Democrats Sue Over Medicare Costs

House Democrats filed a federal lawsuit against President Bush's top health adviser yesterday in an effort to compel the administration to release internal cost estimates from last year predicting that the Medicare prescription drug law would cost one-third more than the White House said.

The lawsuit, by the 18 Democrats on the House Government Reform Committee, alleges that Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson violated a 1928 law that requires federal agencies to share relevant information with Congress anytime at least seven members of a committee request it.

The suit escalates a tug of war between congressional Democrats and administration officials that began when the Medicare program's chief actuary disclosed that he had been threatened with firing if he gave Congress his calculations that the new Medicare law would cost $500 billion to $600 billion during the next decade. Bush said last year that it would cost $400 billion but revised the amount to $534 billion four months ago, provoking the ire of Democrats and some conservative Republicans.

HHS spokesman Bill Pierce called the lawsuit "just politics, pure and simple." Pierce said that the statute cited in the suit does not grant Congress access to the documents the Democrats seek and that Thompson has testified before lawmakers "on at least six specific occasions" about the law's costs.

U.S. to Follow Toxic-Chemical Treaty

A global treaty phasing out a dozen highly toxic chemicals took effect without the United States, although the Bush administration promised to abide by the agreement.

The Senate has yet to ratify the treaty, and Congress has not passed legislation to carry it out because of a disagreement over whether to add more toxic chemicals to the ban later. Nevertheless, the United States will comply with it "wherever we have the current legal authority," said Claudia A. McMurray, deputy assistant secretary of state for environment.

The United Nations-sponsored Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants aims to ban or severely restrict 12 chemicals known as the "dirty dozen." The 12 toxic chemicals tend to persist in the environment, travel long distances and accumulate in the food chain. They are PCBs, dioxins, furans, DDT, and the pesticides aldrin, hexachlorobenzene, chlordane, mirex, toxaphene, dieldrin, endrin and heptachlor. Many of these have been linked to cancer and other diseases.

For the Record

* The head of the Washington office of the International Committee of the Red Cross has resigned for "personal reasons," amid turmoil created by a secret ICRC report on Iraqi prisoner abuse by U.S. forces. Christophe Girod, a 17-year veteran of the international body, declined to comment on his reasons for leaving and would not say whether his decision was linked to dismay over the world body's handling of the Iraq prisoner-abuse scandal.

* The State Department mildly criticized China for threatening to crush any moves by Taiwan toward independence. The department said China and Taiwan should address their differences through dialogue.

-- Compiled from reports by staff writer

Amy Goldstein, the Associated Press and Reuters