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Washington briefs

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 6, 2000

Reno: Without funds, tobacco suit will end

WASHINGTON -- Raising the stakes in a prolonged battle with her Republican adversaries, Attorney General Janet Reno warned Thursday that she will have no choice but to drop the government's landmark lawsuit against the tobacco industry if Congress refuses to provide $23-million to finance the litigation.

"Without that money," Reno told reporters, "we will not be able to proceed. And I think it is imperative that we move forward to protect the American people and to give them their day in court."

The Justice Department has been squabbling for the last year with GOP lawmakers who have moved to de-fund the tobacco litigation. Several bills now working their way through Congress do not include the tobacco funding and would severely restrict the department's ability to get the money elsewhere to prepare for trial.

Once again in September, fewer flights on time

That was below the 70.3 percent on-time rating in July, though not as bad as June's 66.3 rate.

And United Airlines continued to hold down the last spot with just 42.7 percent of its flights arriving on time in August.

While weather and airport capacity problems in the face of increasing travel volume have been blamed for many delays, United has also faced added trouble from a labor dispute with its pilots. That was finally settled Aug. 26.

August's best on-time performance was turned in by Northwest at 79.2 percent. Continental was second at 77.7 percent, followed by Delta, 77.3 percent; TWA, 76.7 percent; and Southwest, 76.2.

Rounding out the 10 major carriers were American, 73.9 percent; Alaska, 69.6 percent; US Airways, 67.3 percent; America West, 59.5 percent; and United, 42.7 percent.

Bill could add 900,000 to food stamp rolls

A provision added to an agricultural spending bill would allow recipients who have better cars and higher housing costs than now permitted.

Since 1996, enrollment in the program has dropped by a third to fewer than 17-million people living in 7.3-million households.

GOP cuts hate-crimes shield for homosexuals

The defense authorization bill probably won't be finished until Friday or early next week, officials said. But a Senate conference committee working on the bill voted 11-9 Thursday to drop the hate crime language, said Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

House panel backs auto safety bill

The bill would expand the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's authority and budget to investigate possible automotive defects. It also proposes prison sentences of up to 15 years for auto industry executives who withhold information on defective products that kill or injure consumers.

Few days are left before legislators adjourn, and many bills are competing for lawmakers' attention. Supporters said the auto safety bill's 42-0 committee approval was a major victory.

Congress sets aside $1-billion for AIDS

The legislation reauthorizes for five years the Ryan White CARE Act, which expired when the new fiscal year began Sunday. The House approved the measure by a 411-0 vote and the Senate by unanimous consent. It now goes to the president for his signature.

Rules proposed to close Medicaid loophole

"However well-intentioned some states may have been, the practice today clearly constitutes an abuse of the Medicaid system," said Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. "States and the federal government must operate the Medicaid program in a fiscally sound manner that serves both Medicaid patients and the taxpayers who support the program."

But Senate Finance Committee Chairman William Roth, who has sought administration action for months, accused the White House of "stepping backward."

Gramm resists Robertson on foreign debt relief

Robertson singled out Gramm in a Christian Broadcasting Network newscast Tuesday as the obstacle to a proposal by President Clinton to forgive poor nations' billion-dollar debts to international financial institutions and other creditors.

"They say one senator is really standing in the way and that's Phil Gramm of Texas, and some of you Texans might let Sen. Gramm know this is a good initiative to help these people. And it's not going to take any money from American taxpayers," Robertson said in the broadcast.

What's keeping Gramm from agreeing to the relief are continuing reports of human rights abuses in some of the countries that owe the money and what he said are lack of assurances the money gets to people who need the assistance.

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