This Week in Washington - October 30, 2011

    30 October 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    Both the Senate and House will be in session next week.

    Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Appropriations. The Senate is expected to pass its first FY 2012 “minibus” appropriations bill (H.R. 2112 / S. Amt. 738) on November 1st, after voting on a few remaining amendments. This measure includes the Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development FY 2012 appropriations bills. The measure is also expected to include another short-term Continuing Resolution (CR), as Congress likely will not finish all of the appropriations bills before the current CR expires on November 18th. The next “minibus” appropriations bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate on November 2nd and reportedly will include the Energy and Water, Financial Services, and State- Foreign Operations bills. In a letter to Congress on Monday, the White House laid out a detailed list of programs that it does not want Congress to cut, and threatened to veto any appropriations bills that cut funding to those programs.

    Jobs Agenda & Deficit Reduction. Late last Friday (21st), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) introduced the Rebuild America Jobs Act. The bill includes portions of President Obama’s larger jobs package, and would provide $50 billion for transportation investment and create a $10 billion National Infrastructure Bank. Like prior bills attempting to advance the President's jobs agenda, this bill is offset with a “millionaire’s surtax.” Majority Leader Reid intends to hold a vote on the bill next week. On Wednesday, Senate Democrats urged the Super Committee to pursue a $3 trillion budget-cutting proposal presented by Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), a Super Committee member, and comprised of both spending cuts and revenue increases. The proposal has drawn criticism by Republicans, who have argued against any tax increases.

    Debate continues over the defense authorization bill, as thirteen Democratic Senators sent a letter to Majority Leader Reid on Tuesday asking him not to bring the annual bill to the floor with language that seeks to limit terrorism trials in  civilian courts. On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee advanced a bipartisan bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate country-based caps on the number of employment visas issued annually and raise similar limits for immigrants sponsored by a spouse or relative in the United States. Also on Thursday, more than 100 House Republicans filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of last year’s health care law. The Supreme Court justices will hold a closed-door conference on November 10th to determine whether to grant certiorari to the three petitions filed against the law.

    On Monday, White House officials announced that they plan to remove restrictions that prevented millions of homeowners from taking advantage of existing refinance programs designed to reduce monthly payments. On Wednesday, President Obama announced a new “Pay As You Earn” proposal to address student loan debt. The proposal would reduce monthly payments for more than one and a half million current college students and borrowers starting in 2014. A U.S. Department of Commerce Report released Thursday shows that the U.S. economy grew at 2.5 percent in the third quarter – the strongest growth rate in the last year. President Obama announced on Friday that his Administration is taking steps to help U.S. businesses create jobs by speeding up the transfer of federal research and development from the laboratory to the marketplace, and creating BusinessUSA, a one-stop, central online platform where businesses can access information about federal programs.

    Political News. At the request of the Republican National Committee, Nevada announced on Saturday that it will move its presidential caucuses from January 14th back to February 4th. New Hampshire is now expected to announce January 10th as its primary date. On Tuesday, Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry unveiled his economic plan, which included personal accounts for Social Security, an optional flat tax, significant spending cuts, and a series of tax cuts. On Wednesday, long-time Massachusetts Democratic Representative John Olver announced that he will not seek reelection in 2012, citing family circumstances. Debate has continued this week over the political implications of the “Occupy Wall Street” protests taking place in cities throughout the United States.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    Greater Middle East Developments. Last Sunday, both President Obama and Secretary Clinton issued condolences to the people of Turkey after the earthquake that day near Ercis. With violence increasing in Syria and after receiving credible threats against his personal safety, on Monday, the United States recalled U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford to Washington. Also Monday, President Obama called Egyptian Field Marshal Tantawi to underscore U.S. support for Egypt’s transition to democracy and affirming the upcoming Egyptian elections must be free and fair. Last Sunday, President Obama congratulated the Tunisian people “who voted in the first democratic elections to take place in the country that changed the course of history and began the Arab Spring.” On Friday, the State Department acknowledged the Ennahda Party – a moderate Islamic party in Tunisia – won a large portion, but not clear majority, of the vote, and consequently will have to form a coalition government. Last week, NATO indicated its intentions to end Operation Unified Protector on the 31st of October, pending consultation with the National Transitional Council (NTC) of Libya. Consultations continued this week, with no final decision being made by NATO. Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton confirmed Thursday dozens of Libyans wounded in the fight against Qaddafi’s fallen regime will receive treatment in the United States. Despite U.S. efforts to get the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to not allow a vote on the Palestinian Authority’s full membership bid towards its eventual statehood recognition goal, UNESCO has a vote scheduled tomorrow (31st). A two-thirds majority vote of the 193 UNESCO members is needed for full membership status.

    On Thursday, Vice President Biden led a Presidential delegation to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to offer condolences on behalf of the United States on the passing of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abd al Aziz al Saud. President Obama congratulated King Abdullah and the Saudi people Friday on the selection of Prince Nayif bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud as Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom.

    President Obama held a bilateral meeting Thursday with Prime Minister Petr Necas of the Czech Republic, signing a joint statement to further develop relations in three main areas: (1) security cooperation; (2) economic and commercial ties (including civil nuclear energy cooperation); and (3) cooperation in the promotion of democracy, transparency and human rights.

    On Friday, President Obama published an Op-Ed in the Financial Times on the global economy recovery efforts, highlighting U.S. efforts, but also acknowledging “European allies made important progress on a strategy to restore confidence in European financial markets” this week. The President urged G-20 leaders – who meet next week in Cannes, France – to “stay focused on the strong, sustainable and balanced growth that boosts global demand and creates jobs and opportunity.”

    The White House announced Tuesday Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will be responsible for oversight of the United States’ implementation of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Secretary Salazar will work with industry and civil society to develop a plan to disclose relevant information about revenues from oil, gas, and mining assets, and to enhance the accountability and transparency of the United States’ revenue collection efforts.

    Secretary Clinton met Tuesday with Peruvian Prime Minister Salomon Lerner Ghitis, discussing widening the bilateral relationship. The Secretary held a bilateral meeting Wednesday with Bahraini Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, with the Foreign Minister acknowledging the Bahraini government is sensitive to international concerns about its treatment of protesters and is pledging the government will follow the recommendations of an upcoming report to be issued by the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). Secretary Clinton met Thursday with Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis, discussing Greece’s fiscal reforms and the European Union's decision that day to further address the economic challenges facing its member states.

    President Obama announced Tuesday the reinstatement of African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) benefits for Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea and Niger. Wednesday, the State Department confirmed a U.S. citizen was kidnapped in northern Somalia. Also Wednesday, the State Department welcomed the “U.N. Security Council’s unanimous call to all nations in the world to continue their cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of all persons responsible for acts of piracy, armed robbery at sea, and kidnap for ransom off the coast of Somalia.” On Friday, the State Department said the outside wall of the U.S. Embassy compound in Bosnia-Herzegovina had been shot at by a solo gunman, who was immediately detained by local law enforcement officials. Also Friday, the Pentagon and State Department confirmed an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft (UVA or “drones”) counterterrorism program has been established in Ethiopia to combat terrorism in the region.