This Week in Washington - July 16, 2011

    16 July 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    Budget and Debt Ceiling Debate. After a week of intense discussions, White House and Congressional leaders appear to be no closer to an agreement to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by the August 2nd deadline set by the Treasury Department. On Friday, President Obama urged Congressional leaders to come up with a framework for a plan in 24 – 36 hours, still calling for a long-term, $4 trillion package. Adding to the pressure, Moody’s Investors Service placed the nation’s top credit rating on review for possible downgrade and Standard and Poor’s warned it may do the same. Also this week, 470 U.S. business leaders sent a letter to President Obama and Congress urging them to reach a debt limit/deficit reduction deal. A “Plan B” proposal put forth by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) this week is gaining bipartisan support in the Senate. As proposed, the measure would enable the president to request a $2.5 trillion debt increase in three phases over the next year-and-a-half, with each request including a plan for corresponding budget cuts. While the requests would be subject to a Congressional resolution of disapproval, the President can veto such a resolution. Select Senate Democrats are working with Minority Leader McConnell to attempt to revise the measure to include an expedited Congressional voting procedure and a bi-partisan, bicameral committee to recommend budget cuts.

    Instead of holding a vote on a balanced budget amendment (S.J. Res 1) next week, Republican House leaders will bring up the Cut, Cap and Balance Act, which is expected to authorize a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt ceiling after Congress passes a balanced-budget amendment and would cut $111 billion in Fiscal Year 2012 spending. The bill would additionally cap spending at 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product by 2021.

    In an op-ed published Thursday, Vice President Biden reiterated the Administration’s commitment to eliminate government fraud and waste. As such, he announced plans to establish a new Government Accountability and Transparency Board to “bring together the nation’s top waste, fraud and abuse watchdogs so that taxpayers can see exactly what their tax dollars are buying and trace the progress of work under all government spending.”

    Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Appropriations Bills. House Appropriators continued to advance FY 2012 spending bills, approving three  (Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), Interior-Environment, and the Legislative Branch) this week in full Committee while the subcommittee markup for a fourth (Transportation-Housing and Urban Development) was postponed. The House CJS bill includes significant cuts in Federal grants to state and local law enforcement. After a full week of debate and amendments, the FY 2012 Energy and Water appropriations bill passed the full House on Friday. The Senate meanwhile voted to consider the FY 2012 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill, with floor action expected to continue next week.

    While the Senate has not yet considered the House-passed patent overhaul bill (H.R. 1249), the House FY 2012 CJS committee-approved bill provides $2.7 billion to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) — the full amount the office has estimated it will collect in fees in 2012. The bill also specifies that amounts collected above that figure would be deposited into a new Patent and Trademark Fee Reserve Fund.

    On Monday, President Obama issued an executive order on regulatory relief, which calls for all agencies to come up with a plan within 120 days to remove unnecessary rules. In a related memorandum to agencies, the President called the regulatory review initiative “an opportunity to do something big and lasting” and a chance to “change the ways of Washington.”

    Political News. Congressman and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul (Texas) announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election of his congressional seat in 2012. Also on Tuesday, in a special election to fill California’s 36th Congressional District seat vacated by Jane Harman, Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn (D) won with 54.9 percent of the vote. Hahn will be sworn in next Tuesday. On Friday, Representative Dale Kildee (D-Michigan) announced he will not seek re-election. This week, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber (D) signed into law a redistricting  plan that adds more Democratic-leaning voters to Congressman Peter DeFazio's (D) seat and more Republican-leaning voters to the districts of Democratic Representatives David Wu and Kurt Schrader. On Wednesday, the Obama campaign announced $86 million has been raised in concert with the Democratic National Committee during the second quarter of 2011 for the President’s reelection campaign, breaking previous fundraising records and outpacing the entire Republican field for the same period.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    Secretary Clinton’s Turkey Trip. On Thursday, Secretary Clinton issued a statement of regret over the deaths of 13 Turkish soldiers caused by the PKK, a designated terrorist organization, and reaffirmed U.S. cooperation with Turkey to combat terrorists. Secretary Clinton departed Washington Thursday for Istanbul, where she met with the Libya Contact Group Friday and announced the United States is formally recognizing the Transitional National Council (TNC) as the official Government of Libya. The announcement will allow the TNC to access some of Libya’s frozen U.S. assets. The Secretary also met Friday with TNC Chair Mahmoud Jibril. Secretary Clinton provided remarks at the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) High-Level Meeting on combating religious intolerance, praising the OIC and the European Union for helping to pass Resolution 16/18 at the U.N. Human Rights Council. Also Friday, the Secretary met with Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim; Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Al-Sabah; and Turkish President Abdullah Gül. On Saturday, Secretary Clinton met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and discussed Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Cyprus, and the Balkans.

    Middle East and South Asia. With tension between the United States and Pakistan still high after the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, the Administration announced last Sunday it was suspending $800 million in military assistance to Pakistan. In response, Pakistan threatened to pull back troops from the border with Afghanistan. Meanwhile, U.S. Central Command General James Mattis traveled to Pakistan and Pakistan’s Intelligence chief traveled to Washington. On Wednesday, President Obama strongly condemned the “outrageous” bombing attacks in Mumbai, India, where no perpetrators have been identified. Pakistan’s leaders and Secretary Clinton also denounced the terrorist attack and the Secretary reaffirmed her trip to India next week. The State Department expressed support Monday for Pakistan and Afghanistan’s decision to form a joint military working group to address incidents along the shared border. Tuesday, Secretary Clinton called Afghan President Hamid Karzai to express condolences on the death of Ahmed Wali Karzai, his halfbrother. This week the Arab League urged the U.N. to recognize a Palestinian state, which the United States again said is not the appropriate approach for resolving differences with Israel. House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chair Kay Granger (R-Texas) and Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-New York) wrote a letter Monday to the Palestinian Authority reiterating their concerns about the U.N. statehood effort and warning of Congressional consequences – withholding of foreign assistance.

    President Obama met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Wednesday, discussing efforts on a bilateral visa liberalization agreement; Russia’s mediation role in Libya; Sudan and South Sudan; Iran’s nuclear program; the Middle East Peace Process; Nagorno-Karabakh; missile defense in Europe; Russia’s WTO accession; and human rights. Foreign Minsiter Lavrov also signed several new agreements with Secretary Clinton, such as the Air Navigation Services and Cooperation on Adoption of Children Agreements; and exchanged diplomatic notes on the U.S. Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement.

    On Tuesday, Secretary Clinton spoke at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition Conference in Washington about what the Administration is doing to ensure American businesses are more competitive abroad. The Secretary said all U.S. Ambassadors have been instructed to “act as CEOs of whole-of-government efforts to promote U.S. exports”; noted the Administration is addressing trade barriers and is pursuing bilateral investment treaties; and urged Congress to pass the three pending free trade agreements (Colombia, Panama and South Korea), saying this will open new markets and create domestic jobs.

    Spilling over from the alleged News Corp telephone hacking scandal in Britain, House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee Ranking Member Anna Eschoo (D-California) urged the Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Michigan) this week to hold oversight hearings as allegations emerged News Corp employees may have also illegally accessed telephone calls in the United States. In response to several inquiries from Members of Congress, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced Thursday an investigation has been opened into Rupert Murdoch’s U.S.-based media conglomerate.

    The Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia met Thursday in New York City to discuss ongoing international efforts to take action against criminal activity that threatens commerce and humanitarian aid deliveries. The State Department noted the Contact Group has tripled in size, saying this is a testament to international cooperation against piracy.

    President Obama announced his intention to nominate the following as U.S. Representatives to the 66th Session of the U.N. General Assembly: Mary DeRosa, Frank Loy and Kendrick Meek. This Sunday, Dr. Jill Biden will lead a Presidential Delegation to Frankfurt, Germany, to attend the Women’s World Cup Final between the United States and Japan.