National briefs 6/26

Seven injured in blast at Pfizer chemical lab

GROTON, Conn. -- A chemical drum exploded at the Pfizer Corp. research lab Tuesday, blowing the roof off a warehouse and injuring seven people, two critically, authorities said. The explosion happened inside a small warehouse used to store chemicals for making batches of test pharmaceuticals, said Pfizer spokeswoman Liz Power.

The drum filled with a solvent containing lithium smoldered, then exploded, setting a fire that was contained to the metal building, Power said.

The blast peeled the metal roof off the building and blew out windows on an adjacent building, Power said.

Two people were hospitalized in critical condition with burns over large parts of their bodies, a hospital spokesman said. Five others were treated for less severe injuries and released.

Fed meets with little expectations of changes

WASHINGTON -- Faced with an economy that's not showing much gusto, the Federal Reserve probably will hold short-term interest rates at 40-year lows through the summer, giving borrowers yet more time to take advantage of low-cost financing.

That's the growing feeling among economists as Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and his Federal Open Market Committee colleagues began a two-day meeting Tuesday to discuss interest rate policy.

Reinforcing that view was a report that showed consumer confidence fell in June to a four-month low.

Bush urges House leaders to up debt limit

WASHINGTON -- President Bush prodded House leaders on Tuesday to work together to increase the government's ability to borrow money, saying the action was essential "as we fight for freedom" against terrorism.

In a letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. and the Democratic leader, Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, Bush asked that "the bipartisan cooperation you have shown in our war against terror" be extended to the politically thorny issue of the debt limit.

The Democratic-controlled Senate approved legislation unanimously two weeks ago to raise the debt limit by $450 billion.

Hastert has proposed attaching the increased borrowing authority to separate legislation providing additional funding for the war on terrorism. But that bill is at the center of House-Senate negotiations, and Senate Democrats insist the debt limit bill be cleared on its own.

House passes tough sex offenders measure

WASHINGTON -- Judges could order lifetime supervision for sex offenders under a bill approved by the House on Tuesday. It was one of several crackdowns on sex offenders considered by the House.

Another measure would allow a sentence of 15 years in prison for people who travel to foreign lands to have sex with a minor.

A third bill attempts to bypass a Supreme Court decision that struck down a ban of computer simulations of child pornography.

-- From wire reports