Frist Defends Refusal

To Extend Weapons Ban

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) yesterday defended Congress's refusal to extend the expiring federal ban on assault weapons as reflecting the "will of the American people," prompting a rebuttal from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chief sponsor of the 10-year-old ban.

"I think the will of the American people is consistent with letting it expire, so it will expire" at midnight Monday, Frist told reporters.

"That's baloney," said Feinstein when she was informed of Frist's comment. "The 'will of the American people' has been carefully evaluated by poll after poll that show two-thirds to three-fourths of the people support the ban."

The most recent national poll, conducted by the University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey, found that 68 percent of Americans wanted to extend the ban, including 57 percent of those with a gun in their household.

A Frist aide said the majority leader was referring to the lack of pressure for action from within the Senate. But Feinstein dissented on that point as well, noting that she had written Frist asking him to schedule a vote on the issue. The Senate voted earlier this year to extend the ban as part of a larger bill that subsequently died. The House has refused to act on the proposal.

Decision Postponed on

Forest Roads, Logging

The Bush administration said it will put off until after the elections a final decision on a plan to allow road building and logging on 58 million acres of remote forests where both are now prohibited.

Public comments on the proposed rule change, announced in July, will be accepted through Nov. 15.

Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who directs U.S. forest policy, said the delay is a "fairly straightforward" response to requests from a variety of groups for more time. "It's unrelated to the elections," he said.

Environmentalists said the administration appears to be rethinking the plan -- at least temporarily -- in the face of widespread opposition.

The administration said in July that it was reversing a 2001 executive order by President Bill Clinton that prohibited road construction on nearly a third of federal forestland.

The new policy calls for governors to decide by 2006 whether to petition the federal government to permit new roads in their forests or keep them untouched.

Fixing Shuttle Fleet

Could Cost $2.2 Billion

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said the cost of fixing all that ails the space shuttle fleet could top $2.2 billion -- double the estimated price tag given to Congress a year ago.

O'Keefe, testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee, was pressed on whether that estimate could rise again.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who chaired the hearing, noted that the space agency still has 10 items left of the 15 required improvements it must complete before the shuttles can fly again.

The space shuttle fleet has been grounded since Feb. 1, 2003, when the shuttle Columbia broke apart over Texas, killing all seven astronauts.

-- Compiled from reports

by staff writer Helen Dewar

and news services