- The Washington Times - Friday, April 30, 2010

NAVY

Women to serve on submarines

The U.S. military’s ban on women serving on submarines passed quietly into history Thursday morning.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates notified lawmakers in mid-February that the Navy would be lifting the ban, unless Congress took some action against it. And Navy spokesman Lt. Justin Cole said Thursday morning that the deadline for Congress to act passed at midnight.

“There are extremely capable women in the Navy who have the talent and desire to succeed in the submarine force,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said hours after the congressional deadline passed. “Enabling them to serve in the submarine community is best for the submarine force and our Navy.

“We literally could not run the Navy without women today,” he said in a statement released by the Submarine Force headquarters in Norfolk, Va.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama interviews for high court

President Obama on Thursday interviewed federal appeals court Judge Sidney Thomas of Montana for an opening on the Supreme Court, a person familiar with the conversation told the Associated Press.

The roughly hourlong session at the White House was the first known formal interview that Mr. Obama has conducted for the upcoming vacancy on the high court. It is not clear whether Mr. Obama has interviewed other candidates in person.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. also interviewed Judge Thomas at the White House in a separate meeting Thursday, said the person familiar with the conversations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss Mr. Obama’s private deliberations.

The White House had no comment.

A message left with Judge Thomas’ chambers in Billings, Mont., was not immediately returned.

WHITE HOUSE

Iowa woman named top teacher

A high school English teacher from Iowa who incorporates everything from singing to Facebook in her lessons has been recognized by President Obama as the nation’s top teacher.

Mr. Obama introduced Sarah Brown Wessling on Thursday in a ceremony in the Rose Garden.

Miss Wessling teaches 10th- through 12th-graders at Johnston High School in Johnston, Iowa.

Mr. Obama said teachers sustain the country’s democracy by creating an informed citizenry and engaged leaders.

HEALTH INSURANCE

Medicare Advantage plans’ quality rated

Millions of seniors signed up for popular Medicare Advantage insurance plans don’t get the best quality, an independent study found.

How the private plans score on a quality-rating system set up by the government is about to have a direct impact on insurers’ finances - not to mention seniors’ benefits and premiums. President Obama’s health care law ties what the plans get paid by the government to the quality they provide, for the first time.

There seems to be plenty of room for improvement.

The study released Thursday by Avalere Health, a major consulting firm, looked at the health plans that seniors pick, according to the plans’ scores on a government rating system designed for consumers. The ratings, available on Medicare’s website, assign one to five stars for quality, with one signifying poor performance and five excellent.

HOUSE

Auto-safety proposals unveiled

New cars and trucks would be required to carry black boxes to record crash information, and automakers would pay fees to help fund the government’s auto-safety agency, two of several proposals in Congress in response to Toyota’s massive recalls.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday released a draft that could form the basis of legislation to strengthen vehicle safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Lawmakers have vowed to address auto safety after Toyota recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide and paid a record $16.4 million government fine for responding slowly to a recall.

The draft legislation, released by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, California Democrat, would eliminate the cap on civil penalties an automaker could face and allow NHTSA to order an immediate recall if it finds an “imminent hazard of death or serious injury.”

It would also require new safety standards related to brake-override systems, the prevention of pedals from getting trapped in floor mats and vehicle electronics.

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