This Week in Washington - October 7, 2011

    7 October 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    Continuing Resolution (CR) and Appropriations. After the House passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government through November 18th on Tuesday, the President signed the CR into law on Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has revealed his plans to bring three Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations bills to the Senate floor this month – Agriculture (H.R. 2112), Commerce-Justice-Science (H.R. 2596), and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (S. 1596). Senators on both sides of the aisle – including Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) – have announced their support this week for considering appropriations bills in small batches, or “minibuses,” rather than trying to include them all into one omnibus bill.

    Jobs Agenda & Deficit Reduction. President Obama continued to speak about his jobs bill in political “swing” states this week. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) offered an alternative version of the President’s bill on Tuesday that included a “millionaire surtax” in place of the President’s original revenue raising measures that included, among other provisions, an end to tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, a curb on tax write-offs for private jets, and a proposal to limit itemized tax deductions for individuals that make more than $200,000 per year and households that make more than $250,000. The Congressional Budget Office confirmed on Friday that Majority  eader Reid’s “millionaire surtax” would raise enough revenue to pay for the jobs bill. On Thursday, President Obama said in a press conference that he was “comfortable” with Senator Reid’s alternative to his jobs bill, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner underscored in back-toback hearings before Senate and House committees that Congress should take legislative action to promote jobs. A procedural vote on the Senate jobs bill is scheduled for Tuesday.

    Drug Conspiracy Bill. The House Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday to send a bill to the House floor that would make it a crime for anyone in the United States to plot illegal narcotics deals outside of the country. The bill would amend U.S. drug law (P.L. 91-513) to prosecute those conspiring to possess or traffic illicit drugs in other countries, even if the substances are decriminalized there. Proponents of the bill claim it would assist federal agencies in apprehending those who use drug proceeds to finance terrorism.

    Labor Department Statistics. The Labor Department reported Friday that although 103,000 jobs were added in September, the nation’s unemployment rate remains at 9.1 percent.

    Friday, President Obama said he and the First Lady were “saddened” by the passing of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, calling Mr. Jobs one of America’s greatest innovators and noting the “world has lost a visionary.” The President and First Lady also expressed sadness over the passing this week of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, a civil rights activist.

    Political News. In response to Florida’s announcement last week that it has scheduled its Republican primary for January 31, South Carolina announced on Monday that it will hold its primary on January 21, and Nevada announced on Wednesday that it will hold its caucus on January 14. This move could put the New Hampshire primary as far up as January 3, which could push the Iowa caucus into December. On Tuesday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ended speculation about his presidential aspirations by formally announcing that he will not enter the 2012 Republican race for president. The next day, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin announced that she would not be seeking the 2012 Republican nomination for president. Congressman Jerry Costello (D-Illinois) announced Tuesday that he will not seek reelection in his Democratic-leaning district in 2012. Also on Tuesday, acting governor and Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin beat Republican Bill Maloney in the special election race for the West Virginia governorship.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    This week, the Senate spent four days debating the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act (S. 1619) – a bill touted as a “jobs” measure that would mandate that countervailing duties be imposed on goods imported from countries that have been identified as having misaligned currencies. The measure is not expected to advance beyond the Senate, as the House Republican Leadership says it will not consider the bill. In response to a media question Thursday at a White House press briefing, President Obama cautioned Congress against passing a bill that may not be WTO-compliant.

    The currency bill has been bogged down by an unrelated battle between the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders over Senate procedure. On Monday, the Senate overwhelmingly voted 79-19 on a motion to proceed with the currency bill. A cloture vote to limit debate also passed (62-38) Thursday mid-morning, with some Republicans expressing concern of a possible trade war with China. During debate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) sought to attach President Obama’s jobs bill as an amendment to the currency bill as a test vote, which Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) rejected. Late Thursday, the Majority Leader struggled to achieve unanimous consent for votes on seven Republican amendments. This culminated in the Majority Leader invoking a rarely utilized Senate procedure (informally known as the “nuclear option”) which enabled him to single-handedly change the Senate rules by, in effect, nullifying the minority party’s ability to force votes by suspending the Senate rules. The ramifications of the “nuclear option” remain unknown but are sure to further worsen what many believe to be the Senate’s increasing inability to pass legislation. A final Senate vote on the currency bill is scheduled for next Tuesday evening, along with a vote to confirm a federal judge and a vote on the President’s jobs bill.

    On Monday, President Obama formally submitted the three free trade agreements (FTAs) with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. The FTAs advanced quickly out of the House Ways and Means Committee Wednesday, with a series of floor votes scheduled for next week, likely on Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday there will be a Senate vote on the FTAs next Wednesday, with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) noting the vote will be just in time for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s Thursday address before a joint session of Congress.

    Middle East Developments. This week, the UNESCO Executive Board approved the Palestinian bid to join the organization, sending the matter to a vote by UNESCO’s 193-nation General Conference. Secretary Clinton was critical of the move, urging the governing body to reconsider moving forward with the vote. Since existing U.S. law prohibits funding to U.N. bodies that grant “statehood” recognition, the State Department’s Legal Office is currently reviewing U.S. laws and drafting a legal opinion on how U.S. participation in U.N. bodies that grant Palestinians member status will be affected. On Tuesday, China and Russia, both members of the U.N. Security Council Permanent Five, vetoed a U.N. Security Council (U.N.S.C.) resolution criticizing Syria; which caused Secretary Clinton to say the U.N.S.C. has abrogated its responsibility. Meanwhile, on Monday, the Senate confirmed Robert Ford as U.S. Ambassador to Syria, and Frank Ricciardone as U.S. Ambassador to Turkey on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the State Department shared it is reviewing the decision and statements made by the Iraqi Government this week to not extend immunity to U.S. advisors past December 31st. The State Department again reasserted Thursday that Yemen Ali Abdullah President should sign the GCC agreement. Meanwhile, thousands protested in Yemen Friday.

    Vice President Biden met Monday with Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov. Both discussed the bilateral relationship and Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), with the Vice President encouraging the successful conclusion of ongoing talks between Russia and Georgia.

    On Monday, the Labor Department released its annual Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor report and the annual List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. Also Monday, Secretary Clinton swore-in Dave Shear as U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam and Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma Derek Mitchell. Tuesday, the White House and Secretary Clinton condemned the “outrageous” terrorist attack by al-Shabaab in Mogadishu, Somalia, saying the attack underscores the continued need for international support for the African Union Mission in Somalia and the Transitional Federal Government. The Secretary travelled to the Dominican Republic Wednesday to attend the fourth Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas ministerial; also attending an evening event hosted by Dominican Foreign Minister Carlos Morales. Back in Washington Thursday, Secretary Clinton held a bilateral meeting with Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi. President Obama met Friday with the Tunisian Prime Minister. Also Thursday, the State Department unveiled a new website for the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. Secretary Clinton attended the U.S.-Japan Council annual conference Friday; and extended condolences to the victims of flooding in Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam). President Obama acknowledged Friday the ten years of “American service” in Afghanistan, saluting more than half a million American men and women who have served in Afghanistan. Also Friday, President Obama signed an Executive Order that implements structural reforms to safeguard classified national security information and networks, ultimately designed to prevent leaks, such as those to WikiLeaks.