Nation briefs 07/16/03

FCC Democrats seek to freeze media ownership rules

WASHINGTON -- Democrats on the Federal Communications Commission sought Tuesday to prevent recently relaxed media ownership rules from going into effect in order to allow more time for legislative attempts to reverse the changes.

Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein asked Chairman Michael Powell to allow a commission vote on a temporary stay of the new rules. The regulations go into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, an action expected within weeks.

The Republican-controlled FCC eased decades-old restrictions on ownership of newspapers and television and radio stations with a 3-2 party-line vote on June 2. The decision allowed individual companies to own television stations that reach nearly half the nation's viewers and combinations of newspapers and broadcast stations in the same city.

Many media companies said the old restrictions hindered their ability to grow and compete in a market changed by cable television, satellite broadcasts and the Internet. Critics warned the changes will lead to mergers that could put just a few companies in control of what most people see, hear and read.

Debate begins over Medicare makeover, prescriptions

WASHINGTON -- Divided along ideological as well as political lines, senior lawmakers from the House and Senate pledged their best efforts to find common ground Tuesday as they opened talks over Medicare prescription drug and modernization legislation.

"This is not going to be easy," said Rep. W.J. Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the House Energy Committee, a prediction that drew no dissent.

"Some say the bills go too far. Some say not far enough," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "Policy differences are fine. But lines in the sand are not."

The meeting consisted of little more than gentle jockeying for position, and no policy differences were debated nor deadlines set for agreement on legislation that several lawmakers said marked a historic opportunity.

The hard work of compromise will begin in the coming days, as lawmakers try to mesh different bills passed by the House and Senate, each designed to achieve twin objectives.

Both bills would provide prescription drug benefits for older people, delivered through private insurance companies and subsidized by the government.

House panel cuts Bush's nuclear research funds

WASHINGTON -- In a surprise break with the Bush administration, the Republican-led House is moving to scale back an administration nuclear weapons development plan that includes research into new "bunker-busting" nuclear warheads.

The Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill Tuesday that excluded $51 million the Energy Department has considered essential for the new nuclear weapons research programs for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

The money had been stripped from the legislation by a subcommittee, and no effort was made Tuesday to restore it as part of a $27.1 billion bill to provide money for the Energy Department and other programs.

Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, chairman of the subcommittee that removed the funds, said the spending requests failed to reflect a post-Cold War era where the country's nuclear weapons stockpile was being reduced.

"Unfortunately, the Department of Energy continues to ask Congress to fund a Cold War nuclear arsenal, and the nuclear weapons complex necessary to maintain that arsenal, even though we no longer face a Cold War adversary," said Hobson.

Authorities: Missing children may have been killed in N.H.

CONCORD, N.H. -- Two missing children from New Hampshire may have been killed there, before their father drove cross-country to California, the state attorney general said Tuesday.

But Attorney General Peter Heed said there was no new information that would help authorities find the children, ages 11 and 14, who haven't been seen since the Fourth of July.

"Everyone is on the lookout," Heed said.

The children's father, Manuel Gehring, was arrested Thursday in Gilroy, Calif., on charges of interfering with custody. The disappearances were deemed a suspected double-homicide two days later.

Gehring, 44, waived extradition and was expected to return to New Hampshire late Tuesday. He would likely be arraigned Wednesday on the custody charge, Heed said.

-- From wire reports