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News Briefs, part 1

GOP-Dominated Committee Imperils School Lunch Program

Los Angeles Times

A Republican-dominated committee Thursday rebuffed a Democratic effort to preserve the national guaranteed school lunch program that has fed tens of millions of children since it was created after World War II.

Voting strictly along party lines, 23-17, the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee endorsed a GOP initiative to roll the program into a block grant to states as part of the GOP's comprehensive welfare reform plan, ignoring President Clinton's public denunciation of changes in nutrition programs.

In addition to ending the national school meal program, which guarantees free and subsidized lunches and breakfasts to some 25 million children across the United States, the committee measure would combine several other feeding programs into another grant and lump federal child care programs into a third grant.

If the GOP reform initiative is enacted, the federal government would no longer run the school-based meal programs or other nutrition programs for poor children and pregnant and breast-feeding women. Instead, states would receive block grants that would give them more flexibility in how they allocated money for feeding and child care programs.

Brady Measure Has Stopped Thousands of Gun Purchases

The Washington Post

The year-old federal Brady law, which requires a background check and waiting period for handgun purchases, has blocked thousands of prohibited persons from buying pistols and revolvers, but federal authorities have prosecuted fewer than 10 people for lying to get firearms.

Next week, the Clinton administration is scheduled to announce that an estimated 40,000 handgun transactions have been blocked in the 28 states and territories since the law took effect. United States attorneys, meanwhile, have prosecuted four cases and declined to prosecute four others, Justice Department officials said Thursday. Twenty-seven cases are under investigation.

The number of individuals, including fugitives and convicted felons, barred from buying guns indicates the law is having an impact, officials said. But the small number of federal prosecutions has caused some officials to ask whether the federal government is aggressively pursuing criminals who have broken the handgun law named for former White House press secretary James Brady, who was wounded during the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan.

Yeltsin Says He'll Take Personal Charge of Military Reforms

The Washington Post

With his army bogged down in Chechnya and his popularity ratings wallowing at record lows, President Boris Yeltsin said Thursday he would take personal charge of military reforms and suggested he would find new resources for the armed forces.

"The army is starting to disintegrate a bit. We have to be tough and firm so military people believe that there will be reforms," he said. "As president and commander in chief, I am prepared personally to control the course of the reforms."

Yet even as Yeltsin tried to project an image of leadership and resolve at a wreath-laying ceremony to mark Defenders of the Fatherland Day, there were new reminders of the deep damage that has been done to his government and personal prestige by the war in Chechnya. As the war drags on for an 11th week, with its daily television images of death and destruction, Yeltsin's standing sinks day by day.

A new poll by the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center showed more than half of Russians want Yeltsin to resign immediately and two-thirds prefer that he not run for re-election next year. Just 9 percent approve of the way he is handling his job - a figure in line with other recent public-opinion surveys.