This Week in Washington - March 18, 2011

    18 March 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    Members of Congress left Thursday for a scheduled constituent work period next week and will return on March 28th.

    Continuing Resolution (CR). Tuesday, the House voted 271-158 to pass a spending resolution to keep the government funded through April 8th and cut $6 billion from Fiscal Year 2011 spending. More conservative Republicans voted against the recent CR, registering their dissatisfaction towards the lack of further spending cuts or the inclusion of policy riders previously adopted by the House. The White House welcomed the House passage of the CR Tuesday, but cautioned against the continued use of temporary measures to stave off a government shutdown. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) appeared on the Senate floor Wednesday with Senator John McCain  (R-Arizona) to promise that any future short-term CRs will include Defense Department funding for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011. On Thursday, the Senate voted 87-13 to pass the three-week CR, and President Obama signed the bill Friday to avert a government shutdown.

    Monday, President Obama urged Congress to pass a reformed No Child Left Behind law “before the next school year begins.” The law, which was originally passed during the Bush Administration, provides authorization for elementary and secondary education programs. In response, Chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee John Kline (R-Minnesota) stated that the Committee would break-up reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law into smaller, more targeted measures. In the Senate, Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) indicated he intends to introduce comprehensive legislation by Easter.

    On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled he will try to force a floor vote on legislation to permanently block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 34-19 to advance the companion House measure. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) said the House intends to vote on the bill before the April recess.

    Thursday, House Ways and Means Chair Dave Camp (R-Michigan) said one Republican goal for tax reform is to reduce the highest tax rate for  individuals and corporations from 35 percent to 25 percent. Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Montana) said he agrees with Camp’s goal of lowering the corporate rate but did not state specific details.

    Following controversy over a hidden-camera sting involving senior leadership of National Public Radio (NPR), the House of Representatives voted Thursday to prevent federal funds from going to the media organization. House Democrats fiercely objected to the bill, and the White House issued a statement strongly opposing the measure. It is unlikely the Democratic-controlled Senate will take up the bill.

    Federal Turnover. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared this week during an interview with CNN that she would not be part of a second Obama Administration and has no plans to run for president in the future.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    Japanese Disaster Recovery Efforts and Nuclear Crisis. U.S. naval forces are assisting with humanitarian relief, and U.S. search and rescue teams are on the ground looking for possible survivors. The Japanese Government estimates that more than 15,000 people were either killed or are missing. Over the weekend, the United States supplied coolant to the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which struggled with three crippled and overheating nuclear reactors. On the margins of the G-8 Summit in Paris Monday, Secretary Clinton held a bilateral meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto and affirmed solidarity with the Government of Japan. Despite all efforts to cool the reactors, on Tuesday morning, Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan acknowledged radioactive levels were increasing. Meanwhile, the United States debated the safety of its nuclear facilities. Senate Homeland Security Chair Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) said “brakes” may need to be applied until the ramifications of the situation in Japan can be fully understood. Senator Lieberman highlighted 23 of the 104 commercial nuclear reactors in the United States are similar to the designs at the troubled Japanese nuclear plants. Despite the worsening nuclear crisis in Japan, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said before the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday that the Administration continues to support the construction of new nuclear power plants, asking appropriators to provide $36 billion in loan guarantee authority. U.S. citizens on the West Coast bought out iodine supplements on Tuesday, despite reassurance from Washington the radiation would not impact them. Thursday, the Administration warned Americans currently in Japan to evacuate at least 50 miles from the worsening Fukushima Daiichi plant and began evacuating U.S. citizens. Late Thursday, the G-7 announced it would join with Japan in efforts to stabilize the Yen.

    Libyan Crisis Timeline. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) approved UNSC Resolution 1973, which granted intervention for “all necessary measures,” including a no-fly zone. NATO is contemplating military action. Despite the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) support early last week for the United Nations to authorize a no-fly zone  intervention in Libya and last Saturday’s vote of confidence for the no-fly zone by the Arab League, the G-8 Paris Summit failed to result in support for a no-fly zone on Monday. In Paris Monday, Secretary Clinton met with Mahmoud Jebril, a member of the Libyan National Council opposition group. Tuesday, President Obama and his national security team met to discuss options for increasing pressure on Qadhafi, particularly focusing on efforts at the United Nations and potential U.N. Security Council actions. The Treasury Department froze more Libyan assets Tuesday, including Foreign Minister Musa Kusa;s assets and the Libyan Investment Authority, a sovereign wealth fund that controls $40 billion in assets. This week, the Qadhafi regime regained control of some East Libyan cities held by rebel groups and began bombarding Ajdabiya and Benghazi on Wednesday. Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee John McCain (R-Arizona) said Wednesday the no-fly zone he has been calling for may no longer be enough as the Libyan rebels increasingly appear to be close to defeat. Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) said the international community wasted time debating actions among itself. Friday, President Obama announced non-negotiable terms for Col. Qadhafi: (1) stop attacking civilians, (2) withdraw troops, and (3) allow humanitarian assistance to reach civilians.

    Greater Middle East. Saudi Arabia answered the Sunni Bahraini monarchy’s call for assistance to quell demonstrations on Monday, sending 1,000 soldiers into Bahrain. Iran condemned the foreign troops in Bahrain and blamed the United States for the recent development. Secretary Clinton met with United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan while in Paris Monday and discussed the GCC’s decision to defuse tension in Bahrain, whose government used tear gas and rubber bullets to quell Shiite-led opposition protests. The UAE sent 500 police to join the Saudis in assisting Bahrain. In Cairo Tuesday, Secretary Clinton met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Al-Araby and Prime Minister Essam Sharaf the following day. This Saturday, Egyptians will vote in a national referendum on proposed constitutional amendments. In Pakistan Wednesday, detained U.S. diplomat Raymond Davis was pardoned and released from jail, with a possible U.S. payment to follow. Meanwhile, Commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan General David Petraeus testified before the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday where he was criticized for not outlining a clear path forward in Afghanistan. Thursday, Secretary Clinton met with Foreign Minister Mouldi Kefi in Tunis to discuss Tunisia’s future and U.S. support. On Friday, President Obama urged Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh to “adhere to his public pledge to allow demonstrations to take place peacefully.”

    With approval from the Mexican Government, on Wednesday, the U.S. military authorized drones across the U.S. southern border to assist with gathering intelligence on organized crime in order for both governments to combat these organizations.

    Tuesday, North Korea again said it was willing to resume the Six Party Talks and proposed a discussion of its uranium enrichment program. In response, the State Department reiterated North Korea needs “to take concrete steps,” such as denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, improving bilateral relations with South Korea and taking responsibility for its past belligerent behavior.

    State Department News. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake travelled to China Wednesday and led the U.S. delegation to the U.S.-China Sub-Dialogue on Central Asia. The Assistant Secretary travels next to Bangladesh and Kazakhstan. In Iraq Tuesday, Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield reviewed preparations for the U.S. transition from military to civilian justice assistance programs, expected to occur in October.

    This week, President Obama announced his intention to nominate Lisa Monaco to be Assistant Attorney General for National Security. On Thursday, President Obama and Vice President Biden met with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and later hosted a St. Patrick’s Day reception at the White House. Friday in Washington, Secretary Clinton met with Irish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore. President Obama departed Washington Friday evening for Brazil. Accompanying the President are Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu. President Obama will travel on to Chile and El Salvador.