- - Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Reid: Add deficit ‘cap’ mechanism

The leader of the Democrat-controlled Senate said Wednesday that any legislation increasing the government’s ability to borrow more money to meet its obligations should contain a cap on how big the deficit can be in any given year.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said the mechanism would involve a new law binding Congress to reduce the deficit. The Nevada Democrat didn’t give further details, but several proposals on Capitol Hill would trigger automatic spending cuts or tax increases if Congress can’t meet spending or deficit targets.

“You would just have a law that says we have to do it,” Mr. Reid said. “There are all kinds of triggering mechanisms.”

Mr. Reid also said he would schedule a Senate vote on a controversial House GOP plan to slash the deficit. The plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, calls for a fundamental overhaul of Medicare for future retirees - those presently 54 years old or less - by transforming it from a program in which the government pays doctor and hospital bills into a voucherlike program in which the federal government subsidizes purchases of private insurance policies.

Raising the so-called debt limit - presently $14.3 trillion - is by far the most pressing question facing Congress and President Obama. The measure is required to avoid a first-ever default on U.S. obligations that would rattle financial markets.


Panel backs hepatitis drug

Federal health experts are recommending approval for a highly anticipated drug from Merck to treat hepatitis C, based on studies showing it cures patients at a higher rate than drugs used for more than 20 years.

A Food and Drug Administration panel of experts voted unanimously, 18-0, in favor of Merck’s boceprevir tablet as an effective treatment for hepatitis C, which affects an estimated 3.2 million Americans.

The agency is not required to follow the group’s recommendation, though it usually does. A final decision is expected mid-May.

On Thursday the panel will review a similar drug from Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Both of the new drugs block the enzyme that helps the hepatitis virus reproduce.

Panelists said the drug is largely safe, but noted side effects including anemia and lower blood cell counts.


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