Nation briefs 8/2/06

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Morning-after pill entangles FDA nominee

WASHINGTON -- Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, nominated to head the Food and Drug Administration, insisted at his confirmation hearing Tuesday that "medical ideology" -- not politics -- guided his handling of proposed over-the-counter sales of the morning-after contraceptive. Senators hammered von Eschenbach about the timing and substance of a surprise FDA announcement that it would again consider expanding access to the emergency contraceptive known as Plan B. The announcement came Monday on the eve of the confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and was the latest word in the three-year quest to widen access to the pill, made by Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc. Von Eschenbach said he decided to consider allowing women 18 and older to buy the pills without a doctor's prescription "not on a political ideology, but on a medical ideology." He said data did not support safe over-the-counter use by minors.

Senate approves more offshore drilling in Gulf

WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted Tuesday to open 8.3 million acres of federal waters in the central Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling, setting up a confrontation with the House, which wants even more drilling in waters now off-limits. Supporters said the measure would be a major step toward producing more domestic energy and forcing down natural gas prices that have soared in recent years. The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 71-25. It now must be reconciled with much broader drilling legislation passed by the House in June. Those negotiations are likely to begin in September.

Taum Sauk cleanup could cause fish to die

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Some fish could go belly up as a result of the cleanup efforts from the Taum Sauk reservoir failure. The Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday that some fish are expected to die as the water is drained from the lower Taum Sauk reservoir. Contractors for Ameren Corp., which runs the hydroelectric plant, are trying to remove sediment deposited in the lake when the upper Taum Sauk reservoir ruptured in December. Ameren began draining the reservoir July 13, and it could be nearly empty by later this week.

Bush passes annual physical, adds 5 pounds

WASHINGTON -- President Bush says his annual physical shows him in fine shape -- though he's a little upset about those extra five pounds he's packed on. After a nearly four-hour physical exam, Bush's doctors on Tuesday pronounced him in good health and "fit for duty," the White House said. Bush himself said, "Doing fine. Health's fine. Probably ate too many birthday cakes." The president celebrated his 60th birthday on numerous occasions last month. White House press secretary Tony Snow said, "The doctors once again have found the president fit for duty and have every reason to expect that he will remain so for the duration of his presidency. The exam was at the National Naval Medical Center. A fuller report from Bush's doctors was to be released by the White House late Tuesday.

Two-thirds of Guard units not ready for war

WASHINGTON -- More than two-thirds of the Army National Guard's 34 brigades are not combat ready due largely to vast equipment shortfalls that will take as much as $21 billion to correct, the top National Guard general said Tuesday. The comments by Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum came in the wake of disclosures by Army officials, analysts and members of Congress that two-thirds of the active Army's brigades are not rated ready for war. The problem, they say, is driven by budget constraints that won't allow the military to complete the personnel training and equipment repairs and replacement that must be done when units return home after deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan.

-- From wire reports

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