage tanks, transportation networks and industrial plants.

Emphasizing homeland security as an environmental issue, Ashcroft pledged to increase the Justice Department's prosecution of civil cases to make operators of pipelines, fuel storage tanks, chemical plants and drinking water facilities comply with environmental and safety laws.

That means, he said, going to court to ensure pipelines do not leak or explode, that hazardous wastes and chemicals are properly stored, treated and disposed of, that water supplies are protected and that each facility develop emergency response plans.

Social Security numbers not so secure, agency says

WASHINGTON -- The government can't be trusted to keep the security in Social Security, at least when it comes to numbers, the agency's inspector general says.

Government contractors pose a big risk, said the Social Security Administration report, released Tuesday.

Of the 15 agencies reviewed in the study, 14 lacked adequate controls over contractors' access to and use of Social Security numbers. Nine agencies lacked proper controls over access to numbers maintained in their own computer systems.

Ex-FBI director asks high court to stop execution

AUSTIN, Texas -- Former FBI director William Sessions and three other lawyers have filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that a Texas man scheduled to die Wednesday deserves a new trial.

Sessions and the other lawyers argued that Delma Banks' original lawyer did not provide a vigorous defense and that prosecutors unfairly withheld a crucial witness interview for 19 years.

Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, was asked to issue a 30-day reprieve, but the pending appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court is the only other way that Banks, 44, might avoid becoming the 300th person put to death by the state since 1982.

FDA warns of tainted counterfeit anemia drug

WASHINGTON -- Hospitals and pharmacies may have unknowingly bought a counterfeit version of the antianemia drug Procrit -- and the useless product also is contaminated with bacteria, the government warned Tuesday.

FDA has identified three batches of fake drug. They bear the following lot numbers and expiration dates:

-- P007645, expiration 10-2004

-- P004677, expiration 02-2004

-- P004389, expiration 02-2004

To help identify the dangerous counterfeit, Ortho Biotech posted pictures of the real and fake version on its Web site:

Anyone who has vials of counterfeit Procrit should quarantine them and call FDA, toll-free 1-800-835-4709, or Ortho Biotech, toll-free 1-800-325-7504, so that investigators can examine them.

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