This Week in Washington - September 9, 2011

    9 September 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    Congress returned to Washington this week.

    Jobs Agenda. Thursday evening, before a joint session of Congress, President Obama unveiled the American Jobs Act – a proposal that offers $447 billion in targeted tax cuts and spending increases to boost the U.S. economy, with a focus on infrastructure projects intended to create jobs – and repeatedly urged Congress to pass the proposal quickly. The President further advocated for Congress to “clear the way” for passage of the impending free trade agreements (FTAs) with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to increase U.S. exports, but also called on Congress to help “the workers whose jobs have been affected by global competition” – a reference to the President’s desire to renew the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. President Obama announced that a week from Monday, he will unveil an “ambitious deficit plan – a plan that will not only cover the cost of this jobs bill, but stabilize our debt in the long run.” In one response to the President’s speech, House Ways and Means Chair and Super Committee Member Dave Camp (R-Michigan) expressed disappointment over the lack of a comprehensive tax reform discussion, urged the President to submit the FTAs to Congress for approval, and stated he looked forward to reviewing the President’s proposal and working with the Administration on “pro-growth policies” that create jobs.

    9/11 Ten-Year Anniversary. Just before the President addressed Congress Thursday night, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning ahead of Sunday’s anniversary of a credible threat of a terrorist plot involving car bombs in New York City or Washington. On Sunday, President Obama is scheduled to attend the memorial service at Ground Zero in New York City, as well as visit the other 9/11 attack sites – the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. In a speech Friday commemorating the 9/11 anniversary, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States “cannot afford to live in fear … or pull back from the world.” The Secretary further urged a “smart power” approach to counterterrorism – combining military action with financial, diplomatic, development and public relations efforts.

    Budget and Appropriations. On Thursday, the joint deficit reduction Super Committee held its inaugural meeting and established rules to meet its mandate to produce legislation by November 23rd to reduce the 10-year deficit total by a minimum of $1.2 trillion. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), a Super Committee Member, threatened to leave the negotiations if the committee considers further defense cuts. Additionally, the Senate continued work on its Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 appropriations bills, holding Subcommittee and Full Committee hearings  for the Agriculture, Energy and Water, and Homeland Security bills this week. Meanwhile, on Thursday, the House Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee marked up its FY 2012 spending bill. With FY 2012 starting October 1, it is increasingly likely that Congress will enact a stopgap spending measure, a Continuing Resolution.

    Earlier on Thursday, the Senate passed, by a vote of 89-9, the patent reform bill (H.R. 1249), sending the measure forward to President Obama for signature. The President praised the passage of the bill in his Thursday jobs speech, which marks the first time since 1932 that Congress has made a major revision to the way U.S. patents are issued. On Friday, the House passed (384-14) an intelligence authorization bill (H.R. 1892) after stripping out language that drew a veto threat earlier this week. The Senate may take up the bill later this year. With the FAA authorization extension due to expire September 16th, House Republicans introduced a new authorization bill Friday that will extend relevant programs through December. This measure does not contain any of the contentious provisions that caused the FAA to temporarily halt
    operations this summer.

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled unanimously Thursday that neither the Commonwealth of Virginia nor Liberty University have standing to challenge a provision of the healthcare reform law that requires all citizens to have health insurance by 2014 or face a penalty.

    Political News. Republican Party candidates running for President in 2012 held their fourth debate Wednesday evening, but it was the first to include Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose opponents subsequently have questioned his labeling of Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” during the forum. Meanwhile, Governor Nathan Deal (R-Georgia) signed into law a Congressional redistricting plan that adds Republican-leaning voters to the district of Congressman John Barrow (D-Georgia) and creates a new, solidly Republican district in the Northeastern part of the state.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-California) released a discussion draft of his legislative proposal – the Global Partnerships Act – to reform the U.S. foreign assistance system. Ranking Member Berman said the measure is intended to replace the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Arms Export Control Act. While the measure generally earned praise from the foreign aid community for allowing the Administration to have greater flexibility in implementing programs in exchange for more transparency to Congress, the likelihood of the measure advancing through the Republican controlled House is not certain. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee set the FY 2012 budget for State/Foreign Operations at $53.3 billion (based on broad caps established by the Budget Control Act), with $44.6 billion for the base budget and $8.7 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations budget. The Senate budget is $5 billion more than the FY 2012 budget approved by the House Appropriations Committee in July, but is still less than what the State Department originally requested.

    On Wednesday, the House passed the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade bill, which extends the program through July 31, 2013. It also is retroactive to last December 31st, when the program expired after Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) blocked efforts to renew GSP. The Senate is expected to take up the bill and add renewal of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program in the coming weeks.

    Libyan Conflict. After witnessing two large Libyan convoys pass through Niger earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said officials believe Moammar Qaddafi is on the run. On Friday, Interpol issued Red Notice arrest warrants for Qaddafi, one of his sons, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, and a brother-in-law, Abdullah Al-Senussi, who was the regime's intelligence chief. On Thursday, Secretary Clinton met with newly credentialed Libyan Ambassador Ali Aujali at the State Department. The State Department said Thursday the U.N. Security Council is reviewing the letter Algeria sent explaining why the country received members of the Qaddafi family and the letter likely will be referred to the U.N. Sanctions Committee.

    Syrian Crisis. Early this week, the Arab League issued an initiative calling for the government of Syria to cease its military campaign against demonstrators. In response, the State Department said the Administration “supports any efforts to get the bloodshed ended in Syria,” but remained firm in its opinion that working with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is doubtful.

    Other Middle East Developments. On Thursday, the State Department confirmed the United States will veto Palestinian statehood at the 66th Session of the U.N. General Assembly, scheduled to start next Tuesday in New York City. The Obama Administration maintains both Israel and the Palestinian Authority should enter into direct negotiations again. Meanwhile, Turkey challenged Israel’s Gaza blockade at the International Court of Justice and threatened to breach it with Turkish warships. On Tuesday, the State Department urged Israel and Turkey to “de-escalate” the dispute. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) said she and other lawmakers met Thursday with Turkey's U.S. Ambassador to discuss the situation. The State Department announced Friday that Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero will travel to Egypt (10th-12th) and Tunisia (13th-15th). The media reported large numbers of Egyptian protestors had converged in Cairo Friday and ransacked the Israeli Embassy.

    Thursday, the Administration welcomed the adoption of a Roadmap for ending the Transition Government in Somalia, saying the United States will closely monitor progress and hold Somali officials accountable for meeting the roadmap benchmarks.

    On Tuesday, Secretary Clinton swore-in U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Anthony Wayne; and she swore-in Deputy Secretary Bill Burns and U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay James Thressin on Thursday. Also Thursday, Secretary Clinton met with Afghan National Security Advisor Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta.

    President Obama announced his intention to nominate the following individuals: Cyrus Amir-Mokri to be Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions (Treasury); Kathryn Keneally to be Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division (Justice); Michael James Warren to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation; and Adam Namm to be U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador (State).