Senate blocks Medicare drug bill

The Senate blocked legislation on Wednesday that would let the government negotiate Medicare drug prices. Democrats couldn’t muster the 60 votes needed to bring the bill up for a vote.

Under the Medicare drug benefit, private insurance plans negotiate with drug makers over the price of medicine for their customers. About 22 million seniors and disabled persons are enrolled in such plans. Some lawmakers, mostly Democrats, contend the government could use its leverage to drive a better bargain than individual insurers, which would lower the cost of the program for taxpayers and seniors.

But Republicans countered Wednesday that the program is costing much less than expected precisely because it’s the private sector, not the secretary of Health and Human Services, conducting the negotiations. They successfully blocked a motion to proceed to the bill. The tally was 55-42, five short of the votes needed to move ahead.

Washington Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both Democrats, voted in favor of bringing the bill to a vote. Idaho Sens. Larry Craig and Mike Crapo, both Republicans, voted against the move.


FBI searches lawmaker’s home

FBI agents have searched the home of Republican Rep. John Doolittle, who is under scrutiny over his ties to convicted GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Doolittle’s attorney said Wednesday.

The search Friday focused on records of Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions Inc., a company run by Doolittle’s wife, Julie, said attorney David Barger. Julie Doolittle was on retainer for Abramoff from 2002-04 for event-planning work.

The search of Doolittle’s home in Oakton, Va., occurred the same day that Kevin Ring, a former Doolittle aide who went on to work for Abramoff, abruptly resigned his law firm job without explanation.

Doolittle, a nine-term conservative from Northern California, has denied wrongdoing.

Abramoff pleaded guilty in January 2006 to conspiracy, mail fraud and other charges, admitting to bilking his Indian tribe clients out of tens of millions of dollars with promises to influence decisions coming out of Congress and the Interior Department.


Bomb threat found at college

Eight buildings at the University of Minnesota were evacuated Wednesday after a professor discovered a bomb threat.

The professor found a note in Smith Hall that included a bomb threat against several campus buildings. The buildings, including a library, were evacuated and classes in those buildings were canceled for the day.

The threat came two days after a 23-year-old Virginia Tech student killed 33 people on campus, including himself.

Universities and public schools in at least five other states also received threats Wednesday, and many of those ordered temporary lockdowns or evacuations.

University of Minnesota Police Chief Greg Hestness said the bomb threat had specific targets and gave a time frame of before 10 p.m. Wednesday.

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