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Political Scene

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 22, 2010

SENATE

Panel rebuffs effort to fund Yucca site

Lawmakers who support a nuclear-waste repository under Nevada's Yucca Mountain continue to fall short of finding additional money for the project.

The Obama administration and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada favor scrapping the Yucca Mountain site, and the president's budget for next year provides no funding for it.

But Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state says the administration has failed to provide valid scientific reasons for doing away with the repository.

Mrs. Murray proposed on Thursday spending $200 million on developing the application needed to construct the storage site, but her efforts were defeated largely along party lines during a Senate committee hearing.

HEALTH CARE

Feds spell out appeal rights

The Obama administration is spelling out new rights for consumers to appeal to a neutral referee if their health insurance company denies a claim.

Federal regulations issued Thursday will require a two-stage process.

First, consumers will appeal directly to the insurer. If they get a second denial, they can appeal to an independent reviewer whose decision is binding. Consumers can also use the system if their coverage gets canceled.

Many health plans already have a system for appeals, although not as friendly to consumers. The number of people covered by the new safeguards will grow from about 40 million next year to as many as 88 million by 2013.

The rules are part of President Obama's health care overhaul law.

DEFENSE

Officials limit education grants for spouses

The Defense Department will resume paying education grants for military spouses, but plans to exclude families of most officers for budget reasons are coming under attack.

Defense officials have struggled to keep the program from busting its budget after an overwhelming number of military spouses applied. The financial strain caused a temporary suspension of the grants in February.

Plans for keeping the program within its $174 million budget, first announced Tuesday, are generating howls of protest.

The government says eligibility will be limited to most enlisted ranks and junior officers.

Steve Strobridge of the Military Officers Association of America said Thursday the officer limits unfairly freeze out military families who serve the longest.

GAO

Probe calls DNA test results bogus

Government investigators say personalized DNA tests that claim to predict a person's likelihood of developing diseases are misleading and offer little or no useful information.

An undercover investigation by the Government Accountability Office found that four genetic-testing companies delivered contradictory predictions for the same person's DNA. Investigators also found that the test results often contradicted patients' actual medical histories.

The GAO reported its findings at a congressional hearing to scrutinize companies that mass-market personalized DNA tests.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will later hear testimony from three genomic-testing companies -- 23andMe, Navigenics and Pathway Genomics Corp.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Greene's military records released

COLUMBIA | Surprise U.S. Senate nominee Alvin Greene frequently mentions his 13 years of military service, but records obtained Thursday by the Associated Press show that the veteran who has called himself an "American hero" was considered a lackluster service member at best.

The records, which document his superiors' decisions to pass over Mr. Greene for promotion, cite mistakes as severe as improperly uploading sensitive intelligence information to a military server, and as basic as an overall inability to clearly express his thoughts and perform basic tasks.

Mr. Greene, 32, won a surprise victory in the June 8 Democratic primary. Mr. Greene handily defeated Vic Rawl, a former lawmaker and judge who had been considered an easy win by the party establishment.

Up to that point, Mr. Greene had done no visible campaigning and had no website, fundraising or staff.

SEC

Dell pays $100 million to settle charges

Computer maker Dell Inc. is paying $100 million to settle civil charges that it used fraudulent accounting to meet Wall Street earnings targets, the government announced Thursday.

Under the settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, company Chairman and CEO Michael Dell also agreed to pay a separate $4 million civil penalty.

While the fine was far from the largest penalty levied by the SEC, the decision to charge a sitting chief executive of a major company and reach a seven-figure settlement with him is rare. Mr. Dell is one of the most prominent figures in the technology industry, credited for revolutionizing the PC market by making the computers cheap and accessible.

WHITE HOUSE

First granny says first pup's 'precious'

First grandmother Marian Robinson didn't have a dog growing up. Neither did her daughter, first lady Michelle Obama.

But since Bo moved into the White House and become part of the first family, Mrs. Robinson says she loves him "almost like a person."

Mrs. Robinson told about 100 pre-kindergarten through third-grade pupils Thursday that Bo is "precious." She answered the kids' questions after reading to them during an Education Department-sponsored story hour.

Mrs. Robinson lives at the White House with her son-in-law, President Obama, her daughter and granddaughters Malia and Sasha, and the nearly 2-year-old Bo.

She turns 73 on July 29.

  • From wire dispatches and staff reports

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