Friday, August 15, 2008


Premiums expected to rise $3 next year

The typical Medicare beneficiary can expect to see about a $3 increase in their monthly premiums for prescription drug coverage in 2009, federal officials said Thursday.

Officials made the projection based on bids from private insurers that get the premiums along with a federal subsidy to administer the benefit. The increase of 12 percent will up the monthly premium to $28 for standard drug coverage.

Medicare officials cited several factors in the increase. Primarily, people are using more prescriptions, plus the costs of many of those drugs are going up.

Despite the increase, Medicare officials said the monthly premiums are still way below what was projected when the program was approved in 2003. Then, projections were for premiums next year to come in at around $44. Officials have said the program’s lower costs are attributable to three main factors - lower enrollment, drug prices went up less than expected in the two years before the program began and insurers have been able to negotiate greater discounts than anticipated.


Stevens cites legislative rights

Sen. Ted Stevens accused the Justice Department of trampling on the independence of Congress, arguing Thursday that the corruption case against him should be thrown out.

That legal argument will test the limits of a court ruling that prosecutors fear could limit their ability to investigate corruption on Capitol Hill. Mr. Stevens said FBI agents went too far when they questioned his Senate aides.

The Alaska Republican is scheduled to go on trial next month on charges that he lied on Senate disclosure records about hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and services he received from a powerful oil services contractor, VECO Corp.

Mr. Stevens, in court documents, said the FBI’s long-running corruption probe intruded on his Senate affairs. He cited the Constitution’s speech-or-debate clause, which prohibits the executive branch from using its law enforcement authority to interfere with legislative business.

The Justice Department predicted this would happen after an appeals court ruled the FBI violated the Constitution by searching the Capitol Hill office of Rep. William J. Jefferson, Louisiana Democrat.


Republicans certain they will hold Virginia

RICHMOND | Republican strategists say the presidential race will be close in Virginia but they’re confident Sen. John McCain will win because Democratic Sen. Barack Obama is too liberal.

Mike DuHaime, Mr. McCain’s political director, predicted in a conference call Thursday that the Arizona senator will win because he is a good fit for what Mr. DuHaime describes as a center-right state. He also says the campaign will try to win Republican-leaning areas by wide margins.

Mr. DuHaime acknowledges the Illinois senator has a larger budget and larger staff, but said Mr. McCain’s campaign is targeting new voters and making sure they go to the polls on Election Day.

Clark Stevens, a spokesman for Mr. Obama’s Virginia campaign, says it will be a tough fight but Virginians understand Mr. Obama’s record, including his work with Senate Republicans.


4 Democrats criticize report on oil prices

Four Democratic senators on Thursday asked for an investigation into a government report on oil prices that the lawmakers said was based on flawed information.

In a letter to the inspector general of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the senators criticized an interim study released last month that said fundamental supply-and-demand factors were to blame for the recent run-up in oil prices. The senators said the study, which played down the role of speculation, was based on inaccurate data.

They also questioned the timing of its release. The report was issued a few days before the Senate voted not to move forward on legislation that would have required the commission to set limits on trading in oil markets by investors and speculators.

“The report, which specifically addressed speculation, appears to have been created and released to influence that Senate vote, which would be highly improper, in our view,” wrote Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, Maria Cantwell of Washington and Bill Nelson of Florida.


Obama plays golf, visits kin’s grave

KAILUA, Hawaii | Sen. Barack Obama on Wednesday took in a round of golf with friends, visited his grandfather’s grave with family at a war cemetery and slurped an icy dessert with neighborhood children.

The Democratic presidential candidate, a Hawaii native, has spent the week vacationing on the islands.

Mr. Obama viewed Oahu’s soaring green mountains and visited scenic overlooks. He spent a leisurely seven hours golfing at Luana Hills Country Club - a difficult course in the shadow of Oahu’s eastern peaks. He also dropped by the windy Pali Lookout to view the other side of the island from where he grew up.

He clasped the hands of his daughters, Malia and Sasha, as they paid respects to his grandfather, Stanley Dunham, who fought in World War II and is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in the crater of an extinct volcano.


Daughter writes book about McCain

ASPEN, Colo. | Add another book to the pile from this year’s presidential campaign, although this one is an especially quick and easy read.

“My Dad, John McCain,” by the Republican candidate’s 23-year-old daughter Meghan, is heavily illustrated and aimed at readers ages 5 to 10. Coming to bookstores soon from publisher Aladdin, it understandably portrays Mr. McCain in heroic terms.

Recounting his refusal to be released from a North Vietnamese prison ahead of his fellow captives, Meghan writes, “I think only a great man would have made that choice.”

When he returned from the war, she writes, “my dad met and married my mom, Cindy.” She notes the birth of herself and her two brothers, and the adoption of her sister Bridget, but does not mention Mr. McCain’s first marriage or the daughter it produced.

In what is surely a safe bet, the book projects into the future: “In September 2008, the Republican Party had a big meeting, the Republican National Convention. And on that day, my dad was officially chosen as the Republican candidate for president of the United States.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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