This Week in Washington - April 15, 2011

    15 April 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    The Senate began its two-week Spring Recess Thursday, with the House following suit Friday. Both will return May 2nd.

    Continuing Resolution (CR). Thursday Congress passed the final CR of Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, sending the measure to President Obama’s desk. The spending compromise bill will cut approximately $28 billion from FY 2010 funding levels (in addition to the $12 billion cut in the last three stopgap bills) and fund the federal government through September 30, 2011. This figure includes a 0.2 percent across-the-board cut to all nondefense programs. The cuts did not go deep enough for some House Republicans, with 59 voting against the measure. The House approved two enrollment resolutions to the CR, which would block funding for the implementation of the 2010 health care reform law and funding for Planned Parenthood. Both resolutions were rejected by the Senate.

    On Friday, the House passed the Republican-sponsored budget plan for FY 2012 on a party-line vote. Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) says the plan will trim the deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next decade. The measure will face strong opposition in the Senate. On Wednesday, President Obama responded to the Ryan plan in a speech at George Washington University. The President’s framework aims to reduce the federal deficit by proposing $4 trillion in budget cuts and revenue increases over the next twelve years.

    On Thursday, in response to a House vote repealing the Prevention and Public Health Fund provision of the health care overhaul law, the Administration threatened to veto any legislation that “attempts to erode the important provisions of the Affordable Care Act that are making health care more affordable and accessible,” including the Prevention and Public Health Fund. The Fund provides $15 billion over the next ten years to state- and community-based preventive health care services. The bill is not expected to pass the Democrat controlled Senate.

    This week, the House Natural Resources Committee approved three bills aimed at increasing U.S. offshore oil production. Combined, the legislation would accelerate and expand offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans. The House may vote on the proposals as early as May. The Administration suggested the proposals come too soon after the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which occurred one year ago this week.

    President Obama and Vice President Biden on Tuesday launched a national initiative headed by their wives to support and honor American military families. The “Joining Forces” initiative seeks to “mobilize all sectors of society to give our service members and their families the opportunities and support they have earned.” Its three-member advisory board will be chaired by Stanley McChrystal, the former top general in Afghanistan.

    Hank Krakowski, head of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Air Traffic Organization, resigned Thursday after several instances were disclosed of air traffic controllers falling asleep on the job.

    Campaign News. On Monday, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) started the formal process for becoming a candidate in the 2012 Presidential election.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    Libyan Intervention. On Wednesday, Secretary Clinton departed Washington to attend the NATO summit on Libya in Berlin, Germany. U.S. Government officials also participated in the Libyan contact group meeting in Doha this week. The State Department readout of the Doha meeting noted “participants stood firm in their position that Qadhafi and his regime have lost all legitimacy and must leave power.” Additionally, the contact group agreed to establish a trust fund to ensure the Transitional National Council has funds and the wherewithal to continue to operate. In a meeting with Qatari Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani on Thursday at the White House, President Obama praised Qatar’s contribution to the U.N. intervention in Libya. Meanwhile, U.S. Senators are still negotiating language for a resolution to express the Senate's view on the U.S. involvement in Libya.

    Greater Middle East. In Egypt Wednesday, the arrest of former president Hosni Mubarak and his sons to face criminal proceedings on charges of corruption and other alleged crimes is being touted by demonstrators as another milestone. In Bahrain Thursday, the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs announced it would dissolve the Al-Wefaq party and another opposition group, both of which are Shi’ite. The United States immediately condemned the action. On Friday, Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said the Thursday statement was incorrect and clarified the Government is not seeking to dissolve political groups. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi sent a letter Friday to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the UN Security Council urging immediate action to “end the massacre of the people of Bahrain.”

    Côte d’Ivoire Intervention. With the arrest of former president Mr. Laurent Gbagbo Monday, President Obama and the State Department urged calm so that reconciliation could move forward. On Tuesday, President Obama called President Alassane Ouattara and congratulated him on assuming his duties as President of Côte d’Ivoire. The two also discussed holding all accountable for alleged atrocities.

    Details regarding the FY 2011 budget compromise and its impact to the State Department and foreign operations budget emerged early this week. The Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund (PCCF) was removed from State’s budget and returned to the Department of Defense’s budget. Overall, the State Department and foreign operations budgets were cut $8 billion, with the biggest cut ($1.8 billion less than the President’s FY 2011 request) in the State Department's Economic Support Fund. The Millennium Challenge Corporation was also cut to $205 million.

    This week, the Japanese Government reassessed the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis and raised the level to a 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. After stopping in Seoul this weekend to meet South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, Secretary Clinton is expected to travel to Tokyo to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto.

    State Department News. On Monday, Secretary Clinton and Finnish Foreign Minister Dr. Cai-Goran Alexander Stubb met and discussed Afghanistan and Libya. The Secretary also joined Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns’ Monday meeting with Swiss Ambassador to Iran Livia Leu Agosti. Tuesday, Secretary Clinton met with Qatari Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. The Secretary also attended the U.S.-China High Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange with Chinese State Councilor Liu Yangdong and later held a bilateral meeting with Councilor Liu. Later Tuesday, Secretary Clinton met with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. While in Germany, Secretary Clinton held bilateral meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel; German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle; British Foreign Minister William Hague; and Afghanistan Foreign Minister Dr. Zalmai Rassoul. This week, the State Department announced the successful conclusion of cooperative efforts to eliminate the remaining SCUD missiles in the Ukraine. Over 185 short-range tactical ballistic surface-to-surface missiles and launch systems were destroyed or demilitarized.

    On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Kathryn Sullivan as Assistant Secretary of Commerce (Observation and Prediction) and Peter Lyons as Assistant Secretary of Energy (Nuclear Energy). Also confirmed were the following State Department positions: Joseph Torsella (U.S. Representative to the U.N. for U.N. Management and Reform); Kurt Tong (U.S. Representative to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum); Suzan Johnson (Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom); Robert Patterson (U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan); Jonathan Gration (U.S. Ambassador to Kenya); and Michelle Gavin (U.S. Ambassador to Botswana). This week, President Obama announced his intention to nominate the following individuals to be U.S. Ambassadors: Jonathan Farrar (Nicaragua); Stuart Jones (Jordan); and Lisa Kubiske (Honduras). The President also announced Derek Mitchell as the nominee to be the Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma, with the rank of Ambassador.

    Vice President Biden met Tuesday with Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga to discuss Kenya’s new constitution, other democratic reforms, and regional security issues.