News In Brief

Democrats in the Senate were predicting defeat for two GOP amendments to so-called patients' bill of rights legislation that would limit - if not shield - employers from liability in healthcare disputes. President Bush has threatened to veto a measure that would allow workers to sue their own companies over the selection of health-maintenance organizations. Democrats have made the bill their top priority since taking control of the Senate earlier this month. Meanwhile, however, a healthcare-plan trade group released results of a new national opinion poll that shows only 31 percent support for the unlimited freedom of patients to sue, versus 61 percent disapproval.

Amid expectations that it will announce another cut in short-term interest rates, the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee was opening two days of meetings as the Monitor went to press. The policymakers already have lowered their key federal-funds rate from 6.5 percent to a seven-year low of 4 percent since January and financial markets have assumed it will fall by at least another quarter-point.

Three widely watched indicators of the strength of the economy rose, a signal that Americans are increasingly optimistic about a recovery later this year. The Conference Board reported its index of consumer attitudes climbed again this month - to 117.9 - from a revised 116.1 in May. Economists generally had expected it to slide to 114.2. As recently as February, the index was at 109.2, a 4-1/2-year low. Meanwhile, orders to factories for expensive durable goods, such as cars, jumped 2.9 percent in May, the Commerce Department said. And sales of new single-family houses climbed by 0.8 percent last month, the strongest gain since March.

Beginning Nov. 1, using a hand-held cellphone while at the wheel of a moving vehicle will be illegal under pioneering legislation OK'd by New York State's Assembly. The measure already has passed the Senate, and Gov. George Pataki (R) said he will sign it. Violators can be fined up to $100. At least a dozen cities or towns in the US already have such laws, and 39 other states are said to be considering them.

Bush will intervene to preempt a strike by flight attendants for American Airlines if their union and the carrier can't agree on new contract terms in time for the Independence Day travel rush, the White House warned. The two sides already are under a federally imposed "cooling off" period, but it expires Saturday. Bush would appoint an emergency board to offer a nonbinding settlement within 60 days, aides said. The workers are seeking higher pay and improved working conditions.

In the US alone, 33,000 small farms have "disappeared" in the seven years since NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) took effect, a group opposed to the pact contended. In a report, Public Citizen said consumer prices have risen and "some giant agribusinesses have reaped huge profits" because of the deal linking the US, Canada, and Mexico. The report was released as the Bush administration campaigns in Congress for passage of "fast track" trade-promotion authority.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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