This Week in Washington - December 23, 2010

    23 December 2010

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    This week, Congress concluded its work for the year. On Tuesday, Congress passed a new continuing resolution, or CR, that funds the federal government through March 4, 2011. The new CR maintains Fiscal Year 2011 (FY 2011) funding at FY 2010 levels, with the exception of additional funding for veterans’ benefits, higher education assistance grants, and low income home energy assistance. The measure does not include earmarks for Congressionally-directed projects or additional funding for the new Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund.

    Last Saturday, the Senate voted 65-31 to approve the repeal of the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy, beginning a process that will end the ban on gays serving openly in the armed forces. The House passed the measure the previous week, and the President signed the bill Wednesday morning, stating the law “will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and
    women risk their lives to defend.” For the repeal to take effect, the Pentagon first must certify to Congress that the military has met several readiness conditions.

    The House and Senate both passed Wednesday an amended version of the FY2011 defense authorization bill, after the Senate removed a provision to authorize compensation for victims of atrocities allegedly committed by the Japanese forces that occupied Guam during World War II. After months of negotiation, the defense bill now heads to the President.

    Several other legislative priorities passed this week, including: a food safety reform bill, which will broaden the Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory power and allow the agency to order mandatory recalls; a science education and research authorization bill; and a bill to reauthorize a national and state level grant and loan program aimed at reducing diesel emissions. Wednesday, the Senate approved a bill to provide $4.2 billion in compensation and long-term health-care benefits to first responders who became ill from working at Ground Zero in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

    On Tuesday, following the Senate’s failure to pass the DREAM Act, President Obama discussed the need for comprehensive immigration reform with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Republicans, including Senator Lindsey Graham (South  Carolina), have stated that no immigration reform plan would pass the next Congress unless the Administration first implemented stronger border security measures.

    House Republican leaders released a summary this week of a new rules package to be adopted January 5, 2011, for the new Congress. The proposal aims to make the legislative process more transparent and to address overspending. It includes requirements to webcast all committee and subcommittees hearings and markups, as well as post relevant information online quickly, such as attendance, amendments, and roll call votes. Additionally, the Republican Leadership is expected to adopt a rule requiring bills to be posted online 72 hours in advance of bringing them to the floor for a vote, as well as a “cut-go” rule which requires cuts to programs to offset any new mandatory spending.

    Tuesday, the Census Bureau announced the U.S. population experienced a growth of 9.7 percent to 308,745,538 from the population figure of 281,421,906 a decade ago. Consequently, eight states will gain congressional seats and 10 will lose them, with the biggest winners being Texas (4) and Florida (2) while New York and Ohio lose 2 seats apiece.

    The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2, with all three Democratic Commissioners concurring, to adopt a modified net neutrality policy. The decision will limit the ability of Internet providers to foster the delivery of certain Web content and services over others. Congress is likely to review the decision come January.

    The 111th Congress officially adjourned Wednesday. The 112th Congress will convene January 5th.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    Early this week, Secretary Clinton, Vice President Biden and other senior Administration officials visited Senators to urge them to vote for ratification of the New START Treaty. As the Senate continued to debate the treaty, a number of largely Republican-sponsored amendments were introduced and defeated, with treaty supporters characterizing these amendments as "treaty killers" that would require new negotiations with Russia if adopted. On Wednesday, Vice President Biden presided over the Senate as they voted 71-26 to ratify the treaty. Despite continued opposition by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), 13 Republican Senators voted for the treaty. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stated he hopes Russia’s parliament will approve the treaty, but that the two houses of the Duma should be given enough time to study the conditions added by the U.S. Senate.

    The Republican Steering Committee announced new chairmanships for the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittees in the new Congress were announced this week. In addition to Congressman Elton Gallegly (R-California) serving as Vice Chairman for the full Committee, the following Members will serve as subcommittee chairs: Representative Chris Smith (R-New Jersey), Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights; Representative  Don Manzullo (R-Illinois), Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific; Representative Dan Burton (R-Indiana), Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia; Representative Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia; Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-California), Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations; Representative Ed Royce (RCalifornia), Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade; and Representative Connie Mack (RFlorida), Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

    The Senate confirmed a number of nominations before adjourning, including: Thomas Nides, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, and William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

    The United States welcomed Monday’s adoption of UN Security Council resolution 1963 which renewed the mandate of the UN Counterterrorism Executive Directorate (CTED) for another three years. On Wednesday, Secretary Clinton welcomed the UN General Assembly resolution calling on the Government of Iran to fully respect its human rights obligations. The Secretary stated the United States and the international community stands with those Iranians struggling to speak up for fundamental freedoms and human rights.

    The White House announced Wednesday President Obama will host President Hu Jintao of the People’s Republic of China at the White House on January 19 for his third official Head of State visit. One anticipated topic of discussion is the tension on the Korean Peninsula. Meanwhile, South Korea's land and sea exercises this week ended peacefully, but prompted North Korea to again denounce South Korea.

    Tuesday, President Obama welcomed a vote in Iraq approving a new government, calling it a “significant moment” in the rebuilding nation’s history. Lawmakers in Iraq unanimously voted for the formation of a new government, giving Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a second term, as part of a negotiated compromise agreement. President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke Tuesday, where they discussed combating terrorism, Afghanistan and the Middle East peace process.

    On Monday, the White House Press Secretary condemned the results of the December 20th presidential election held in Belarus, stating actions taken by the Government of Belarus undermined the democratic process. Before departing Washington Wednesday to spend the holidays with his family in Hawaii, President Obama called Sudanese Vice President Salva Kiir to discuss the status of peace negotiations and underscore the United States’ commitment to a peaceful and on-time referendum on Southern Sudanese self-determination in 15 days. The President also spoke with Nigerian President Jonathan Goodluck and discussed the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. President Obama praised President Goodluck for his leadership during the Ivorian crisis and for insisting the internationally-recognized results of the November 28th election be respected. Finally, President Obama congratulated the people of Guinea as they witnessed the inauguration of their first democratically elected President since becoming an independent state in 1958.