Prospects for Senate passage of the $395 billion Medicare overhaul improved, with Demo-crats divided on whether to support it. The legislation, which would provide a prescription-drug benefit to seniors as well as subsidies to insurers, won lukewarm backing from senators Dianne Feinstein (D) of California and Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon, who said his decision was "a very, very tough call." But it wasn't clear as the Monitor went to press whether Republicans had the 60 votes needed to end debate and bring the measure to a final vote. Leading the filibuster effort was Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts who told ABC-TV's "This Week" Sunday that the bill should "go back to the drawing board."

A jury in Virginia Beach, Va., recommended the death penalty for John Allen Muhammad in the sniper attacks that killed 10 people and wounded three others across the Washington area last fall. Judge Roy Millette Jr. set formal sentencing for Feb. 12. Virginia judges may reduce punishment in capital cases to life in prison, but rarely do. The verdict came as prosecutors were wrapping up their case against Muhammad's alleged teenage accomplice in nearby Chesapeake. Unlike Muhammad, Lee Malvo confessed to the shootings in police interviews. Defense attorneys maintain he acted under the Gulf War veteran's influence.

Complaining that a new TV ad for Bush's 2004 reelection bid is "outrageous" and "repulsive," Senate minority leader Tom Daschle (D) of South Dakota demanded the Republican National Committee (RNC) stop showing it, in an appearance Sunday on the NBC-TV show "Meet the Press." The 30-second ad says Bush's opponents "are now attacking the president for attacking the terrorists." It began airing in Iowa ahead of Monday night's debate for the Democratic candidates in Des Moines.

The US economy is poised to grow by 4.5 percent next year, the fastest rate in two decades, according to the National Association for Business Economics. But although the forecasting panel expects employers to hire 1.3 million workers in 2004, that won't make up for the 2.3 million jobs lost during the current downturn.

As much as a foot of snow fell in northeastern Minnesota as the first big winter storm of the season hit the upper Midwest Sunday, slowing road and air travel. One Minnesota woman died in a weather-related traffic accident.

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