This Week in Washington - July 23, 2011

    23 July 2011


    Budget and Debt Ceiling Debate. This week saw a number of developments surrounding deficit reduction negotiations; however, efforts remain very fluid, complex, and completely uncertain. Several plans have been proposed, but it is unclear if any could garner sufficient support to pass both Congressional chambers before the designated August 2nd deadline for which the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling must be raised. Moreover, little time remains to pull together a comprehensive package that can be put it into a legislative vehicle. Because such a package is unlikely before September, a short-term fix either immediately raising the debt ceiling by a set amount or authorizing President Obama to do so is increasingly more likely. Meanwhile, President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) continued to work on an agreement that would raise the debt ceiling and reduce the deficit by $3 trillion over ten years. However, on Friday, the President announced negotiations over spending cuts and entitlement savings with the Speaker of the House had broken down, with Republicans walking  away. In response to the breakdown, President Obama said, at a minimum, the next step is to raise the debt ceiling; further saying he is willing to accept the responsibility of raising the ceiling through 2013 – a deal that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) are negotiating to give the President this authority. In response to President Obama’s announcement, Speaker Boehner said Republicans objected to President Obama’s “demand” to increase revenues, saying instead negotiations will continue with the Congressional Leadership to reach a deal.

    Despite President Obama’s veto threat, in a largely party-line vote on Tuesday, the House passed the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act (H.R. 2560), which would authorize a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt ceiling contingent upon passage of a balanced-budget constitutional amendment. On Friday, the Senate voted 51-46 to table the measure.

    Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Appropriations Bills. The House continued to advance FY 2012 spending bills, approving the Legislative Branch appropriations bill on Friday, but the Appropriations Committee cancelled another subcommittee markup scheduled for the Labor-HHS-Education bill on July 26th. The subcommittee markup of the State/Foreign Operations bill is still set for July 27th. The Senate meanwhile passed its first FY 2012 appropriations bill, the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill. All other Senate appropriations action remains stalled, pending the outcome of the deficit reduction talks.

    President Obama met with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen at the White House Friday just before Secretary Panetta announced that he is officially ending the ban on openly gay service members by certifying the end of the military’s 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The ban will go into effect on September 20, 2011.

    Authorization of non-essential programs related to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expired at midnight Friday, forcing a partial shutdown because of a dispute over whether to curb subsidies for commercial flights to small and remote cities. The House passed a short-term FAA extension bill on Wednesday with language to restrict the funds for rural airports, with the White House and key Senate Democrats opposing the restriction.

    While the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was opening its doors Thursday on the first anniversary of passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the House of Representatives passed a bill to curb  he regulatory power of the Bureau. The White House has threatened to veto the bill, which also would likely face still competition in the Democratic-controlled Senate." On Monday, President Obama announced Richard Cordray as his nominee to head the CFPB, rather than Elizabeth Warren who faced Congressional resistance.

    Thursday, the Senate passed by voice vote a bill to extend the term of FBI Director Robert Mueller. The legislation takes a two-step approach and will allow Mueller to serve an additional two years beyond the capped 10-year term, which concludes next month (August 3rd). The bill heads to the House floor next week.

    Political News. Former Utah governor and Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman announced leadership changes to his campaign Thursday, including promoting his communications director, Matt David, to be campaign manager.


    State/Foreign Operations Budget News. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) unveiled a plan Monday that seeks to cut $9 trillion from the federal budget over ten years, of which $190 billion is proposed to be cut from State/Foreign Operations budget. While the proposal is not expected to be implemented in full, some of the State Department targets may be incorporated into the budget deficit talks, the Foreign Relations Authorization bills or the State/Foreign Operations Appropriation bills.

    On Wednesday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) held a mark-up of the House Foreign Relations Authorization bill. Over the course of two-days, the Committee reviewed 100+ amendments, approving Republican-sponsored measures such as those that seek to: end funding to the Organization of American States (OAS); eliminate foreign assistance to countries that vote against America at the United Nations a majority of the time; condition foreign aid to countries such as Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon and Pakistan; restrict foreign assistance to the Palestinian Authority should they continue to pursue statehood recognition at the U.N. General Assembly; and reinstate a ban on funding abortions overseas. Republican Members advocated for increasing U.S. trade, rather than foreign assistance, using debate time to encourage Congressional passage of the pending free trade agreements (Colombia, Panama and South Korea). Also debated was a Democratic amendment to remove a section of the bill that focused on the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) scorecard indicator on corruption, saying the draft language was too restrictive to countries that fail this particular indicator. This measure was defeated along party lines. Debate during the mark-up was at times contentious, with Democrats accusing Republicans of attempting to return the United States to isolationism. On Friday, Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-California) said the mark-up was a “waste of time,” saying the bill will likely fail in the Democratic-led Senate.

    Secretary Clinton’s Foreign Travel. After a trip to Turkey, Secretary Clinton travelled to Greece Sunday, meeting with Greek President Karolos Papoulias and Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis. Topics of discussion included the austerity cuts in Greece, security in the Balkans, and Cyprus; and also included the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to deter smuggling of Greek antiquities. The Secretary was in India Tuesday for the 2nd U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, where the Administration has placed a focus on deepening economic cooperation toward reaching a goal of $100 billion in two-way trade within a couple of years; and also included discussions on topics such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, counterterrorism, cyber security, climate change, and civil aviation. Secretary Clinton was in Indonesia Friday for the U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting; and attended the U.S.-Lower Mekong Ministerial Meeting, where she spoke on health, infrastructure, and climate change cooperation efforts with the regional partners – Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. While in Bali, the Secretary held a bilateral meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, discussing bilateral, regional and global issues. Secretary Clinton will next travel to Hong Kong, where she is expected to give a speech Monday on economic policy.

    Libya. The day after extending diplomatic recognition to the Transitional National Council, top Administration officials met with representatives of the Qaddafi regime in Tunisia and again relayed there is no negotiation over the U.S. position that Qaddafi cannot remain in Libya.

    President Obama said Friday the United States will offer Norway “any support” needed in its investigation of the deadly bombing and separate, mass shooting incident in Oslo. In advance of the European Council meeting Thursday, the President spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel Tuesday about effectively dealing with the Euro zone crisis.

    On Wednesday, the White House welcomed the announcement of Goran Hadzic’s arrest in Serbia. The United States congratulated Serbian President Boris Tadić and the Serbian Government for ensuring the final indicted fugitive of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia faces justice for his participation in the murder of Croatian civilians, among other crimes.

    Thursday, Vice President Biden met with Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip where the two discussed bilateral relations, Estonia’s democratic and economic transition, and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York City, discussing international responses to the food shortage crisis in the Horn of Africa, as well as work the United States and U.N. are doing in Sudan, Libya and the broader Middle East.

    On Thursday, Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) reportedly lifted his hold on Bill Burns, nominated to be Deputy Secretary of State. Meanwhile, the President announced his intention to nominate Roslyn Mazer to be Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security.