This Week in Washington - November 13, 2011

    13 November 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    The House will be in session next week, while the Senate is in recess.

    Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Appropriations. The first FY 2012 “minibus” appropriations package (includes the Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-HUD spending bills) is currently in conference. Due to the impending expiration of the current Continuing Resolution (CR) on November 18th, another shortterm CR is expected to be added in conference before the package is sent back to both chambers for final approval next week. The Senate voted Friday to proceed to consideration of the second “minibus” appropriations package (includes the Energy-Water, State-Foreign Operations, and Financial Services spending bills). Debate on the second “minibus” is expected to begin Monday. On Thursday the White House issued a statement urging increased funding in the bill for economic aid and diplomatic efforts in Iraq, and fewer restrictions on bilateral assistance. In response to announced generous compensations packages, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) filed an amendment Thursday to a FY 2012 spending package (H.R. 2354) that would prohibit government funds from being used to pay bonuses to senior executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

    Jobs Agenda & Deficit Reduction. Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) suggested on Tuesday they would seek to overturn the Budget Control Act if the Super Committee fails to come to an agreement to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion, triggering across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending programs, which Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has concluded would be “catastrophic” to national security. On Friday, President Obama warned leaders of the Super Committee he will not sign “any measure that attempts to turn off part of the sequester,” urging them to reach a deal. As required by the Budget Control Act, the House is expected to vote on a balanced-budget amendment next week.

    The U.S. State Department’s Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel announced Tuesday the Department has agreed to do a “special review” of whether its previous analysis of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project was done properly. On Thursday, the State Department confirmed that a final decision on the pipeline will be postponed until at least the first quarter of 2013; a decision President Obama supported. On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the “Fast and Furious” operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, calling it “a mistake that should never be repeated”; and further acknowledging he received incorrect information from his own agency about the operation even after the public learned of it. The Census Bureau announced Monday a new method for measuring poverty in the United States, resulting in 0.8 percent increase in the estimated percentage of Americans that were living in poverty in 2010. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel said Tuesday that they had uncovered “gross mismanagement” at the Dover Air Force Base, including the mishandling of remains of fallen soldiers. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the constitutionality of President Obama’s healthcare legislation on Tuesday. Records made public by House Republicans on Wednesday confirmed Obama fundraiser George Kaiser was involved in the effort to lobby the Obama Administration to secure a loan for Solyndra. The White House also agreed this week to cooperate with a Congressional subpoena, turning over 185,000+ documents. The Senate Armed Services Committee considered legislation Thursday that will secure a seat for the National Guard on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Despite opposition by the current Joint Chiefs, nearly two-thirds of the Senate supports the legislation, and it is expected to be offered as an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill as early as next week.

    Political News. White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley asked his deputy Pete Rouse Monday to take over some of the day-to-day operations of the White House. At a news conference Monday, a fourth woman alleged that she has been sexually harassed by Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, who held a press conference on Tuesday to deny the allegations. Republican presidential candidates participated in debates on Wednesday evening in Michigan and in South Carolina on Saturday. On Tuesday, Americans across the country voted on ballot initiatives and state political races, resulting in re-election for Democratic Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, a win for Republican Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant in the Mississippi gubernatorial race, the restoration of collective bargaining rights for public employees in Ohio (“Issue 2”), a symbolic rejection of President Obama’s federal health care mandate in Ohio, and a rejection of efforts in Mississippi to legally define “personhood” as beginning at fertilization. Commenting on Tuesday’s votes, Vice President Biden called the failure of Issue 2 in Ohio “a  gigantic victory for the middle class with their overwhelming rejection of a Republican attempt to strip away collective bargaining rights.”

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Amano released a member-state restricted report Tuesday (immediately leaked to the press); reportedly providing the strongest evidence yet that Iran is pursuing military nuclear weapons capabilities. That day, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) said the IAEA report is a sign Congress needs to quickly pass two bills she has sponsored to tighten sanctions against Iran, notably targeting Iran’s energy industry and its financial sector. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) said “[t]here are a lot of options, you want to pick them carefully and you want to be thoughtful about what’s going to be effective.” The Administration has not voiced support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s reported backing of a near-term military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta instead warned against a military strike, saying such an attack could have “unintended consequences.” The Administration is, however, considering selling 4,900 precision guided “bunker buster” bombs to the United Arab Emirates to bolster the defense capabilities of the Gulf Cooperation Council states across the Persian Gulf from Iran. On Thursday, National Security Council Senior Director for the Central Region (which included Iran) Dennis Ross announced his resignation.

    President Obama arrived in Hawaii late Friday evening to attend the Sunday U.S.-hosted Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit. On Thursday, Secretary Clinton provided remarks at the East-West Center in Hawaii, emphasizing the United States intends to maintain a leadership role in the region. Secretary Clinton met Thursday with her foreign counterparts from China, Japan and Australia. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Friday Japan would join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations to create a pan-Pacific free trade pact; a pact President Obama is encouraging, meeting with the nine TPP member leaders Saturday. President Obama held bilateral meetings this weekend with the leaders of Japan, Russia, and China, After the Summit, Secretary Clinton will travel on to the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia; President Obama will next visit Australia and Indonesia.

    Greater Middle East Developments. President Obama met Monday with NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen, thanking the Secretary for his leadership during NATO’s Libya operation and discussing the goals for the May 20-21 NATO Summit which the United States will host in Chicago. Vice President Biden met Tuesday with Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Barham Salih, discussing regional, political and security matters. In accordance with U.S. law, last week the United States cut funding to UNESCO after the organization allowed the Palestinian Authority to join, conferring de facto statehood status. This week, the U.N. Admissions Committee adopted and submitted to the U.N. Security Council a report on the Palestinian’s statehood petition. The United States continues to advocate for both the Palestinians and Israelis to return to direct negotiations. On Tuesday, the State Department urged the Assad regime to allow international monitors back into Syria." The Arab League held an emergency meeting Saturday, suspending Syria’s membership; a move Secretary Clinton commended Saturday.

    Wednesday, President Obama held a bilateral meeting with Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva, discussing blialteral cooperation in defense and economic revitalization. On Thursday, President Obama spoke with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, expressing confidence in President Napolitano’s leadership; meanwhile, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resigned Saturday. President Obama also continued close consultations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy on the European financial crisis. On Wednesday, Vice President Biden congratulated Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili for signing an agreement in Geneva that day that establishes a trade monitoring agreement between Georgia and Russia. President Obama congratulated Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Thursday for completing negotiation on the terms and conditions for Russia’s WTO accession.

    President Obama called Mexican President Felipe Calderon Friday to offer condolences for the helicopter crash death of Mexico’s Interior Secretary Francisco Blake Mora. The State Department welcomed the Monday signing of the U.S.-Bolivia Framework Agreement as a positive step in normalizing relations. On Thursday, the State Department said the Nicaraguan presidential election, which resulted in Daniel Ortega being selected to serve another term, was not transparent. The White House Press Secretary issued a statement Thursday “strongly” condemning the recent aerial bombardment by the Sudan Armed Forces of the town of Yida in South Sudan. The State Department met this week with officials from Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, following up with Global Counterterrorism Forum discussions.