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News Briefs

Bill Seeks to Overturn Bush’s Ban on Family Planning Funds


A bipartisan group of lawmakers launched a bid Thursday to overturn President Bush’s ban on giving federal funds to international family planning groups that use other funds to pay for abortion-related activity.

Backing the effort are several international health organizations concerned the ban will force them to halt efforts encouraging their countries to liberalize abortion laws to reduce the number of women who die from illegal abortions.

The legislation to overturn Bush’s ban has a good chance of passing in the Senate, which historically has been more supportive of family planning and abortion rights. Its prospects are more uncertain in the House, where the Republican majority could use parliamentary procedures to thwart it.

The ban, one of Bush’s first acts as president, prohibited any overseas organization that gets U.S. aid for family planning from using funds received from other sources for abortion counseling, abortion referrals, performing abortions or lobbying to liberalize abortion laws.

Direct use of U.S. money for abortion-related activities by international organizations has been blocked since 1973.

Dell Lays Off 1,700 Workers


Dell Computer Corp. announced Thursday morning that it was firing 1,700 employees, or 4 percent of its work force, in an attempt to cut costs in a softening desktop computer market.

“It’s a tough decision and a hard thing to have to go through,” said Mike Maher, a spokesman for the company.

The layoffs will affect workers in the administrative, marketing and product support areas of the computer manufacturer. Most of the employees are in the company’s home base in the Round Rock, Texas, area, though some workers in the San Jose, Calif., office also will lose their jobs.

Dell’s announcement came hours before it was to announce its earnings. Sales this quarter are expected by analysts to be between $8.5 billion and $8.6 billion, down from earlier forecasts of $8.7 billion.

In terms of overall U.S. shipments, Dell is still the number one computer manufacturer, but some analysts say that holding that position has been costly. “They’ve been a bit too aggressive in building and maintaining market share,” said Anne Bui, an analyst with IDC, who said this may be the one of the most disappointing quarters in the company’s 16-year history.

Senate Duo Makes Bipartisan Pitch for Medicare Reform


The Senate’s leading bipartisan pair of advocates for Medicare reform opened this year’s round of debate Thursday in what they say is the most favorable climate so far for changes that would include adding a prescription drug benefit.

Sens. John B. Breaux (D-La.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) offered two versions of a centrist proposal they have been developing for two years that would modernize the health care program for the elderly. Their bill would guarantee prescription drug coverage for everyone in Medicare, regardless of income.

With a new president and new key committee leaders who have endorsed the general approach of the legislation, “I think we have a unique opportunity for comprehensive Medicare reform to have a realistic chance of being adopted in this Congress,” Breaux said.