House Ethics Panel Rebukes

DeLay Over Quid Pro Quo

The House ethics committee admonished Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) for offering a political favor to a Michigan lawmaker in exchange for the member's vote on last year's hard-fought Medicare prescription drug bill.

After a six-month investigation, the committee concluded that DeLay had told Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) he would endorse the congressional bid of Smith's son if the congressman gave GOP leaders a much-needed vote in a contentious pre-dawn roll call on Nov. 22.

"This conduct could support a finding that . . . DeLay violated House rules," the committee said in its report. ". . . It is improper for a member to offer or link support for the personal interests of another member as part of a quid pro quo to achieve a legislative goal."

The panel, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, said it would take no further action in the case.

DeLay said he accepted the committee's "guidance," adding: "During my entire career I have worked to advance my party's legislative agenda. However, to this end, I would never knowingly violate the rules of the House."

-- Charles Babington

Workers Pay More But Get

Fewer Health Care Benefits

In the past four years, Americans have spent an ever-growing portion of their paychecks on health care and for the most part gotten less for their money, forcing millions into the ranks of the uninsured or personal bankruptcy, according to government figures and several independent assessments.

Nationwide, workers' costs for health insurance have risen by 36 percent since 2000, dwarfing the average 12.4 percent increase in earnings since President Bush took office, the liberal consumer group Families USA reported. The number of Americans spending more than a quarter of their income on medical costs climbed from 11.6 million in 2000 to 14.3 million this year, the group said.

The news comes as many companies are dropping medical coverage entirely or trimming their benefit packages, while taxpayers are subsidizing millions of people below the poverty line who have enrolled in the state-run Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program, a separate survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found. Hardest hit have been low-income working families, Hispanics and people with chronic conditions.

From 2001 to 2004, the proportion of workers receiving health coverage through an employer fell from 65 percent to 61 percent, according to the latest Kaiser data.

The impact on businesses cuts across the board, however, according to a survey of 900 businesses by Mercer Human Resource Consulting.

The number of Americans without health insurance for all of 2003 hit a record 45 million, or 15.6 percent of the population, the highest percentage since 1998, when the rate was 16.3 percent, according to the latest Census Bureau figures.

-- Ceci Connolly

White House Is Backing

Provision on Deportation

The Bush administration is supporting a provision in the House leadership's intelligence reform bill that would allow U.S. authorities to deport certain foreigners to countries where they are likely to be tortured or abused, an action prohibited by the international laws against torture the United States signed 20 years ago.

The provision, part of the massive bill introduced last month by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), would apply to non-U.S. citizens who are suspected of having links to terrorist organizations but have not been tried on or convicted of any charges.

The provision, human rights advocates said, contradicts pledges President Bush made after the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal erupted this past spring that the United States would stand behind the U.N. Convention Against Torture. Hastert spokesman John Feehery said the Justice Department supports the provision.

Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo said: "We can't comment on any specific provision, but we support those provisions that will better secure our borders and protect the American people from terrorists."

The Senate is debating an intelligence reform bill that does not include the provision.

Human rights groups and members of Congress opposing the provision say it could result in the torture of people held in the United States who could be sent to such nations as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan and Pakistan -- all of which have dubious human rights records.

-- Dana Priest and Charles Babington

Judge in N.Y. Rejects

Patriot Act Provision

A federal judge in New York ruled that a key component of the USA Patriot Act is unconstitutional because it allows the FBI to demand information from Internet service providers without judicial oversight or public review.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero found in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of an unidentified Internet service provider challenging the FBI's use of a type of administrative subpoena known as a national security letter. Such letters do not require court approval and prohibit targeted companies from revealing that the demands were ever made.

Marrero, whose court is in the Southern District of New York, ruled that the provision in the Patriot Act allowing such letters "effectively bars or substantially deters any judicial challenge," and violates free speech rights by imposing permanent silence on targeted companies "Under the mantle of secrecy, the self-preservation that ordinarily impels our government to censorship and secrecy may potentially be turned on ourselves as a weapon of self-destruction," Marrero wrote. "At that point, secrecy's protective shield may serve not as much to secure a safe country as simply to save face."

He ordered the Justice Department to halt the use of the letters but delayed the injunction by 90 days to allow time for an appeal.

-- Dan Eggen

Pakistani Forces Kill

Al Qaeda Associate

Pakistani security forces killed a Pakistani fugitive accused of organizing the kidnapping and killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 and carrying out two unsuccessful attempts on the life of Pakistan's president last year, according to police and military officials.

Officials said Amjad Hussain Farooqi, described as Pakistan's most wanted man and an associate of the al Qaeda terrorist network, died during a two-hour gun battle in Nawabshah, a town in the southern province of Sindh.

Pakistani intelligence officials said Farooqi was the leader of a band of Pakistani Islamic militants who worked closely with Abu Feraj Libi, a Libyan-born al Qaeda lieutenant closely linked to Ayman Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's closest aide. A member of Lashkar-i-Jangvi, a violent Sunni Muslim organization responsible for numerous attacks on Pakistani Shiites, Farooqi was one of the hijackers who commandeered an Indian Airlines plane in 1999 and ordered it flown to Kandahar in Afghanistan. The hijacking ended with the passengers and crew being swapped for four men held in Indian prisons -- including Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was convicted and sentenced to hang for the kidnapping and murder of Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter.

Pakistani investigators recently said Farooqi helped force Pearl into a vehicle when he was kidnapped in Karachi on the night of Jan. 23, 2002, and was present when Pearl was beheaded.

-- Kamran Khan