This Week in Washington - September 2, 2011

    2 September 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    Congress was in recess this week but is scheduled to be back in session on Tuesday, September 6th.

    Budget and Appropriations. Republicans and Democrats on the Super Committee have begun meeting separately in preparation for full committee meetings, which are scheduled to start September 8th. On Tuesday, the Super Committee named Mark Prater, Deputy Staff Director and Chief Tax Counsel for Senate Finance Committee Republicans, as staff director for the committee. On Thursday, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced it has revised its estimates of the deficit downward, projecting now that the Fiscal Year 2011 deficit will be $1.32 trillion instead of the previously estimated $1.65 trillion. OMB attributed the lower deficit estimate to a combination of lower than expected spending and higher than expected revenues.

    Jobs Agenda. On Monday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) sent a memorandum to House Republicans on the Leadership’s upcoming jobs agenda. The memorandum highlighted two agenda items: “repeal of job-destroying regulations to create middle class jobs,” and “immediate tax relief to create middle class jobs.” President Obama will address a joint session of Congress on Thursday, September 8 to present his jobs program. The President initially asked Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) to address Congress on September 7, the same night as a scheduled Republican presidential debate. Speaker Boehner rejected President Obama’s request and invited him to speak on September 8th instead.

    On Tuesday, in response to a request from Speaker Boehner, the President indicated that his administration is considering seven new government regulations with a projected economic impact of more than $1 billion a year. The proposed regulations include four Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules and three Transportation Department rules. Separately, President Obama instructed the EPA to withdraw its proposed ozone regulations on Friday.

    Labor Department Statistics. The Labor Department reported Friday that the economy created no net jobs in August, contrary to economists’ expectations that approximately 75,000 new jobs would be added. The nation’s unemployment rate remains at 9.1 percent.

    On Monday, President Obama announced he is nominating Dr. Alan Krueger to lead the Council of Economic Advisers. Dr. Krueger previously served as a Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University, Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy and Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of the Treasury (2009-10), and as Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Labor (1994-95).

    The Justice Department filed suit on Wednesday to block AT&T from purchasing T-Mobile, calling the proposed $39 billion telecommunications deal a “significant antitrust matter.” AT&T has stated it will “vigorously contest this matter in court.”

    Following President Obama’s call Wednesday for a clean extension of the U.S. surface transportation law, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair John Mica (R-Florida) released a statement indicating he will agree to one additional highway program extension, if the Republican leadership concurs.

    Disaster Relief. Hurricane Irene swept through the Eastern United States over the weekend, causing loss of life, flooding, building damage, and power outages in several states. On Sunday, President Obama issued a statement assuring those affected by Irene, as well as other flooding across the country, that the Administration will continue to stand by them. On Wednesday, Majority Leader Cantor said the House Leadership already has identified spending offsets to pay for disaster relief associated with Irene.

    Political News. This week, additional polls showed Texas Governor Rick Perry moving in front of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the race for the Republican Presidential nomination. Former Vice President Dick Cheney released a new memoir on Tuesday focused on his time in the White House.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    Libyan Conflict. The Transitional National Council (TNC) extended its deadline until September 10th for the Qaddafi regime to concede defeat; however, so far, Qaddafi remains defiant about continuing the fight, despite some members of his family seeking humanitarian asylum in Algeria this week. On Thursday, Secretary Clinton said from the Paris meeting of the Libya Contact Group (now named the Friends of Libya Group) the TNC will be working to “establish security, the rule of law, good governance,” also acknowledging the TNC recognizes the importance of the Lockerbie bombing case and has assured they “will give the matter the consideration it richly deserves at the earliest opportunity.” Secretary Clinton also said discussions at the Paris meeting included the need to continue the NATO mission and the ongoing effort to welcome Libya back into the United Nations.

    Syrian Crisis. This week, the State Department and U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford stated the President Bashar Assad has “strengthened [his] reliance on Iranian equipment and advice in his relentless crackdown on the Syrian people,” On Thursday, media sources reported Syria has reneged on a promise to cooperate with a U.N. probe of its nuclear activities.

    Other Middle East Developments. After Israel warned it has no existing agreements that would apply with a possible “Palestinian Government,” the State Department Wednesday urged both sides to honor prior commitments made between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. On Tuesday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) introduced a bill to withhold U.S. funding to the United Nations and to punish any U.N. organization that supports the U.N. General Assembly vote on Palestinian statehood next month. The Democratic-controlled Senate and Administration do not support this initiative, which is not likely to advance beyond the Republican-controlled House floor. On Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Israel's diplomatic presence in Turkey was being cut to second secretary, effectively expelling the Israeli Ambassador. On Wednesday, National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan claimed last week’s drone strike in Pakistan, which killed Atiyah Abd al Rahman, al Qaeda’s second-in-command, delivered a “huge blow” to the terrorist organization.

    Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Tom Nides said Wednesday the State Department will push Congress this fall to increase the Fiscal Year 2012 State/Foreign Operations base budget. Currently, war-related costs for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are in a separate Overseas Contingency Operations account, for which House Republican appropriators have signaled they will maintain funding.

    On Wednesday, the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan issued a report on waste and fraud in both theaters. The panel estimated that between $31 and $60 billion was misspent and issued recommendations to change how the government oversees contracting in war zones.

    Next Wednesday, the House is scheduled to consider the expired Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade program. This may signal the beginning of a series of trade-related votes. If the House passes GSP, the Senate is expected to attach the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program to the measure before considering Free Trade Agreements with Korea, Colombia, and Panama.

    Thursday, President Obama called to congratulate Japanese Prime Minister-elect Yoshihiko Noda on his election and to re-affirm a commitment to work together on the global economy and to ensure peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region. The President spoke with General David Petraeus Wednesday to congratulate him on his retirement from the U.S. military and to welcome him as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Next week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Wendy Sherman to be Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. On Wednesday, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk nominated Thomas Graham and John Greenwald to serve as members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body.