National briefs: Student loan accord reached

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WASHINGTON -- Bipartisan Senate negotiators reached a tentative agreement Thursday on an overhaul of the federal student loan program after Democrats retreated on their position that subsidized loan rates be locked in for at least another year.

Under the agreement, interest rates would be tied to the variable rates of the 10-year Treasury bond. For Stafford student loans, which go to low-to-moderate-income students, it would be the Treasury rate plus 1.8 percentage points, and the graduate student rate would be the Treasury rate plus 3.4 percentage points. Another federal loan program, PLUS, would pay the Treasury rate plus 4.5 percentage points, according to Senate Democratic leadership aides.

The deal hews closely to a plan that was initially drafted by the Obama administration and modified in a bill passed by House Republicans. To win over Democrats, it would cap interest rates at 8.25 percent for undergraduates and 9.25 percent for graduate students, a move that would protect students against a spike in interest rates.

But even with that cap, the deal represents a clear retreat for Democrats.

Jet crew's actions targeted

SAN FRANCISCO -- Investigators have found no evidence of mechanical problems with Asiana Flight 214, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday, putting the focus of the safety probe into the crash landing at the San Francisco airport squarely on the pilots.

In her final briefing before the agency concludes its on-site detective work, NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman said the airplane itself showed no signs of a breakdown, and on voice recorders, the pilots of the Boeing 777 fail to notice that their approach is dangerously low and slow until it's too late.

"There is no mention of speed until about nine seconds before impact when they're at 100 feet," she said Thursday. Just seconds before impact, two of the pilots call for the landing to be aborted.

Youth homicides tumble

WASHINGTON -- Homicide rates for young Americans plummeted to a 30-year low in 2010, showing that early intervention programs help reduce violence, federal health officials said.

About 4,800 U.S. youths ages 10 to 24 were murdered that year, making homicide one of the top three causes of deaths for the age group, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report Thursday. The rate was 7.5 per 100,000 youths in 2010, with declines shown in all age, ethnic and racial groups. Almost four of five of the homicides were committed with guns.

Wildlife-trafficking sting

WASHINGTON -- More than 150 people face federal and state charges after authorities disrupted online wildlife-trafficking operations involving tiger, leopard and jaguar pelts, elephant ivory and live birds.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the arrests Thursday after an undercover operation that included officers from Pennsylvania and 15 other states, three federal agencies and three Asian countries.

Also in the nation ...

President Barack Obama's nomination of B. Todd Jones to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was sent Thursday to the full Senate. ... Gov. Pat Quinn suspended Illinois lawmakers' pay on Wednesday, following through on his warning of consequences if they failed to come up with a solution to the state's nearly $100 billion pension crisis.

nation


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