- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2008

DIPLOMACY

Congress to rework Mexico drug aid

MONTERREY, Mexico | U.S. lawmakers offered Sunday to ease conditions tied to a $1.4 billion drug-fighting plan for Mexico and Central America after the Mexican government called it a threat to sovereignty.

Mexico has rejected the Merida Initiative proposed by President Bush because of demands by Congress that the aid - which includes helicopters and encrypted communication devices - be subject to monitoring. U.S. lawmakers also want to include human rights oversight in the three-year package, which Mexico says is unacceptable.

But at a meeting of U.S. and Mexican lawmakers in this northern Mexican city, both sides agreed to try to save the anti-drug plan and soften the conditions. One way to do this could be to turn them into recommendations.

“We are going to fix the current wording in the proposal,” Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, told reporters in Spanish.

“Yes, we’re going to change it,” he replied when asked whether U.S. lawmakers would drop the conditions.

More than 1,400 people have been killed in drug violence so far this year across Mexico in cartel turf wars, a faster pace than in 2007, when about 2,500 people died.

“There is a good disposition [on the part of U.S. lawmakers] to modify the language in such a way that it is accepted on this side,” said Mexican Sen. Rosario Green, a former foreign minister.

CONGRESS

Senator charges ethics breach

A U.S. senator is accusing Harvard Medical School doctors who helped pioneer the use of psychiatric drugs in children of violating U.S. government and school rules by failing to properly disclose at least $3.2 million from drug makers, led by Johnson & Johnson and Eli Lilly.

Drs. Joseph Biederman, Timothy Wilens and Thomas Spencer conducted studies on how children are affected by drugs such as Lilly’s attention-deficit treatment Strattera.

They filed yearly disclosure forms with the Boston school showing they got a total of $120,000 from several drug makers, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said in the Congressional Record. When Mr. Grassley sought added documentation in March, they acknowledged getting more, he said.

Mr. Grassley said the conflicts of interest put the medical school and the affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, where the three work, in jeopardy of losing federal funds.

Dr. Biederman directs, and Dr. Wilens and Dr. Spencer are affiliated with, a research center at Mass. General that studies psychiatric medications in children. Dr. Biederman is the leading proponent of the idea that bipolar disorder, once viewed as an adult disease, can begin early in childhood and be treated with drugs.

Attempts by Bloomberg News service to reach the three doctors Sunday were not successful.

WHITE HOUSE

Bush prods Hill on troop funding

President Bush, seeking to better his negotiating position ahead of votes on a huge Iraq war-funding bill, said Saturday that U.S. troops “deserve better” than the treatment they are getting from the Democrat-led Congress.

“This is an opportunity for Congress to give our men and women in uniform the tools they need to protect us, and Congress should approve these vital funds immediately,” Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address. “Congress has had this funding request for more than a year, and there is no reason for further delay.” But the dispute over the hotly contested bill, and the delay in getting it passed, is as much as anything a result of demands from Mr. Bush that Democrats find unacceptable.

The bill contains unrelated domestic spending beyond Mr. Bush’s $178 billion war-funding request, and the president has threatened a veto if it doesn’t come out. Meanwhile, the White House wants to add money to the measure to let troops transfer ramped up GI Bill education benefits to their spouses or children.

Mr. Bush said that any further delay in passage will have dire consequences, such as temporary layoffs of civilian employees next month and no more paychecks for troops after July.

HOUSE

Budget chief vows balance and spending

The chairman of the House Budget Committee said Saturday that a 2009 spending blueprint passed by the Democrat-controlled Congress will restore funding for health care, energy and education while leading to a balanced budget by 2012.

Rep. John M. Spratt Jr., South Carolina Democrat, said the budget plan rejected proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and would broaden the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The plan would also add nearly $5 billion to the Veterans Affairs health care system in 2009, he said.

In his party’s weekly radio address, Mr. Spratt promised the bill would address skyrocketing fuel prices by spending more on home energy assistance for low-income families. “As for funding for alternative fuels, renewable energies and other energy initiatives, our budget provides $7.7 billion,” he said.

The House approved the $3.1 trillion budget plan Thursday; senators passed the measure Wednesday. The nonbinding measure does not go to President Bush, but instead sets guidelines for future action by Congress.

CONGRESS

Democrats to link legislation, election

Between now and Election Day, Democrats say they will use Congress to showcase the kinds of change promised by their presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama.

Some legislation they’ll choose have good prospects of passage - policy blueprints for higher education and the military; a ban on lead in toys - and skip over debates on spending plans and some taxes until a new president takes office.

Other bills they will debate are doomed. But on those, the point isn’t passage this year. It’s about making the case that the Democrats’ plan for children’s health care, for example, won’t become law without one of their own in the White House.

Whatever legislation Democrats offer, it will have been vetted for the benefit of the Obama campaign as is traditional between the congressional majority and its presidential candidate.

“Now that the primaries have come to a close, we relish the opportunity to compare agendas,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and the party’s chief fundraiser in the Senate. “It’s going to sharpen the focus in the Congress and the Senate. It’s going to sharpen the focus in the presidential race.”

CAMPAIGN

McCain team looks for Wisconsin key

MADISON, Wis. | A little-known country judge’s road to the Wisconsin Supreme Court is being eyed by backers of Sen. John McCain as a map for him to win the state.

Republican operatives are closely studying how circuit Judge Michael Gableman, a conservative candidate from Webster in far northwest Wisconsin who never ran a statewide race before, was able to oust a more liberal sitting Supreme Court justice in April.

They think his win provides a guide for Mr. McCain to become the first Republican to carry the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984 and capture its 10 electoral votes. Democrats John Kerry and Al Gore each won Wisconsin by a few thousand votes. Republicans have tried to figure out how to get over the hump ever since.

But Republican strategists such as Mark Graul are looking closely at it not because of the issues in the low-turnout nonpartisan race, which are mostly not comparable to presidential race, but where Mr. Gableman got his votes. He won without even coming close to carrying either of the state’s two largest cities, Milwaukee or Madison - the strongholds of the Democratic Party.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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