This Week in Washington - June 3, 2011

    3 June 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    Congressional Calendar. The Senate was in recess this week, returning Monday when the House begins its District Work Period.

    Budget and the Debt Ceiling Debate. In a symbolic vote Tuesday evening, the House rejected (318 to 97) a bill to increase the debt limit without also reducing federal spending levels – a proposal reflecting the Administration's initial request for an increase. A day later, House Republicans met with President Obama at the White House and urged him to become more involved in the budget/deficit reduction talks. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) specifically called on the President to launch direct talks with congressional leaders; saying a deal should be reached before July. On Thursday, President Obama met with the House Democrats, and Freshman Republican lawmakers met with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. House Republican leaders continue to rule out tax increases as part of a final deal, while most Democrats insist increased revenues must be part of any agreement to reduce the federal deficit. Twenty Senate Democrats wrote a letter to Vice President Biden this week reinforcing their support for an agreement that includes ending subsidies to the largest oil companies. On Wednesday, the Treasury Department reaffirmed its August 2nd projection for when the nation will run out of borrowing authority. Subsequently, Moody’s Investors Service, a credit rating company, issued a warning Thursday that the U.S. rating may be downgraded to negative unless significant progress in the negotiations is made by mid-July, citing “heightened polarization over the debt limit has increased the odds of a short-lived default.” Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee began consideration of a joint resolution this week that would require a three-fifths vote of each chamber to run a deficit, increase revenue or raise the debt limit.

    Fiscal Year 2012 Appropriations Bills. On Thursday, the House passed its Homeland Security Appropriations measure using an open rule process. The bill would provide nearly $42 billion for discretionary spending activities, in addition to funding counterterrorism and emergency disaster relief programs. The Administration expressed general support but criticized the bill for providing insufficient funding for a number of key programs, including science and technology research; state and local grant programs; and Transportation Security Administration activities.

    The U.S. Department of Labor released employment statistics Friday, which many analysts said showed signs of a weakening economy. The economy only added 54,000 jobs in May – the lowest in four months – while the unemployment rate increased to 9.1 percent.

    On Wednesday, Democratic Representative Kathy Castor (Florida) and Republican Representative Steve Scalise (Louisiana) announced the establishment of a bipartisan congressional Gulf Coast Caucus, which will work “to protect and revive the Gulf” since last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

    Political News. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney officially announced Thursday that he would seek the Republican Party’s nomination for President in 2012. Friday, Former Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards plead not guilty to indictment charges filed by a federal grand jury in Raleigh, North Carolina, concerning misuse of campaign finances. Also this week, White House Counsel Bob Bauer announced his resignation, returning as general counsel to President Obama’s re-election campaign. White House Deputy Counsel Kathy Ruemmler will replace Bauer.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    Greater Middle East. On Friday, the Yemen Presidential Palace was reportedly shelled by opposition tribesmen, wounding President Ali Abdullah Saleh who flew Saturday to Saudi Arabia for treatment. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney condemned “senseless acts of violence” in Yemen, including the attack against the Presidential Palace, and urged all sides to cease hostilities. The State Department continues to urge President Saleh to sign the GCC proposal and to step down from power. Wednesday, the State Department said the Syrian government has a “credibility problem,” saying the government needed to “follow up some of their rhetoric on reform with action.” On Saturday, Secretary Clinton expressed deep concern over reports the Internet in Syria had been shutdown. While the Secretary strongly condemned the abduction and killing of reporter Syed Saleem Shehzad in Pakistan Wednesday, she said the United States supported the government’s investigation. Secretary Clinton also said Wednesday that any domestic trials held in Egypt should conform to international standards and be transparent. On Thursday, the State Department condemned the killing of Iranian activist Haleh Sahabi by Iranian security forces, while she was attending her father’s funeral. Meanwhile, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain is expected to meet with President Obama next week.

    Libyan Intervention. On Friday, the House voted on two resolutions voicing varying degrees of disapproval with President Obama’s handling of the Libyan intervention. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) offered a resolution citing the War Powers Act and calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces within 15 days, which failed (148-265). House Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) offered an alternative resolution that passed (268-145) and requests the Administration report within 14 days on goals, costs, and rationale for not seeking Congressional approval for the NATO Libyan mission. Friday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned against Congressional action to unilaterally end U.S. support to the NATO mission. Next week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to: the United Arab Emirates (9th) to meet with the Libyan Contact Group; Zambia to attend the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Ministerial Forum (10th); Tanzania; and Ethiopia.

    Defense Department News. Friday, Defense Secretary Gates attended the Shangri-La Security Dialogue in Singapore. The Secretary said the United States will increase its military involvement and commitment to Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, despite facing Defense budget cuts. On the margins of the event, the Secretary met with Chinese Defense Minister General Liang Guanglie; Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa; Singaporean Permanent Secretary for Defense Chiang Chie Foo; and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib bin Tun Hj Abdul Razak. Saturday, Secretary Gates traveled next to Afghanistan to visit with troops and to confer with leaders. After cyber attacks on Lockheed Martin and other defense companies, as well as Google, were disclosed this week, the media reported an impending Pentagon report on cyber security concluded computer sabotage coming from another country can constitute an act of war.

    State Department News. Tuesday, Secretary Clinton met with Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, where they discussed the second High Level Partnership Dialogue held early this week in Washington, trade (including the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement), Honduras, and counter narcotic efforts. On Wednesday, Secretary Clinton and Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota discussed energy, food security, biofuels, trade, and the World Cup and Olympic preparations underway in Brazil. The Secretary later welcomed the Organization of American States’ decision to lift the suspension of Honduras’ participation in the organization. Secretary Clinton also provided remarks Wednesday to the U.S.- China Business Council, and the State Department launched the J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program website worldwide (http://j1visa.state.gov). Thursday, Secretary Clinton and Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzberg held a bilateral meeting. The Secretary also swore-in Suzan Cook as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and provided remarks at the Business Forum Promoting Commercial Opportunities in Iraq. Friday, Secretary Clinton met with Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov of Azerbaijan to discuss bilateral, regional (including Nagorno-Karabakh) and global issues; and the Secretary affirmed the strategic importance of the bilateral relationship.

    On Tuesday, President Obama announced his intention to nominate John Bryson to be the next Secretary of Commerce. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) warned Republicans may block Bryson’s confirmation until President Obama submits to Congress the free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia, and Panama, for ratification.

    While in Rome attending the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Italian unification, Vice President Biden met Wednesday with Georgian President Mikheil Saakshvili. The Vice President reiterated U.S. support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as discussed Afghanistan and Russia’s candidacy for membership in the World Trade Organization.

    On Friday, the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) condemned the violence in Abeyi, the disputed Sudanese region, and called on Khartoum to withdraw its troops. The UNSC also urged North and South Sudan to adhere to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Earlier this week, President Obama dispatched Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan and Special Envoy Princeton Lyman to talk to both sides.

    Friday, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported four people in the United States have apparently been sickened by the E. coli outbreak in Europe.