Vaccination Plan May Cause

States' Health Care to Suffer

The Bush administration's plan to vaccinate as many as 10.5 million medical personnel and emergency responders against smallpox will cost between $600 million and $1 billion, and is likely to siphon money from other bioterrorism and public health efforts, local and state officials warn.

With most of the states already buckling under budget deficits, the widespread immunization campaign set to begin in late January amounts to "the ultimate unfunded federal mandate," said George Hardy, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. "We can't afford to do this at the expense of all other preparedness."

For months, city and state leaders have been preparing to inoculate about 450,000 medical professionals who would serve on smallpox response teams in the event of an outbreak. But few expected President Bush to adopt a broader proposal to encourage every remaining health care worker, police officer, firefighter and emergency medical technician to be immunized.

The federal government has spent more than $862 million to buy the smallpox vaccine. Last spring, the Bush administration distributed $918 million to state health departments for homeland security, money it says could defray smallpox vaccination costs.

The impact of leaping from 450,000 to as many as 10.5 million inoculations next spring is far greater than the numbers suggest, state officials said. Mounting a smallpox vaccination program 30 years after routine immunizations were stopped in the United States will require extensive education and training, careful medical screening for people at risk of complications, near-daily checking of inoculation sites and vast data collection, health officials said.

-- Ceci Connolly

Frist to Replace Lott

As Senate Majority Leader

Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee was chosen unanimously by fellow Republicans as the new Senate majority leader, and immediately pledged to help heal the racial wounds left behind by his predecessor.

After he was elected Monday by voice vote in a conference call among 48 of the Senate's incoming 51 Republicans, Frist sought to move beyond the furor created this month when former GOP leader Trent Lott (Miss.) referred nostalgically to Strom Thurmond's segregationist campaign for the White House in 1948.

"We must dedicate ourselves to healing those wounds of division that have been reopened so prominently during the past few weeks," Frist said in his home town of Nashville. Without mentioning legislative specifics, he said he hoped "what has occurred in the last few weeks" would help serve as a "catalyst for unity and a catalyst for positive change."

Frist and other Republicans tried to steer the focus back to key items on the legislative agenda of President Bush and his GOP allies, including economic growth, anti-terror efforts and health care -- Frist's own specialty. He indicated that a prescription drug benefit for Medicare patients would be a top priority, but left specifics until later.

Frist, 50, a heart-and-lung transplant surgeon who has been a senator for eight years, will become majority leader when the 108th Congress convenes Jan. 7. Republicans won a one-seat majority in the November elections, ending an 18-month Democratic reign.

-- Helen Dewar

Iraq Downs Air Force Drone

Over Southern 'No-Fly' Zone

A U.S. Air Force Predator drone was shot down over southern Iraq in the first successful Iraqi air-to-air attack since the Persian Gulf War.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the unmanned reconnaissance aircraft had been downed by "a lucky shot" from an Iraqi fighter. Defense officials said the Kuwait-based Predator was transmitting live pictures when it was fired on, and that several rounds missed before the drone's signal went dead.

U.S. officials said they considered Monday's shootdown a continuation, rather than an escalation, of exchanges of fire in the "no-fly" zone that the United States and Britain have declared off-limits to Iraqi aircraft since 1992. There is a similar "no-fly" zone in northern Iraq.

-- Thomas E. Ricks

and Karen DeYoung

China Frees Dissident,

Sends Him to United States

China freed its most prominent political prisoner, the longtime democracy activist Xu Wenli, and sent him to the United States on medical parole.

Xu's release marked the communist government's most significant concession to critics regarding its human rights record in several years, the latest in a series of gestures aimed at strengthening relations with Washington.

One of the founding fathers of the modern dissident movement in China, Xu spent more than 16 of the past 21 years in prison for his advocacy of democratic reform. The United States and other Western nations had been pressing the Chinese government for his release for years.

Xu was a leading figure in the Democracy Wall movement for greater political rights that was launched in the late 1970s after the death of Mao Zedong, the revolutionary leader who founded Communist China. Xu was jailed in late 1998 after trying to establish an independent political party, the China Democracy Party.

He walked out of Yanqing Prison and joined his wife Tuesday afternoon on a flight bound for Chicago and then New York. The news was announced by the Dui Hua Foundation, a human rights group that helped negotiate his release. There was no mention of his departure in China's state media.

-- Philip P. Pan

Koppel, Neighbors Battle

Over Limits on House Sizes

On the air, he has played the delicate role of referee to Israelis and Palestinians. In the midst of South Africa's clash over apartheid, he brought Foreign Minister R.F. Botha and Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu into U.S. homes on the same television broadcast.

But at home in Potomac, where he is building a massive riverfront estate on 16 acres of cattle pasture, Ted Koppel is at war with his neighbors.

The anchor of ABC's "Nightline" and his wife are entering the fifth year of a ferocious land dispute that is headed for court in Montgomery County. The Koppels contend in a lawsuit that their neighbors have ignored an agreement to cap the size of their houses at 10,000 square feet.

" 'Don't build a monster McMansion' -- that's the essence of what it is," said Rockville lawyer Thomas D. Murphy, who represents Koppel, 62, and his wife, Grace Anne Dorney, 63.

In the countersuit, the developers of the neighboring properties say that every home in the subdivision is under the 10,000-square-foot threshold except one: the Koppels'. They allege that the Koppel manse is expected to top 14,000 square feet. Koppel's attorney called that claim "completely fabricated" and said that the house would be 9,700 square feet.

-- Matthew Mosk