This Week in Washington - January 21, 2011

    21 January 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    The Senate is in recess until next week. House Democrats finalized their Committee rosters for the 112th Congress this week. The caucus also began its annual winner retreat on Thursday, which includes a closed-door session with President Obama Friday evening.

    Health Care Repeal Efforts. Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted 245 to189 to repeal the health care reform law passed in 2010. The repeal bill stands little chance of passing in the Democraticcontrolled Senate. The next day, the House also passed a bill instructing a group of House Republican committee chairmen to recommend measures to change the health care reform law. The chairmen have indicated they intend to take action quickly to do so, and may win overall support with specific piecemeal measures (e.g., medical malpractice reform, prohibition of federal funding for abortion, etc.) rather than a comprehensive repeal bill.

    The House Republican Study Committee (RSC) released a draft of the Spending Reduction Act of 2011, which is expected to be introduced in the House on Monday. The bill would reduce domestic Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 spending to FY 2008 levels – a reduction of $80 billion – and also calls for the repeal of $45 billion in unspent economic stimulus money. House Republican leadership expressed support for the proposal in general, but did not address its specific provisions – some of which include deep cuts or elimination of the U.S. Trade Development Agency, Woodrow Wilson Center subsidies, economic assistance to Egypt, U.S. Agency for International Development, United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and subsidies to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The House will vote next Tuesday to set a spending cap for the remainder of FY 2011.

    On Friday, President Obama announced the creation of a new federal Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which will replace the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. The Council will be headed up by General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt. The President also released an executive order and a series of memos this week addressing the framework of federal regulatory agencies, attempting to provide for improved regulation through greater transparency and accountability, effectiveness and efficiency.

    After being shot nearly two weeks ago, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona) was released from an Arizona hospital Friday and transferred to a rehabilitation treatment facility in Texas.

    Two additional Senate retirements were announced this week: Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and Senator Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota). Both Senators, who caucus with Democrats, will retire after the expiration of their terms in 2012.

    Next Tuesday night, President Obama will deliver the annual State of the Union address. Jobs and the economy are expected to be the focus of his speech, while also calling for a reform of the federal tax code. Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), the chairman of the House Budget Committee, will give the official Republican response.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    On Wednesday, President Obama hosted President Hu Jintao of the People’s Republic of China for his third State Dinner. Although invited to the State Dinner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (DNevada) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) declined. In bilateral meetings, the two Presidents discussed strengthening intellectual property rights, eliminating discriminatory innovation policies, and expanding market access for U.S. products in China. Discussions also focused on human rights in China; allowing the Yuan to appreciate; addressing regional and global challenges (such as Iran, North Korea); countering the proliferation of nuclear material; and climate change.

    Meanwhile, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) held a hearing Wednesday on China’s impact on U.S. interests and criticized China for not adhering to the sanctions against Iran, unjustly staking territorial claims in international waters and suppressing human rights. While Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-California) called China “neither an ally nor an enemy,” he similarly noted China’s failure to adhere to sanctions against Iran, put pressure on North Korea to halt its nuclear ambitions or respect human rights.

    Friday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the White House was "pleased" South Korea and North Korea will resume bilateral discussions. The State Department emphasized North Korea needs to continue to “take meaningful steps to improve inter-Korean relations,” before the Six-Party talks can resume.

    Thursday, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns led the U.S. delegation to the P5+1 talks in Istanbul, Turkey, to begin addressing core issues with Iran's nuclear program.

    On Monday, the Prosecutor for Special Tribunal for Lebanon filed an indictment for confirmation by pretrial judge, which Secretary Clinton said was “an important step toward justice and ending impunity for murder.”

    Middle East Peace. Deputy Middle East Special Envoy David Hale met with representatives of the Quartet in Jerusalem Thursday to prepare for the February 5th principals meeting in Munich, Germany. Hale also met with Israeli envoy Yitzhak Molcho to continue last week’s Washington dialogue. On Saturday, he will similarly meet with Palestinian envoy Saeb Erekat in Amman.

    African Affairs. The State Department congratulated the people of Sudan on the high voter turnout and the peaceful conclusion of polling in Southern Sudan’s independence referendum vote. In Tunisia, the U.S. Embassy is now operating with only essential personnel, who continue to monitor events. The United States is also engaged with the Interim Government. Tuesday, the UN Security Council failed to authorize sending additional UN forces to Côte d'Ivoire, a plan which the United States supported.

    This week, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Phil Gordon travelled to Nicosia, Cyprus, where he met with President Dimitris Christofias, Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu and their respective advisors to further discuss both sides’ perspectives on the ongoing negotiations. With the United States supporting the negotiations under the auspices of United Nations Special Advisor Alexander Downer to reach a settlement reunifying the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, the Assistant Secretary also met with Special Advisor Downer while in Cyprus.

    Thursday, Secretary Clinton held a bilateral meeting with Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and discussed NATO, Afghanistan and Estonia’s regional and global humanitarian assistance efforts. Tuesday, the Secretary called Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari to discuss Iraq’s hosting of the Arab League Summit in March and the U.S.-Iraqi partnership under the Strategic Framework Agreement.

    Tuesday, the State Department acknowledged the return of former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier “adds to Haiti’s ongoing burden,” but State also said the decision of whether he should remain in Haiti is a matter for the people and Government of Haiti.

    The Week Ahead. On Monday, Secretary Clinton will travel to Mexico. Also, Assistant Secretary of State Jose Fernandez and Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Market Access and Compliance Michael Camuñez will travel to Turkey. Next Tuesday, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Dave Camp (RMichigan) has scheduled a full committee hearing on the pending U.S. Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with Korea, Panama and Colombia. Some Committee Republicans are expected to place relative emphasis on the political and economic importance of the Colombia FTA, while the Obama Administration and other Committee Members are expected to stress the benefits of an accelerated timeline for submission of the Korea FTA.