- - Monday, February 27, 2012

MASSACHUSETTS

Brown declines to pull ad mentioning Kennedy

BOSTON — Massachusetts Sen. Scott P. Brown says he won’t be pressured by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s son to stop running a radio ad claiming the elder Kennedy’s position is similar to Mr. Brown’s in the fight over whether religious employers should have to provide birth-control coverage.

Former Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy has asked the Republican senator to pull the ad, claiming Kennedy also supported religious exemptions for employers and health insurers.

Mr. Brown told reporters Monday that he wouldn’t do that. He says he was “confused” by Mr. Kennedy’s letter because the Rhode Island Democrat appeared to share the same position as his father on the issue and co-sponsored a similar bill when he was in Congress.

Mr. Kennedy did not return a message left with a spokesman Monday.

In the radio ad, Mr. Brown said he wanted to protect religious liberties by not forcing religious organizations to offer insurance coverage for practices that go against church teachings.

In his letter, Mr. Kennedy said his father agreed that health care providers, including doctors and hospitals, should be allowed a conscience exemption from performing any service that conflicted with their faith. But he said his father would have opposed the amendment Mr. Brown supports.

That amendment, proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, would let health plans deny coverage for certain procedures if that coverage “is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan.”

“My father never would have supported this extreme legislation,” Mr. Kennedy wrote. “You are entitled to your own opinions, of course, but I ask that, moving forward, you do not confuse my father’s positions with your own.”

The White House has called the legislation “dangerous and wrong.”

TENNESSEE

Gingrich seeks alternatives to health care law

NASHVILLE — Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has called for alternatives to President Obama’s health care law, kicking off a day of campaigning in a Southern state key to his struggling presidential campaign.

Mr. Gingrich said he would repeal Mr. Obama’s health care law if Republicans win congressional majorities. He said at a health care forum Monday that Republicans should think of this time as “the beginning of the replacement debate, rather than just the anti-Obamacare debate.”

Mr. Gingrich hopes to win his home state of Georgia and have a strong showing in Tennessee on contests held on Super Tuesday on March 6. The former Georgia congressman has been courting voters in his home state and in the South, hoping to revitalize his bid. He was holding campaign events in Nashville.

JUSTICE

Official moves up ranks to department’s No. 3 post

Tony West, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, will become the acting associate attorney general, the No. 3 post at the department.

Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli is leaving the post after a busy three-year tenure overseeing some of the department’s most sensitive issues, including the ongoing negotiations with companies involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Mr. Perrelli also was one of the central figures in leading negotiations with five major U.S. banks that resulted in a $25 billion settlement with the nation’s top mortgage lenders.

As head of the Civil Division, Mr. West has defended the Obama administration’s health care law in the courts and has led the government’s lawsuits against state immigration laws passed in Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina and Utah.

GOP

Barbour says nomination could go to convention

Former Republican Party Chairman Haley Barbour says the fight for the GOP presidential nomination could go all the way to the convention.

The ex-governor of Mississippi says he doesn’t think that’s likely, but he noted in a CBS “This Morning” interview that none of the candidates has taken control of the race.

Mr. Barbour says, “The fact is, there is an outside possibility” the nomination fight might not be resolved until the party’s August convention in Tampa, Fla.

He says such a scenario would be “unusual” but that “whoever we nominate, Barack Obama is the great uniter of Republicans.”

Mr. Barbour also says that “historically, these nomination contests don’t start until February, so it’s mighty early in the game.” He says Republicans should focus on the “anemic” economy.

FAA

Officials want to boost airline pilot qualifications

Airline co-pilots would have to meet the same experience threshold required of captains — the first boost in four decades — under regulations proposed Monday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The proposed regulations would increase the minimum number of flight hours required to fly for a commercial air carrier to 1,500 for all pilots. Captains already have to meet that threshold, but co-pilots currently need only 250 hours to fly for an airline.

The proposal is the first increase in the threshold to become a co-pilot since 1973, when the FAA raised the minimum number of hours from 200 to 250.

Co-pilots would also need a “type rating” specific to the airliner they plan to fly, another requirement that has only applied to captains thus far. That would mean additional training and testing.

The FAA was required to propose the new threshold under an aviation-safety law enacted in response to the crash of a regional airliner near Buffalo, N.Y., three years ago. Fifty people were killed.

Both the pilots in that accident had more than the minimum 1,500 hours. But the crash, which was blamed on pilot error, turned a spotlight on hiring and training at regional airlines. Pilot unions and safety advocates told Congress that co-pilots were sometimes hired at low wages with barely more than the 250-hour minimum and allowed to fly passengers after meeting no-frills training requirements.

“Our pilots need to have the right training and the right qualifications so they can be prepared to handle any situation they encounter in the cockpit,” said Michael Huerta, FAA’s acting administrator.

The proposal contains two carve-outs to the new experience requirements that weren’t called for by Congress: Former military pilots will need only 750 hours to fly for an airline, and graduates of university or college flight schools need only 1,000 hours.

Hours accumulated flying small planes up and down beaches towing banners or other basic flying isn’t as effective as fewer hours of quality training, FAA officials have said previously.

“The FAA thinks a combination of training and flight experience is what makes a candidate qualified to fly” for an airline, the proposal said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports