Nation briefs 11/24/03

Chi-Chi's litigation hinges on company's insurance

PITTSBURGH -- Five lawsuits have already been filed against the Chi-Chi's restaurant chain over a hepatitis A outbreak that has killed three people and sickened nearly 600, and scores of other lawsuits are likely to follow. But legal experts say two key issues facing the company could determine whether victims and their families get the settlements they seek: insurance and bankruptcy. The Mexican restaurant chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Oct. 8, citing cash flow problems, a month before the hepatitis outbreak was confirmed.

Dean dismisses charge as 'Washington claptrap'

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Howard Dean dismissed Rep. Dick Gephardt's statement that Dean was too earger to cut social programs for the disabled and funding for children in poverty during his 12 years as Vermont's governor as "Washington claptrap" and said criticism has escalated as his surging campaign built momentum. As Dean has surged in polls he has come under increasing fire, particularly from Gephardt's belittling of Dean's commitment to bedrock Democratic issues like health care and Medicare.

Polls show support for gay marriage in Mass.

BOSTON -- Two new polls released Sunday show Massachusetts lawmakers could be bucking public opinion if they try to thwart the Supreme Judicial Court's ruling last week that found the state's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. Fifty percent of Massachusetts residents surveyed for a Boston Globe/ WBZ-TV poll said they agreed with the ruling, while 38 percent opposed it. A separate Boston Sunday Herald poll found 49 percent said they support legalizing gay marriage, while 38 percent oppose it.

Gas prices increase a half-cent over two weeks

CAMARILLO, Calif. -- Retail gasoline prices rose about a half-cent per gallon in the past two weeks as crude oil prices remained firm and demand increased because of the improving economy, an industry analyst said Sunday. The average price Friday for a gallon of self-serve gas nationwide, including all grades and taxes, was about $1.55, according to the Lundberg Survey of 8,000 stations. That was up 0.53 cents since Nov. 7.

Democrats insist Republicans pull Bush ad

WASHINGTON -- Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle is demanding that Republicans stop showing their first television ad of the 2004 presidential race, which he called "repulsive and outrageous." The 30-second ad, featuring clips of Bush during his State of the Union address last January, portrays the president as a fighter of terrorism as Democrats retreat from the fight.

Medicare bill carries new tax-free savings accounts

WASHINGTON -- New health savings accounts included in the Medicare legislation would let individuals save, invest and then spend money tax-free. To avoid all taxes, the dollars must pay for medical expenses. The lure of "tax-free asset accumulation," as advertised by the House Ways and Means Committee, coaxed some conservative Republicans into supporting a vast new Medicare drug benefit. Critics contend the accounts establish a tax shelter for the wealthy and set a precedent for future accounts to let affluent families evade taxes.

-- From wire reports