This Week in Washington - May 13, 2011

    13 May 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    Budget and Appropriations. The House Appropriations Committee moved forward with the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 appropriations process, unveiling its subcommittee spending allocations and its planned mark-up schedule for the year. The draft allocation for the State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee is $39.6 billion, approximately $14 billion less than the allocation in FY 2011. President Obama met with the Senate Democrats and Republicans this week to discuss the budget negotiations, and, Vice President Biden continued to hold budget and debt limit discussions with Congressional leaders. While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) expressed some optimism about the talks, he reiterated the Republican position that any increase in the debt ceiling would have to be accompanied by a deficit reduction plan that does not include tax increases. Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota) floated a draft of his budget proposal, which includes targeted tax increases and spending cuts to reduce the government’s deficit. Senator Conrad plans to mark up his budget resolution May 18th. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) voiced support for a “50-50” balance between tax increases and spending reductions. In testimony before the Senate Banking Committee Thursday, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke urged Congress not to use the “debt limit as a bargaining chip” and warned again of the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling.

    A day after President Obama called for immigration reform during a visit to El Paso, Texas, Senate Democrats re-introduced legislation Wednesday to provide a path to citizenship for many young adult illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children. The “DREAM Act” would provide green cards for students and military personnel. While Senator Reid acknowledged the measure will be difficult to pass as a stand-alone bill, he hopes to attach it to another measure.

    The House passed the Putting the Gulf Back to Work Act and the Reversing President Obama’s Offshore Moratorium Act to expedite and expand domestic oil production in the Gulf of Mexico. The bills face uncertain Senate prospects. On Thursday, the nation’s five largest oil company CEOs testified before Senate Finance, and the Senate might vote next week to eliminate $21 billion in oil industry tax credits.

    After a 22-month investigation, on Thursday, Senate Ethics Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Ranking Member Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) announced the panel had found “substantial credible evidence” of ethical misconduct by former Senator John Ensign (R-Nevada). The panel’s findings and evidence were referred to the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Justice for further consideration. This week, Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) was appointed to Ensign’s seat on the Senate Finance Committee; new Senator Dean Heller (R-Nevada) joined the Aging, Commerce, and Energy Committees; and Senator Kelly Ayotte  R-New Hampshire) and Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) replaced Ensign on the Budget and Homeland Security Committees, respectively.

    Also Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee advanced a long-term reauthorization of three Patriot Act surveillance authorities – (1) accessing business records; (2) conducting roving wiretaps; and (3) monitoring individual suspected terrorists – set to expire May 27th. Unlike the corresponding measure sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), the House bill does not include additional oversight requirements that Republicans oppose. On Friday, the House voted 392-15 in support of the FY 2011 Intelligence Authorization bill, authorizing classified funding for 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. President Obama announced Thursday he is seeking a two-year extension for the 10-year term of FBI
    Director Robert Mueller
    , which expires September 4, 2011.

    Attorney General Eric Holder affirmed the Administration’s commitment to closing the Guantánamo detention facility. Thursday, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) introduced a measure to keep the facility operational, saying it improves access to actionable intelligence.

    Campaign News and Washington Turnover. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) and Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) announced their bids for the White House this week. Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin) announced Friday he will not run for re-election in 2012, likely setting up a competitive election. Congressman Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana) will run for the Senate, after the Indiana Legislature added more Republican voters to his House seat in redistricting.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    Libyan Intervention. On Friday, President Obama and Secretary Clinton met with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and discussed NATO missions in Libya and Afghanistan. That afternoon, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon welcomed Dr. Mahmoud Jibril and the delegation from the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) to the White House. Deputy of State Jim Steinberg also met Dr. Jibril and the TNC delegation Friday where they discussed the humanitarian situation, the frozen Libyan assets, and the opposition’s needs.

    Greater Middle East. On Friday, Middle East Special Envoy George Mitchell submitted his letter of resignation to President Obama, which the President accepted. Mitchell’s resignation is effective May 20th. Next week: President Obama has scheduled a speech to update the Administration’s Middle East policy; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive in Washington to meet with the President; and President Obama will meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah II. Early Friday, in what appears to be the first major retaliatory attack since the death of Osama bin Laden, twin suicide bombings in northwest Pakistan killed at least 80 people. The United States immediately condemned the terrorist attack. Early this week, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R- California) introduced the Defund United States Assistance to Pakistan Act. Senator Barbara Boxer  (D-California) said Tuesday that Pakistan remains critical for the war in Afghanistan; however, she added “more strings” should be added to any foreign assistance to Pakistan. On Thursday, Secretary Clinton again expressed concern about the increasing violence in Syria. The State Department said Thursday the United States is “deeply concerned” by recent violence throughout Yemen.

    Early this week, Secretary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner co-hosted the third U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (SE&D) with their counterparts, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan and State Councilor Dai Bingguo. Topics of SE&D discussions included nonproliferation (North Korea, Iran), human rights, energy security and food assistance. President Obama hosted a banquet for the Chinese delegation Monday evening. The President “encouraged China to implement policies that support sustained and balanced growth as well as a more balanced bilateral economic relationship.”

    Thursday, Secretary Clinton attended the seventh Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Nuuk, Greenland. The State Department noted this is the first time the U.S. delegation has been lead by the Secretary of State. Secretary Clinton also held a bilateral meeting with Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen, where they discussed Libya, the death of bin Laden, Afghanistan and the Council meeting.

    On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, where Deputy U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Miriam Sapiro, Chairman Max Baucus (D-Montana) and other Committee Members signaled their intention to try to pass the agreement before the August recess. The next day, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the pending South Korea, Colombia and Panama free trade agreements (FTAs) with USTR Ron Kirk. USTR Kirk urged Congress to “embrace and improve” the FTAs, as well as extend the Andean Trade Preference Act, the Trade Adjustment Assistance, and the Generalized System of Preferences.

    Next Monday, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea, Ambassador Stephen Bosworth will travel to Seoul, accompanied by U.S. Special Envoy for Six-Party Talks, Ambassador Sung Kim. Ambassadors Bosworth and Kim will meet with senior South Korean officials to discuss next steps for the Korean Peninsula.

    Early this week, three Senate Armed Services Committee Members – Senators Carl Levin (D - Michigan), John McCain (R - Arizona), and Jim Webb (D - Virginia) – said the Department of Defense's current plans for restructuring U.S. military forces in East Asia are "unrealistic, unworkable and unaffordable." Thursday, the State Department said the Administration remains committed to the existing realignment roadmap.

    Secretary Clinton gave a speech Wednesday at the 41st Washington Conference on the Americas where she affirmed the Administration’s commitment to: promoting trade and economic growth, which she said included completing the FTAs; promoting inclusive growth and sustainable energy security; advancing democratic values; and providing U.S. leadership to advance the aforementioned. Secretary Clinton also announced Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Arturo Valenzuela will soon conclude his service.

    President Obama announced his intention to nominate the following individuals: William Burns to be Deputy Secretary of State; Terry Garcia to be Deputy Secretary of Commerce; Mark Wetjen to be Commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission; Dan Mozena to be U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh; and Frankie Reed to be U.S. Ambassador to the Fiji Islands, Nauru, Tonga, Tuvalu and Kiribati.