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News Briefs

Democrats Balk at Privatization Aspect of Medicare Bill

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- WASHINGTON

A day after Republican negotiators said they had reached a tentative agreement on a prescription drug benefit for the elderly, Senate Democrats said on Thursday that the benefit could be in jeopardy if conservative House Republicans insisted on a plan forcing the traditional Medicare program to compete directly with private health plans.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said the drug benefits were “at grave risk at this time” because House Republicans were pushing the Medicare bill in a conservative direction.

Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., the Democratic leader, said, “the president can solve this problem,” by using his influence with House Republicans.

Forty-one senators -- 39 Democrats, one independent and one Republican, Olympia J. Snowe of Maine -- signed a letter to President Bush urging him to intervene in the Medicare negotiations, to ensure that the final bill could win bipartisan support.

“A partisan conference report that jeopardizes Medicare and does not provide meaningful assistance to the elderly and disabled should not and will not pass,” the letter said.

Amazon Allowing Browsers To See Some of Books’ Text

THE NEW YORK TIMES

The online retailer Amazon.com has started a feature that lets users search for specific words or phrases in a database of the texts of 120,000 books.

The feature, named “Search Inside the Book,” lets anyone see a few pages of the book surrounding the phrase; registered users can see up to 20 pages at a time. Amazon.com plans to add more books to the database.

In a letter on Amazon’s Web site, the company’s founder, Jeffrey P. Bezos, said it added the feature to benefit customers. Publishers have said Amazon.com billed it as a better way to sell books, by letting shoppers sample them, recreating part of the experience of browsing in a bookstore.

Some book publishers have said that by offering a free source of information about a variety of topics, the feature may also help Amazon more than the publishers, because it will attract shoppers to other merchandise like music, electronics or apparel, as well as books.

Amazon.com said that 190 publishers were participating, but some publishing executives said they were still watching to be sure the new service did not hurt book sales by giving away contents.

Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, a writers trade group, was more dubious. “We find it a matter of serious concern,” he said.