- - Monday, June 20, 2011

HEALTH CARE

More than 5M on Medicare use free preventive care

The Obama administration says more than 5 million seniors have taken advantage of one or more preventive services that Medicare started covering free of charge this year because of the new health care law.

Nonetheless, officials launched a publicity campaign Monday to raise awareness about the new benefits. An annual checkup is included, as well as specific tests for such conditions as osteoporosis, different kinds of cancer that affect men and women, and heart problems. Counseling for smokers who want to quit is also covered.

REGULATORY

Food, drug safety requires joint effort with importers

U.S. food and drug regulators would share more information with their foreign counterparts as part of a multifaceted strategy to police the safety of millions of imported goods.

A Food and Drug Administration report issued Monday lays out plans to deal with the flood of imports, which have quadrupled over the past decade, by computerizing systems for tracking imports and collaborating more closely with regulators in developing countries.

The report paints a daunting picture for regulators. Nearly two-thirds of all fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States are imports, while 80 percent of pharmaceutical ingredients are imported from abroad.

SUPREME COURT

Justices to hear case based on Lewis and Clark notes

The Supreme Court is entering a $40 million dispute between an energy company and Montana that could turn on the experiences of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

The justices said Monday they will hear an appeal from PPL Montana of a state court decision ordering the company to pay $40 million in rent for placing its hydroelectric dams in riverbeds owned by the state.

The ownership of the waterways turns on whether they were navigable when Montana became a state in 1889. Both the company and the state base part of their argument on the journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark more than 200 years ago.

CONGRESS

Lawmaker to push energy bill on behalf of wounded Giffords

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee is pushing a bill to help the military deal with its energy needs - and he is doing it on behalf of injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state plans to introduce the bill in the House this week. He is one of several lawmakers who has kept an eye on Mrs. Giffords’ interests as the congresswoman recovers from a gunshot wound to the head in January.

The Defense Department spends about $20 billion a year on fuel and electricity, relying in large part on oil. The legislation would create a joint task force for alternative fuel development, push for the Pentagon to buy electric and hybrid vehicles and provide money for energy-efficiency steps at older buildings.

TEXAS

Gov. Perry plans trip to S. Carolina

AUSTIN — Texas Gov. Rick Perry has added South Carolina to his summer travel schedule.

The Republican governor has added the trip - his first this year to an early presidential nominating state - as he moves closer to making a decision about a White House bid.

Mr. Perry will speak to a RedState conservative blogger conference on Aug. 13 in Charleston. The event is the same day as the influential Iowa straw poll, one of the earliest momentum-building contests in the 2012 presidential race.

Early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are seen as key battlegrounds for the eventual nominee. The contests traditionally are won through frequent visits and courting of local officials.

STATE DEPARTMENT

Clinton takes up women’s driving ban with Saudis

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a strong advocate of women’s rights, has raised Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving with the kingdom’s foreign minister, the State Department said Monday.

Mrs. Clinton spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on Friday about a range of regional issues, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said.

Rights groups have publicly pressed Mrs. Clinton to oppose Saudi Arabia’s driving ban, which has been publicly challenged in recent weeks by Saudi women who have risked arrest to get behind the wheel.

Saudi Arabia - a key U.S. security ally and important oil supplier - is an absolute monarchy that imposes an austere version of Sunni Islam on the populace. Besides a ban on driving, women in Saudi Arabia must have written approval from a male guardian to leave the country, work or even undergo certain medical operations.

WHITE HOUSE

Syria’s Assad called on to halt protest crackdown

The White House on Monday urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to take “concrete action” on his promise of political reforms and called on him to halt a violent crackdown on civilians.

“I’m not saying the words are meaningless but he needs to act upon them,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters when asked about Mr. Assad’s pledge of a national dialogue to address a wave of protests against his rule.

WHITE HOUSE

Biden debt talks scheduled three days this week

Vice President Joseph R. Biden will hold meetings with lawmakers, seeking to reach an agreement on the budget deficit and debt limit, three days this week - Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

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