This Week in Washington - December 10, 2010

    10 December 2010

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    After unsuccessful attempts in the Senate last weekend to extend expiring tax cuts solely for low and middle income earners, on Monday, the White House announced a compromise with the Republican Leadership on extending the income and estate tax cuts for all Americans, while also cutting payroll taxes and extending unemployment benefits. Many liberals are furious with the deal, and, despite Vice President Joe Biden’s winning of some Democratic support in the House and especially the Senate, the House Democratic Caucus voted for a nonbinding resolution opposing President Obama’s agreement with the Republicans. The President has defended the plan as a necessary compromise. Former President Bill Clinton echoed those sentiments and endorsed the plan in conjunction with his visit to the White House on Friday. The Senate is scheduled to take up the issue Monday.

    The House narrowly passed (212-206) a long-term Continuing Resolution (CR) Wednesday to fund the federal government through the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, primarily maintaining funding at FY 2010 levels. The CR now moves to the Senate, where it is expected to be substituted with an omnibus measure, but it is unclear whether Senate Democrats will have enough votes for passage.

    Thursday, the Senate failed to end a Republican-led filibuster of the National Defense Authorization Act, which included language to repeal the don’t ask, don’t tell (“DADT”) policy. The 57-40 vote fell largely along party lines and three votes shy of the required 60 needed to take up the bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and President Obama expressed their disappointment. Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) promised to introduce a stand alone bill to repeal the DADT policy, which Majority Leader Reid agreed to put on the Senate calendar during the lame-duck session. Meanwhile, if the Defense authorization bill is not passed before Congress adjourns, this will be the first time in 48 years the bill has not been reauthorized by Congress.

    Also Thursday, the DREAM Act again stalled in the Senate, as a result of a GOP filibuster. The measure would create a path to citizenship, either through college or military service, and a revised version of the legislation had passed the House Wednesday. It is unlikely the Senate will reconsider the act before the end of the lame-duck session.

    The House Republican Conference officially selected its committee leaders for the 112th Congress Tuesday, including Congressman Hal Rogers (Kentucky) chairing Appropriations, Congressman Dave Camp (Michigan) chairing Ways & Means, Congressman Buck McKeon chairing Armed Services, and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Florida) chairing Foreign Affairs. Republicans also approved new party rules Tuesday, including a “cut-as-you-go” rule that requires an offset for any legislation with new spending programs brought under the expedited House Suspension Calendar. Democrats in the House also began choosing their committee leaders for the 112th Congress this week – including Congressman Norm Dicks (Washington) on Appropriations and Congressman Sander Levin (Michigan) on Ways and Means – and will fill the remaining Ranking Member slots next week.

    The Senate voted Wednesday to convict U.S. District Judge Thomas Porteous of Louisiana on four impeachment charges, removing him from the federal bench and making him the eighth federal judge in U.S. history to be impeached and convicted by Congress.

    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced it is missing information for approximately one-third of the private and commercial aircraft on the U.S. flight registry, which could allow for exploitation by terrorists and drug traffickers. The FAA plans to cancel and re-register all current aircraft.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    Wednesday, President Obama held a bilateral meeting with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and promised Poland would be admitted to the State Department’s Visa Waiver Program. Previously, Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio) had indicated he would support the New START Treaty in exchange for waiving visa requirements for Polish citizens. On Friday, Maine’s two Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins announced they intend to vote in favor of ratification, joining Republican Senator Richard Lugar as the only Republicans publicly in favor of the treaty. Arizona Republican Senator John McCain said Friday morning that he hoped New START could be debated "next week" in the Senate. Fellow Arizona Senator Jon Kyl (R) maintains two weeks of floor debate are needed. Republican Senators are preparing to raise several dozen amendments.

    The P5+1 met with Iran in Vienna Monday and discussed the group’s offer to exchange low-enriched uranium for more highly-enriched fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. On Friday, Western countries called on Iran to seriously address their concerns over its nuclear program prior to the next scheduled P5+1 meeting, to be held in Istanbul, Turkey, in late January.

    On Monday, Secretary Clinton held a trilateral ministerial with Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara. A joint statement committed the parties to enhancing coordination on North Korea-related issues and affirmed solidarity in response to future acts of provocation by North Korea. On Wednesday, North Korea tested artillery near, but apparently not across, the inter-Korean border.

    This week, the United Auto Workers, the Food and Commercial Workers, and various U.S. business and agricultural groups announced they would support, and the AFL-CIO and the United Steelworkers announced they would oppose, the revised version of the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement.

    Middle East Peace Process. At the beginning of the week, the Obama Administration withdrew its incentive-laden proposal for Israel to extend a 90-day construction moratorium. Secretary Clinton met with Israeli chief negotiator Isaac Molho (Thursday) and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat (Friday). At a speech Friday evening, at the 2010 Saban Forum on U.S.-Israeli Relations, Secretary Clinton is expected to share there will be a shift in the United States’ approach to parallel talks with the Israelis and Palestinians, with a focus on security and borders issues.

    On Tuesday, Secretary Clinton met with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere to discuss Sudan, the Middle East peace process, Afghanistan, the Arctic Council, the New START Treaty, Burma and the nuclear nonproliferation regime. Thursday, Secretary Clinton met with Albanian Foreign Minister Edmond Haxhinasto and discussed Kosovo, upcoming elections in Albania and Albania’s contributions to NATO, including in Afghanistan.

    President Obama said Friday that “Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving” of the Nobel Peace Prize Award than he was a year ago. The President also stated he regretted Mr. Liu and his wife were denied the opportunity to attend the award ceremony in Oslo, Norway. U.S. Ambassador to Norway Barry White and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California), a long-time supporter of human rights in China, attended the ceremony.

    Thursday, Secretary Clinton held a bilateral meeting with Nigerian Foreign Minister Henry Odein Ajumogobia and discussed Côte d’Ivoire and preparations for Nigeria’s 2011 election. This week, the State Department delivered a letter on behalf of President Obama to Côte d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo, urging him to abide by the election results that indicated Alassane Ouattara had won. President Obama warned he would support sanctions should President Gbagbo not step aside.

    This week, the State Department said the United States stands ready to support efforts to review alleged election irregularities and election fraud in Haiti. The Department also stated the United States remains concerned the Provisional Electoral Council’s preliminary results are inconsistent with those of the National Election Observation Council, which had more than 5,500 observers.

    WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested and denied bail in Britain Tuesday. British authorities acted on an Interpol Red Notice calling for Assange’s arrest and extradition to Sweden.