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April 5, 2013 at 5:00 PM   |   Comments

FAA to delay closing 149 towers

WASHINGTON, April 5 (UPI) -- The closure of 149 air traffic control towers, caused by the U.S. budget sequester, will be delayed until June, Federal Aviation Administration officials said.

The FAA said last month it would eliminate funding for 149 federal contract towers as part of the agency's $637 million in budget cuts under the sequester that went into effect March 1.

In a release posted on the FAA website Friday, the agency said the delay, until June 15, will allow it "to attempt to resolve multiple legal challenges to the closure decisions."

Part of the closure process involves consulting with airports and operators and reviewing risk mitigation, the FAA said. Extending the deadline will give the agency and airports more time to implement changes.

"This has been a complex process and we need to get this right," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. "Safety is our top priority. We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports."

The FAA said last month it would begin a phased-in, four-week closure process April 7. Friday's announcement means the phased process will no longer occur, the agency said.

Instead, the agency will stop funding all 149 towers June 15, closing the facilities unless the airports decide to maintain operations as non-federal contract towers.

As of Friday, about 50 airports and others indicated they may join the FAA's non-Federal Contract Tower program and will fund tower operations themselves, the FAA said.

"We will continue our outreach to the user community to answer any questions and address their concerns about these tower closures," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said.


Boehner: Budget holds reforms 'hostage'

WASHINGTON, April 5 (UPI) -- House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said President Barack Obama, in the budget he previewed Friday, is holding entitlement reforms "hostage for more tax hikes."

Obama's budget blueprint, to be released next week, will include proposed changes to Social Security and Medicare, and some new tax increases, administration officials said.

The senior officials said Obama's budget will include an offer the president made to Boehner in December -- $400 billion in savings to Medicare over 10 years, CNN reported Friday. Senior administration officials confirmed Friday the budget would include "chained CPI" -- a formula that would reduce the rate of federal benefit and Social Security payment increases keyed to the rate of inflation, and a key Republican request.

"If the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to shore up these programs, there's no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes," Boehner said in a statement. "That's no way to lead and move the country forward."

His statement is a rejection of Obama's call for Congress to agree to a combination of tax hikes and entitlement changes, the Washington newspaper The Hill reported Friday.

Liberals criticized the president for the proposed Social Security and Medicare cuts and warned congressional Democrats not to vote for the proposals, the left-leaning Talking Points Memo website reported.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., said he will "do everything in [his] power" to block the cuts, The Hill reported.

"In poll after poll, the American people are overwhelmingly against cutting Social Security," Sanders said in a statement. "And organizations representing a broad spectrum of millions of Americans from the AFL-CIO to the American Legion to AARP to NOW have urged the president not to make this terrible mistake."

Some critics of chained CPI say it is not an accurate way to measure inflation for Social Security recipients because their healthcare expenses rise faster than inflation, CNN said.

"The president's budget to be presented on Wednesday will show how we can invest in the things we need to grow our economy, create jobs and strengthen the middle class while further reducing the deficit in a balanced way," an official said.

The new budget would garner about $1.8 trillion in savings in 10 years and replace the forced budget cuts, known as the sequester, that took effect March 1, CNN said.

Also included in Obama's proposal are funds for initiatives he outlined in his State of the Union address, including universal access to pre-kindergarten education, which would be underwritten by an increase in cigarette taxes.

The plan would close a loophole that allows people to collect disability and unemployment benefits simultaneously, officials said.


Judge: Morning-after pill OK for teens OTC

NEW YORK, April 5 (UPI) -- A federal judge in New York Friday ordered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow the morning-after pill to be sold to teens without a prescription.

The ruling, which makes the drug available to anyone of any age, overturns a decision by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that girls under 17 must get a prescription to buy the contraceptive, CNN reported.

Groups opposed to the prescription requirement said it delays use of the drug. Emergency contraceptives are considered most effective if taken within 24 hours.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists last year recommended oral contraceptives be sold over the counter to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.


India building collapse kills at least 46

THANE, India, April 5 (UPI) -- The use of substandard construction materials was most likely the cause of a building collapse that killed at least 46 people in Thane, India, authorities said.

Seventeen of the dead were children, CNN reported Friday.

At least 60 people were injured and more victims were feared trapped in the rubble after the seven-story building in the suburb of Mumbai, still under construction, toppled about 6:30 p.m. Thursday, The Times of India reported.

Rescuer Sayed Sadiq said people were living on the first four floors, and construction was under way on the sixth and seventh floors.

Thane legislator Ramesh Patil said the construction of the building was unauthorized and it was unfit for occupation.

Police inspector Digamber Jangale told the BBC the use of substandard building materials was likely the cause of the collapse, and that the eighth floor of the building was under construction when the building gave way.

Daighar village police said they were attempting to locate builders Salil and Khalil Jamadar and intend to charge them with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, the Press Trust of India reported.

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