Access to Military Health Care

For Reservists Is Backed

The Senate voted 70 to 25 yesterday to allow 300,000 National Guard and Reserve members not on active duty to buy health care coverage for themselves and their families through the federally subsidized military health system.

Dependents of National Guard and Reserve members called to active service would also be eligible for help from the Defense Department in paying premiums on private health care plans to ensure no break in their coverage. The government already picks up all health care costs of active-duty personnel.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) noted that the annual cost of $1 billion over the next five years would be less than that of some bridges in a pending highway bill. Final approval is not assured, because the House-passed defense bill does not include the insurance provision.

House Democrats Call

For Halliburton Inquiry

House Democrats urged a special counsel to probe whether Vice President Cheney broke the law through any involvement in the award of a government contract in Iraq to his former company, Halliburton Co.

For the second day, Democrats demanded more answers to questions raised by a newly unearthed Army e-mail that said Cheney's office "coordinated" action on a contract to rebuild Iraq's oil infrastructure that was awarded to Halliburton.

Eleven Democratic members of the House wrote to Attorney General John D. Ashcroft asking him to name a special counsel to investigate Cheney's role.

$25 Billion in War Funds

Is Approved by Senate

Voting 95 to 0, the Senate approved a $25 billion "contingency fund" for fighting the war in Iraq and Afghanistan -- a top priority of the administration as it plans for a continued occupation well into next year.

In a bow to members in both parties who have become restive about yielding too much control over the war funds to the administration, the Senate provision gives the administration a free hand to spend $2.5 billion of the total sum, with the rest allocated to service accounts.

"It is not a blank check," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who backed the amendment to the Senate version of the 2005 defense authorization bill. Last month, the House passed a more restrictive version of the $25 billion allocation.

Pollution in North America

On Decline, Panel Finds

Pollution in North America fell 10 percent over three years, but coal-burning power plants are lagging in improvements among industrial sources fouling the air, it was reported yesterday.

The 10 percent drop occurred from 1998 to 2001, said the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, a panel established by the United States, Canada and Mexico.

-- Compiled from reports from staff writer Dan Morgan and news services