This Week in Washington - October 14, 2011

    14 October 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    The House recessed Friday afternoon and will return October 24th. The Senate is in session next week.

    Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Appropriations. Leaders in both chambers this week have expressed preferences for smaller spending packages in lieu of one large Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 omnibus appropriations measure. As such, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) announced his intention to move the Senate’s first FY 2012 appropriations “minibus” next week. The Agriculture spending bill also will incorporate the Commerce-Justice-Science and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development bills.

    Jobs Agenda & Deficit Reduction. Late Tuesday, Senate Republicans, with support from Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), successfully filibustered the American Jobs Act – President Obama’s jobs bill – by a vote of 50-49. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said Tuesday he now intends to advance the bill in pieces. Meanwhile, the deadline for Congressional Committees to submit recommendations to the bipartisan deficit reduction committee (Super Committee) passed Friday, with a number of Committees and Committee Caucuses submitting recommendations. Republicans on the Super Committee reportedly are pushing for a focus on corporate tax reform.

    On Wednesday, the House Homeland Security Committee considered amendments to its FY 2012 Homeland Security Authorization bill (H.R. 3116),  advancing the bill out of committee Thursday by a vote of 20-12. The Senate FY 2012 Defense Authorization bill (S. 1253) continues to be held up by Majority Leader Reid’s (and the White House’s) objection to its detainee provision – despite the bill’s unanimous passage by the Senate Armed Services Committee. The House-passed FY 2012 Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 1540) contains even stronger detainee language, which triggered a White House veto threat.

    In advance of a four-day mark-up scheduled to begin on October 19th, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) circulated Tuesday his draft bill to rewrite No Child Left Behind, the law that provides authorization for Federal elementary and secondary education programs. Chairman Harkin hopes the bill will be on the Senate floor before the Thanksgiving recess. HELP Committee Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) said he will continue to work with Senator Harkin on the legislation, but Senator Enzi has not signaled his support for the current version.

    On Tuesday, the White House announced 14 infrastructure projects will be expedited through permitting and environmental reviews, including six related to transportation. The announcement coincided with the release of the President’s Jobs Council’s report, which recommended reauthorizing the surface transportation bill and creating a national infrastructure bank. This week, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood indicated he will leave the Administration at the end of the President’s current term.

    The House passed a bill (H.R. 358) Thursday to amend the 2010 health care reform law to prohibit any federal funds from being used for any insurance plan that includes abortion services, except in cases of rape, incest, or life of the mother. On Friday, the Obama Administration signaled it will not able to implement, in a financially sustainable manner, the health reform law’s long-term care insurance provision, the CLASS Act.

    Solar energy company Solyndra, which received a $528 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy and has since sought bankruptcy protection, announced Wednesday its CEO Brian Harrison has resigned. The Obama Administration has faced criticism from Republicans regarding its support for Solyndra.

    Political News. Herman Cain, a former Godfather’s Pizza CEO from Georgia, has surged to the top of some 2012 Republican Presidential polls this week. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, though, has received accolades for his performance in Republican debates – including the latest held Tuesday night at Dartmouth College – and has remained steady in the polls. Governor Romney received several endorsements this week, including from Senator Thad Cochran (Mississippi), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, and former Senators Judd Gregg (New Hampshire) and Mel Martinez (Florida). Meanwhile, President Obama continues to out-fundraise his Republican challengers, pulling in a total of $70 million for his re-election campaign and the national Democratic Party over the third quarter. On Tuesday, former Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle (R) announced her candidacy for the open U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retirement of Senator Daniel Akaka (D).

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    Foiled Assassination/Bombing Attempt. On Tuesday, Attorney General (AG) Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller announced the U.S. Government had foiled an attempt to bomb a Washington restaurant where Saudi Arabian Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir was planning to dine, alleging Iran’s elite Quds Force had a role in the plot that also involved Mexican drug cartels. That day, the Treasury Department sanctioned five Iranians allegedly associated with the foiled plan. AG Holder also said one individual, Manssor Arbabsiar – a 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen holding both Iranian and U.S. passports – was arrested on September 29th. On Wednesday, President Obama spoke to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, with both agreeing the incident represents a “flagrant violation of fundamental international norms, ethics, and law.” The day before, President spoke with Ambassador Jubeir, reaffirming U.S. commitment to ensuring the security of diplomats serving in the United States. Since Tuesday, the Administration has been urging countries to reject visits by Iranian officials and to tighten multilateral sanctions on Iran. Meanwhile, Members of Congress are contemplating advancing additional legislation, including Senator Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) Iran, North Korea & Syria Sanctions Consolidation Act (S. 1048), which has 75 Senate co-sponsors. Administration officials offered a tepid reaction to Senator Menendez’s bill in testimony before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday, citing potential disruptions to global energy markets but promising to study the legislation further.

    Late Wednesday evening, the Senate ratified the three free trade agreements (FTAs) with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Earlier that day, the House approved all three FTAs, as well as the Senate passed GSP/Trade Adjustment Assistance bill. President Obama hailed the votes as a “major win for American workers and businesses.” Thursday evening, President Obama hosted South Korean President Lee Myung-bak for a State Dinner at the White House. That afternoon, President Lee addressed a joint session of Congress. Also Thursday, the Senate confirmed Sung Kim as U.S. Ambassador to South Korea; and President Obama announced his intention to nominate Sharon Villarosa to be U.S. Ambassador to Mauritius and the Seychelles. Presidents Obama and Lee travelled to Michigan Friday, touting the U.S.- South Korea FTA and job creation before a GM Assembly plant audience.

    On Tuesday, the Senate passed by a vote of 63-35 the Senate Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act (S. 1619). House Speaker John Boehner signaled Wednesday that he will not support the bill. President Obama has expressed concerns about the legislation’s inconsistency with U.S. international obligations. Regardless, House and Senate supporters of the currency bill continue to pressure the House to take up the measure. Meanwhile, Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney highlighted trade with China during Tuesday night’s GOP debate in New Hampshire.

    Middle East Developments. This week, five Democratic Senators urged Secretary Clinton to delay a planned $53 million arms sale to Bahrain, citing alleged human rights violations and the Government’s refusal to reform. In response to reports Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks to legalize Israeli outposts in Palestinian territory, the State Department affirmed Wednesday the United States would oppose such a move. On Monday, Secretary Clinton spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr regarding last weekend’s violence, conveying U.S. support for the Egyptian Cabinet’s decision to use due process of law to hold those accountable.

    In a letter dated October 11, Secretary Clinton warned the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) that she will recommend President Obama veto Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-Florida) bill (H.R. 2829), which would restructure the way the United States contributes funds to the United Nations, if it passes Congress in its current form. On Thursday, in a 23-15 party-line vote, the bill advanced out of Committee. Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced (12-6 vote) legislation (S. 1301) Thursday that will reauthorize through FY 2015 the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (P.L. 106-386). The Senate is expected to consider the bill sometime this month. The HFAC endorsed a related measure (H.R. 2830) on Oct. 5th.

    On Friday, Secretary Clinton delivered remarks on the role of economic statecraft in U.S. foreign policy at the Economic Club of New York. Thursday, the Secretary spoke at the U.S.-India Higher Education Summit on the importance of educational collaboration. Secretary Clinton addressed the Center for American Progress Wednesday, saying sustained U.S. global leadership is the key to U.S. prosperity and security. Secretary Clinton also met with Swiss Ambassador to Iran Livia Leu Agosti. Also Wednesday, the Secretary held a bilateral meeting with Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, discussing efforts to combat poverty and terrorism. On Tuesday, Secretary Clinton held a bilateral meeting with Montenegrin Prime Minister Igor Luksic, discussing progress in Montenegro and next week’s expected E.U. announcement. Also Tuesday, the Secretary swore-in Wendy Sherman as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.