- - Monday, June 11, 2012

A group of Democratic lawmakers Monday urged Health and Human Services officials to move swiftly on a pilot study on blood-donor policies so that the “indefensible” and “discriminatory” ban on donations by gay and bisexual men can be lifted.

The HHS pilot study should explore ways to distinguish high-risk men who have sex with men (MSM) from low-risk MSM “to avoid deferring low-risk, healthy, and viable blood donors from within the MSM community from donating blood,” Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, and Rep. Mike Quigley, Illinois Democrat, wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Ten other Senate Democrats, plus Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with them, also signed.

For instance, the donor questionnaire “could collect information on whether or not the donor is in a monogamous relationship, or if the donor engages in effective preventive measures,” they wrote.

This would allow the risk level of all potential donors to be assessed, regardless of sexual orientation, the lawmakers said, adding that it is “indefensible” that “healthy gay and bisexual men continue to be banned for life” while “a man who has had sex with an HIV-positive woman” can give blood after waiting only one year.

Current U.S. policy, established during the early years of the HIV/AIDS crisis, permanently defers any man who has had sex with a man since 1977. In 2010, federal advisers, who heard reports on blood safety from HIV-infected people, declined to change the donor policy but called for new research.


Feds plan to sue state over purge of voters

TALLAHASSEE — The U.S. Department of Justice is suing Florida to stop its push to remove what it says are ineligible voters from their rolls.

The federal agency Monday announced its intention to sue the state. It comes the same day that Florida announced it was suing a different federal agency over the purge.

Florida came up with a list that shows that as many as 182,000 registered voters may not be U.S. citizens. Election supervisors have been asked to check a much smaller list.

State officials have been seeking access to a federal immigration database to verify the matches. But that request has been turned down by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security so Florida is suing to gain access.

Federal officials, however, contend the purge violates federal voting laws.


Axelrod says voters will judge on actions

Senior political adviser David Axelrod says he doesn’t think voters will make much of President Obama’s remark that the private sector is doing fine.

Mr. Axelrod told CBS’ “This Morning” that what Mr. Obama meant to say was, “In the last 27 months, we have created 4.3 million private sector jobs.” Mr. Obama made the remark at a White House news conference but subsequently explained it further, saying the economy needs to improve.

In his interview Monday, Mr. Axelrod said voters will make their judgments based on Mr. Obama’s actions, not his words.

And he said Mr. Obama called the news conference Thursday specifically to discuss “urgent actions we should take to undergird the economy.”

Mr. Axelrod said the election will be about who is best suited to lead the country into the future.


McCotter’s strange exit leaves seat up for grabs

BIRMINGHAM — A congressional seat in the affluent Detroit suburbs that was considered an easy win for Republicans is now up for grabs after the shocking political collapse of veteran Rep. Thaddeus G. McCotter.

Four candidates are now vying for the seat. Two are little known. Another is a Democrat running in a strongly Republican district. And the newest contender is a write-in candidate.

Mr. McCotter dropped out of the race this month after election officials discovered that most of the signatures on his nominating petitions were apparently copies.

Now, Dr. Taj Syed, a physician running as a Democrat, hopes he can capitalize. Last week, GOP officials enlisted a former state legislator, Nancy Cassis, to enter the race. She hopes she can persuade voters to write her name on the ballot.


Obama downplays effect of Wisconsin election

President Obama says he doesn’t expect broad political repercussions from Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s success holding on to his office.

Mr. Obama told television station WBAY in Green Bay, Wis., on Monday that Mr. Walker’s recall election reflected specific circumstances in Wisconsin. He downplayed any effect on his political chances in the state, saying it was unusual for a governor to get that much attention in the middle of his term.

Mr. Obama has faced questions about why he didn’t spend time campaigning in the state on behalf of Democratic challenger Tom Barrett. In response, Mr. Obama said: “I’ve got a lot of responsibilities.”

“I was supportive of Tom and have been supportive of Tom. Obviously, I would have loved to see a different result,” he said. “But the broader principle is that we want an economy that is not focused on a few at the top. And we´re going to be fighting very hard in Wisconsin, just like we have in the past, to make sure that´s the kind of government people get.”

Mr. Walker faced a recall after pushing through legislation eliminating most public employees’ collective-bargaining rights.


State leaders agree to deny spouse killers burial rights

ALBANY — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders say they’ve agreed on a bill that will deny murderers control over the burials of the spouses they killed.

The issue had ignited outrage in western New York. The legislation is part of a package of domestic violence bills that also will toughen sentences and allow judges to set higher bail in the cases.

The burial measure is fueled by the case of Constance Shepherd. Her husband slashed her throat, then refused to release his wife’s body to her family in 2009. Eventually, Shepherd had his lawyer arrange to bury her remains hundreds of miles from her western New York home, near his favorite fishing hole.


Key lawmaker wants tax overhaul to boost economy

The Senate’s top tax writer says he wants to overhaul the nation’s tax code to help make the economy stronger and raise additional revenue to reduce budget deficits.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said in a speech Monday that a rewritten tax code should also promote more innovation and opportunity.

Many Republicans say a tax overhaul should involve lower rates and fewer tax loopholes but should have no net impact on the deficit.

The Montana Democrat provided little detail about how he would change tax laws.

He said a tax overhaul would likely have to wait until after lawmakers deal with a year-end “fiscal cliff,” when billions in tax cuts will expire and billions in automatic spending cuts will start taking effect unless Congress acts.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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