This Week in Washington - October 23, 2011

    23 October 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    The Senate recessed Friday morning and will return November 1st. The House is in session next week.

    Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Appropriations. The first Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 “minibus” appropriations bill was considered by the Senate this week, but after consideration of several amendments, the Senate adjourned Friday for a week-long recess without passing the bill (H.R. 2112/S. Amt. 738). The measure includes the Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development appropriations bills and is expected to be considered again on November 1st following consideration of the remaining amendments. Despite progress in the Senate, it is unlikely that all of the FY 2012 appropriations bills will be passed before the November 18th expiration of the current Continuing Resolution (CR). Accordingly, an additional short-term CR may be added to the “minibus” before the final Senate vote.

    Jobs Agenda & Deficit Reduction. On Thursday evening, the Senate voted 50-50 to block debate on a jobs bill introduced by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act (S. 1723). The $35 billion bill proposed funding to hire and retain teachers and first responders, paid for by a “millionaire surtax.” The failed vote marked the second setback for President Barack Obama’s jobs agenda in less than two weeks. Meanwhile, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (“Super Committee”) announced on Thursday that it will hold its next public hearing October 26th on discretionary spending. The Committee also held several closed-door meetings this week, including on Wednesday with the “Gang of Six” Senators. This week, the media reported Secretary Clinton had written a letter dated October 4th to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) – a member of the Super Committee – encouraging Senator Kerry to secure “America's leadership in a changing word” by defending against further cuts to the State Department’s FY 2012 budget.

    After a contentious two-day mark-up, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted to report the bill to rewrite No Child Left Behind – the law that authorizes Federal elementary and secondary education programs – out of Committee on Thursday. The Senate HELP Committee to garner the support of three HELP Committee Republicans for Chairman Tom Harkin's (D-Iowa) bill – which generally de-emphasizes Federal oversight of state and local education initiatives – will hold an additional hearing on the bill on November 8th, before a scheduled floor debate.

    President Obama vowed Tuesday that federal officials involved in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive’s Operation Fast and Furious will be “held accountable.” The same day, the Senate voted unanimously in favor of an amendment to the “minibus” appropriations bill introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) that would prohibit funding for law enforcement operations that do not require continuous monitoring of weapons transferred to agents of drug cartels.

    Political News. On Monday, Iowa GOP’s Central Committee announced Iowa will hold its presidential caucuses on January 3rd. New Hampshire is now the only state that has yet to set a date for its presidential nominating contest. On Tuesday, Republican candidates for President participated in a foreign policy focused debate in Las Vegas, Nevada. Democratic Representative Dennis Cardoza (D-California), a member of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, announced on Thursday he will not seek re-election in 2012. In redistricting news, Governor Martin O'Malley (D-Maryland) signed a plan into law that adds more Democrats to the district of Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-Maryland). Governor Gary Herbert (R-Utah) approved a redistricting plan that creates a new, Republican-leaning district and adds more GOP voters to Congressman Jim Matheson's (D-Utah) district. Also on Thursday, the Obama Administration announced that Melody Barnes, President Barack Obama’s domestic policy adviser, will leave the White House at the end of the year.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    Libya. Thursday, after an initial NATO airstrike on a convoy outside of Surt (Sirte), Moammar Qaddafi was discovered by Libyan militia fighters and killed. President Obama said Thursday afternoon the death of Qaddafi “marks the end of a long and painful chapter for the people of Libya, who now have the opportunity to determine their own destiny in a new and democratic Libya.” Libyan Ambassador to Washington Ali Aujalisaid the National Transitional Council (NTC) will now move to establish elections and he called on the United States to provide military training, civilian capacity building and humanitarian assistance. On Friday, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay formally requested in an investigation of the deaths of Moammar Qaddafi and his son, Muatassim. Also Friday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said a preliminary decision has been reached to end Operation Unified Protector on October 31st; a formal announcement is expected next week. On Sunday, the NTC declared Libya “liberated.” Earlier in the week (Tuesday), in a surprise stop to Tripoli, Secretary Clinton held a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, affirming U.S. support for Libya and announcing an $11 million aid package, which includes medical assistance. Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed by ten members of Congress in June challenging the President’s authority under the War Powers Act was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton, who said Congress has “not demonstrated that they are without a legislative remedy.”

    On Thursday, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) said dictators in the Middle East region are “unsustainable”and “the Syrian regime is doomed.” Senator Rubio urged the Administration and other countries to further increase pressure on the Syrian regime.

    President Obama held a bilateral meeting Thursday with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, noting the meeting with a fellow NATO member country leader was particularly “fitting” with the announcement of the death of Qaddafi earlier that morning. Beyond fostering democracy in Libya, discussions also included Afghanistan, the July 22nd tragedy in Norway, the shared belief of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestinians, a peaceful resolution between Sudan and South Sudan, and the United Nations. On Wednesday, President Obama “strongly” condemned the “outrageous” terrorist attack in Turkey by the PKK. In response to Turkish troops crossing the Iraq border, the State Department said Thursday the United States supports Turkey’s right to self-defense against the PKK. Also Thursday, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which is investigating alleged abuses during the Shiite protests in Bahrain, delayed releasing its report until November 23rd. Earlier in the week, the U.S. Government said it would await the report before deciding on a $53 million arms sale package to Bahrain. On Friday, President Obama announced U.S. troops will fully withdraw from Iraq by the end of this year, effectively ending the possibility of U.S. troops remaining beyond 2011. Also Friday, President Obama signed the free trade agreements (FTAs) with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, as well as the renewal of the U.S. Trade Adjustment Assistance program. Earlier that afternoon, the President called President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and President Ricardo Martinelli of Panama to congratulate each after having signed the implementing legislation for the Colombia and Panama FTAs. While the State Department acknowledged the ETA’s announcement this week it was renouncing violence, State said it will be monitoring the situation and working closely with the government of Spain before considering removing the ETA as a designated terrorist organization. On Thursday, President Obama acknowledged the 20th anniversary of independence in Azerbaijan, saying “the United States is committed to developing greater opportunities to work with the Government and people of Azerbaijan.” Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns travelled this week to Baku, Azerbaijan; Tbilisi, Georgia; and Yerevan, Armenia.

    In Valletta Monday, Secretary Clinton met with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, discussing Malta’s response to the Arab Spring events and nonproliferation efforts in the region. The Secretary also announced President Obama’s intention to nominate Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley to be the U.S. Ambassador to Malta. Secretary Clinton next stopped briefly in Oman, where she met with His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. The Secretary formally thanked Oman for its role in securing the release of the two U.S. hikers from Iran and also discussed the rising tensions with Iran regarding last week’s news of the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington. Secretary Clinton travelled on to Afghanistan Thursday and met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. On Friday, the Secretary was in Islamabad, Pakistan, meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. On Saturday, Secretary Clinton was in Tajikistan and will stop in Uzbekistan on Sunday. Also Saturday, the Secretary expressed condolences to Saudi King Abdullah and the Saudi people on the death of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

    On Wednesday, the European Union and the United States issued a joint declaration on U.N. Security Council resolutions 1540 and 1977, supporting the strengthening of the 1540 Committee in its role as a clearing-house for those countries seeking international assistance to bolster their nonproliferation capabilities.

    This week, President Obama announced his intention to nominate Mark Lippert to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. Meanwhile, the Senate confirmed the following individuals: Heather Higginbottom to be Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB); Janice Eberly to be Assistant Secretary of Economic Policy (Treasury); Michael Punke to be Deputy U.S. Trade Representative; and Paul Piquado to be Assistant Secretary of Import Administration (Commerce). The Senate also confirmed John Bryson as Secretary of Commerce, despite some Republican opposition due to his co-founding of the Natural Resources Defense Council and support for climate change legislation.