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News In Brief

By CompiledCynthia HansonYvonne Zipp, and Peter Nordahl / March 26, 1996

The US

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The White House and Congress say they are close to a budget deal to fund the second half of 1996. A Senate proposal adding a $1.3 billion contingency fund for programs the White House favors - as long as there are offsetting cuts - could be enough to forge an agreement, says White House chief of staff Panetta. President Clinton originally asked for $8 billion more to restore funding for many education and environmental programs. The Senate has compromised on more than half that amount. The House says it may also meet the president halfway.

Californians turn out today to vote in their primary. Senator Dole, who has clinched the Republican nomination, is favored over Patrick Buchanan. (Related opinion, Page 18.) Below, consumer advocate Ralph Nader is running unopposed as the Green Party candidate in today's primary, assuring him a spot on the November ballot. If that hurts Clinton's chances, Nader says, ''he deserves it.'' Also, billionaire Ross Perot has said he'll run if his Reform Party asks him to. And Buchanan is hinting he may run as a third-party candidate.

Congress will pass some form of health-insurance reform this year, predicts Budget Committee chairman Kasich. Republicans may give up inclusion of medical-savings accounts to ensure passage of a bill giving people between jobs access to health insurance. (Story, Page 3.)

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide if states can make English the official language and require government workers to speak only English on the job. About 20 states have amendments or laws declaring English the official state language. Also, the court let stand a ruling that forces states participating in the Medicaid program to fund abortions for women who are victims of rape or incest. Louisiana is the fifth state to fail in a bid to deny them funding.

The Fed meets today, and February's upsurge in job rates will probably be on the agenda. Market-watchers wonder if this will affect interest rates. (Story, Page 1.) Separately, sales of previously owned homes jumped 6.5 percent last month, despite slightly higher mortgage rates.

Senate Democrats are pushing for a vote on the minimum wage this week. Democrats want to raise the minimum wage 90 cents over two years, from $4.25 an hour to $5.15 an hour. Republicans oppose a raise, saying it would hurt small businesses, cause layoffs, and reduce the number of entry-level jobs.

Whitewater witness David Hale, whose allegations spurred the investigation, was sentenced to 28 months in prison and ordered to repay the government $2 million. Hale pleaded guilty in March 1994 to two counts of defrauding the Small Business Administration.

The US Forest Service obstructed an investigation into claims that Weyerhaeuser Company illegally harvested millions of dollars of timber from national forests in northern California and Oregon, The Los Angeles Times reports. Watchdog groups allege that service officials warned Weyerhaeuser employees that they were being investigated and disseminated confidential information to employees. The service rejects the claims.

Tobacco company Brown & Williamson considered buying a nicotine patch maker to profit from its customers' attempts to quit smoking, ''60 Minutes'' reported. The company decided against the purchase after an executive said the company would be seen as ''simply in the nicotine delivery business'' and would face FDA regulation. Also, Maryland and Texas are exploring filing lawsuits against tobacco companies. Eight other states are considering litigation, and six have already filed lawsuits.

Yasser Arafat and Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi have agreed to testify at the US extradition trial of Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzuk, a leader of Hamas. He has been detained since July 25, when he tried to reenter the US after being added to a list of suspected terrorists. Israel has asked for his extradition on charges of conspiring to commit murder and other crimes.

Journalists are fair in their election campaign coverage but negatively affect the process, a Freedom Forum Media Studies survey says. Some 83 percent surveyed say politicians court the media more than voters.

The World

Responding to international pressure to honor Dayton accord commitments, the Bosnian Serbs plan to free 28 prisoners today. Yesterday they freed a Muslim photographer charged with killing a Serb, a day after the government released a Serb journalist captured last summer. The Bosnian Croats plan to release 10 Serbs from a prison near Mostar. Above, Hillary Rodham Clinton greets US troops at Tuzla air base in Bosnia, where she is on a one-day visit.

Beijing announced a halt to weeks of menacing war games off Taiwan's coast, and Taipei offered reconciliation. China's foreign minister told visiting UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali that the drills were not aimed at obstructing democracy on the island. Boutros-Ghali has avoided discussion of China-Taiwan tensions, saying the purpose of his visit is to strengthen China-UN ties. (Story, Page 1.)