This Week in Washington - March 25, 2011

    25 March 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    Congress was in recess this week and returns to Washington on Monday.

    Continuing Resolution (CR). The current stopgap funding measure expires April 8th. As rifts continue to grow within the Republican Party between spending cuts and social policy riders, Congressional leaders in both chambers are seeking to avoid another short term CR and instead pass a final extension bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2011. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) announced Friday that leaders are moving closer to reaching a final deal. However, Democrats are still grappling with how to address entitlement reform. In response to Democratic lawmakers willing to consider controversial entitlement reform measures, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) scheduled a rally on Capitol Hill Monday to protest suggested cuts in Social Security benefits.

    On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office released a preliminary analysis of the proposals contained in the President's budget request for FY 2012. By its estimate the proposed budget would add $2 trillion more to the deficit over the next ten years than the White House estimated.

    Congressman Dave Camp (R-Michigan), Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, announced a hearing on March 30th on government policies and actions that are impediments to job creation. The hearing will focus on the impact of budget deficits and growing debt levels in particular.

    New 2010 census statistics released Thursday illustrate that Hispanics account for more than half the nation’s growth over the past decade. According to statistics, one in six Americans – totaling 50 million – is Hispanic.

    Citing the program as unaffordable, the Department of Defense on Thursday issued a 90-day stop work order to General Electric and Rolls-Royce for their work on an alternate engine for the new F-35 joint strike fighter. Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-California), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, immediately challenged the Administration’s decision, arguing that the program is funded under the current  continuing resolution, which is in effect until April 8th. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also expressed concern regarding  the Administration’s preemptive action.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    Libyan Intervention. On Saturday, the United States led the international coalition intervention force – comprised of military contributions from the United Kingdom, France, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other members of NATO and the Arab League – in implementing the U.N. Security Council-authorized no-fly zone over Libya. Monday evening, President Obama spoke with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan about the situation in Libya. On Tuesday, Vice President Biden spoke with UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayid al Nahyan about developments in Libya and the UAE’s contributions to the coalition. Next week, Secretary Clinton will travel to London to attend an international conference to discuss the Libyan crisis and implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973.

    U.S. Role in Libya. There are growing calls for the President to better define the United States’ role in the Libyan intervention. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) said Congress may hold a vote next week on President Obama’s decision to attack Libya without consulting with Congress and the lack of a clear military objective or exit plan. Congress is also concerned about the daily cost of the military intervention, estimated to be $100-150 million per day. Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced Thursday that representatives of the Libyan Government and opposition would meet at the African Union meeting in Addis Adaba to try and reach a ceasefire and political solution to the conflict. Early this week while in Brazil, President Obama announced the U.S. lead of the international intervention force is intended to be a matter of days, not weeks. This week, Secretary Clinton spoke with her foreign counterparts about having NATO assume command of the international coalition force. NATO Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen said all 28 NATO members agreed Thursday to a NATO assumption of command. NATO members continue to debate whether to broaden the organization’s responsibilities. On Friday, the White House said President Obama will not accept Colonel Muammar Qadhafi remaining in power. The same day, President Obama briefed a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers on the situation in Libya, providing an update on accomplishments and the full transfer of command to NATO.

    Greater Middle East. On Tuesday, Secretary Clinton welcomed Afghan President Karzai's announcement of the first four provinces and three districts to begin the process of transition from ISAF to Afghan-led security. In Washington, Secretary Clinton met Wednesday with Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri and discussed Libya, Western Sahara, and Tunisia. With increased defections of Yemeni Government officials, President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Friday committed to talks concerning the timing and conditions for to end his 32-year rule. A new round of demonstrations took place in Sana, Yemen, on Friday. Demonstrations in Syria increased this week. On Thursday, the White House strongly condemned “the Syrian government’s brutal repression of demonstrations, in particular the violence and killings of civilians at the hands of security forces.” Media reports emerged late Friday that the planned “Friday of Dignity” demonstrations in Syria had turned violent, ending with double digit deaths. On Thursday, President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to convey his condolences over the Wednesday terrorist attack in Jerusalem, which killed one person and wounded six Americans. This week, the State Department welcomed the U.N. Human Rights Council’s creation of a new Special Rapporteur on Iran who will help monitor and respond to human rights abuses in Iran.

    Latin American Trip. While traveling through Latin America, President Obama emphasized the region as a key market for U.S. exports and noted  his Administration has “intensified efforts to move forward on trade agreements with Panama and Colombia.” In Brazil, President Obama and President Dilma Rousseff met to discuss reforming international institutions; economic, financial and commercial bilateral cooperation; climate change; and human rights. On Monday, President Sebastián Piñera of Chile and President Obama discussed regional integration and combating narcotics and terrorism. President Obama and President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador on Tuesday talked about strengthening bilateral economic relations, climate change and regional security.

    Japanese Recovery Efforts and Nuclear Crisis. The Japanese Government estimates it will cost $309 billion to rebuild. The earthquake-damage Fukishima Daiichi power plant remains unstable. There is growing concern about the impact of radiation from the plant on food and water.

    Citing a humanitarian emergency in Côte d’Ivoire, ECOWAS, the Western African regional block, urged the U.N. to strengthen existing sanctions against former President Laurent Gbagbo, including the possibility of military intervention. The State Department acknowledged the international community is reviewing all options and again urged Gbagbo to step aside.

    Last Saturday, Secretary Clinton accepted U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual’s resignation. The Secretary said Ambassador Pascual resigned in order to “avert issues raised by President Calderon that could distract from the important business of advancing our bilateral interests.” Cables released by Wikileaks were critical of the Mexican Government’s ability to address the country’s ongoing battle against drug cartels.

    On Friday, the State Department welcomed the announcement that Cuba had released the last two political prisoners of the 75 activists who were arrested for exercising their right to protest during the 2003 “Black Spring” crackdown. The White House announced Monday that President Obama will visit Poland as part of his May 23-28 trip to Europe, during which he will also visit Ireland, the United Kingdom and France.