Senate Panel Approves

Roberts to Be Chief Justice

Chief justice nominee John Roberts Jr. won the Senate Judiciary Committee's endorsement with unanimous Republican support and the backing of three Democrats who said they hope he will keep his promise not to be an ideologue.

The 13 to 5 vote reflected Roberts's widely praised performance at his confirmation hearing earlier this month and the Democrats' inability or unwillingness to mount a united campaign against him. While Republicans and Democrats agreed that President Bush's next Supreme Court nomination will be far more contentious, liberal activists clearly saw Thursday's vote for the conservative Roberts as a blow to their efforts to maintain a voice in shaping the judiciary.

Roberts, 50, would replace the late William H. Rehnquist, a reliable conservative vote on the high court. Perhaps as early as this week, Bush will nominate a replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a centrist. Her successor could play a major role in pushing the court to the left or right.

The full Senate plans to vote on Roberts' nomination this week, when he is all but assured of being confirmed as the nation's 17th chief justice.

-- Charles Babington

and Amy Goldstein

North Korea to Drop

Nuclear Arms Program

North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons after decisions by both the Pyongyang government and the Bush administration to compromise on positions that both had clung to during nearly three years of crisis over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

The document signed Monday by North Korea, the United States and the other participants in six-party nuclear disarmament talks opened the way for what all sides say will be lengthy negotiations on the actual dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

The breakthrough accord followed a compromise proposed by China aimed at persuading both countries to sign a document of principles. The Bush administration dropped its opposition to North Korea receiving a light-water nuclear reactor in the future, a softening of its position that the demise of the North's nuclear ambitions must be "irreversible." North Korea said it would give up its nuclear weapons and all of its existing nuclear programs, would rejoin the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and allow inspections again by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency.

In an immediate demonstration of the difficulty ahead, the official North Korean news agency quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman as asserting early Tuesday that Pyongyang would not give up its weapons program until it received nuclear reactors from the United States. A State Department official shrugged off the statement, saying the focus would remain on the Beijing declaration.

-- Glenn Kessler and Edward Cody

Pricey Antipsychotic Drugs

No Improvement, Study Says

Expensive new antipsychotic drugs that are among the most widely prescribed pills in medicine are no more effective and no safer than an older, cheaper drug that has been largely discontinued, according to the most comprehensive comparative study ever conducted.

The surprising result of a federally funded study challenges widespread assumptions among psychiatrists about the best way to treat serious mental illness.

Heavily marketed on the grounds that they caused fewer side effects, the newer drugs, known as atypical antipsychotics, cornered about 90 percent of the market.

All won Food and Drug Administration approval on the basis of short-term studies that showed they were better than sugar pills, and researchers emphasized that the medications do work. But they have never before been systematically compared against one another in a long-term trial designed to guide doctors in deciding which to try first, and which would best suit particular patients.

The new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, cost taxpayers $44 million.

It found that an older generic drug called perphenazine, which is 10 times cheaper than the newer drugs, was about as effective -- and about as safe.

-- Shankar Vedantam

Fed Raises Interest Rates,

Despite Katrina's Effects

Federal Reserve officials expressed confidence that Hurricane Katrina has caused no more than a temporary setback to the U.S. economy, allowing them to raise their key short-term interest rate another notch to make sure inflation stays under control.

As the federal government and insurance companies begin to put tens of billions of dollars into Gulf Coast reconstruction, policymakers at the Federal Reserve, the nation's central bank, expressed more worry about rising inflation pressures than slower economic growth and indicated that they will probably keep raising interest rates in the months ahead.

In the first week after Katrina, economists worried that consumers and businesses might react to soaring energy prices by sharply pulling back on spending, triggering a sudden slump. Some Fed officials were open then to the possibility of leaving interest rates unchanged for a while because of the uncertainty of the economic outlook.

But since then, energy production has recovered somewhat, while oil and gasoline prices have come down from their post-Katrina peaks.

By last week, Fed officials had concluded that although national consumer spending, employment and overall economic growth "will be set back in the near term" because of the storm, over the months ahead "they do not pose a more persistent threat."

-- Nell Henderson

OMB Procurement Chief

Arrested in Abramoff Case

The Bush administration's top federal procurement official was arrested Monday, three days after he resigned, and was accused of lying and obstructing a criminal investigation into Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dealings with the federal government. It was the first criminal complaint filed against a government official in the ongoing corruption probe related to Abramoff's activities in Washington.

The complaint, filed by the FBI, alleges that David H. Safavian, 38, a White House procurement official involved until his resignation in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, made repeated false statements to government officials and investigators about a golf trip with Abramoff to Scotland in 2002.

It also contends that he concealed his efforts to help Abramoff acquire control of two federally managed properties in the Washington area.

Until his resignation on the day the criminal complaint against him was signed, Safavian was the top administrator at the federal procurement office in the White House Office of Management and Budget, where he set purchasing policy for the entire government.

Abramoff was indicted by federal prosecutors in Miami last month on unrelated charges of wire fraud and conspiracy. He remains the linchpin of an 18-month inquiry by a federal task force that includes the Internal Revenue Service, the Interior Department and the Justice Department's fraud and public integrity units.

-- R. Jeffrey Smith

and Susan Schmidt