This Week in Washington - November 6, 2011

    6 November 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

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

    Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Appropriations. On Tuesday, the Senate passed the first FY 2012 “minibus” appropriations bill, comprised of the Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development FY 2012 spending bills, by a vote of 69 to 30. The minibus will now go to conference, where House and Senate conferees will aim to finalize the bill and draft a report by November 14th in order to pass the finalized measure through Congress before the expiration of the current Continuing Resolution (CR) on November 18th. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) intends to bring up the second FY 2012 minibus appropriations bill this week. The measure is expected to include the Energy and Water, Financial Services, and State-Foreign Operations FY 2012 spending bills.

    Jobs Agenda & Deficit Reduction. On Thursday, the Rebuild America Jobs Act (S. 1769), a $60 billion infrastructure investment package based off of the President’s larger jobs proposal, failed to advance by a vote of 51 to 49 – marking the third defeat of President Obama’s American Jobs Act. A Republican proposal, which provided a two-year extension of funding for federal highways and transportation programs, also failed by a vote of 47 to 53. On Tuesday, the Super Committee held a hearing to review two previous debt proposals – the Simpson-Bowles and Rivlin-Domenici proposals. The hearing focused on large scale tax reform and controlling entitlement program costs in order to achieve deficit reduction.

    The House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee voted 14 to 9 on Thursday to subpoena internal White House documents on Solyndra, the solar panel company that filed for bankruptcy after receiving a $535 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. On Monday, the White House issued an executive order directing the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to take steps that will help to prevent and reduce current and future prescription drug shortages. Following announcements by Chase and Wells Fargo Bank that they are canceling tests of debit card fees, Bank of America announced on Tuesday that it is withdrawing its plans to charge a $5 monthly fee to its debit cardholders. On Thursday, U.K. pharmaceutical company  laxoSmithKline agreed to pay $3 billion to settle U.S. criminal and civil investigations into whether the company marketed drugs for unapproved uses.

    On Friday, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the nation’s unemployment rate fell to 9.0 percent in October from 9.1 percent in September, but that employers added 80,000 jobs – 20,000 less than analysts expected.

    Political News. Reports surfaced this week that during Herman Cain’s tenure as the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, at least two female employees accused him of sexual harassment, ultimately resulting in private settlements. Cain has acknowledged the complaints, but insists that he was “falsely accused.” Currently, Cain is still virtually tied with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in a Republican presidential poll published Friday. On Wednesday, New Hampshire’s Secretary of State announced the state will hold its primary on January 10th, one week after Iowa’s caucuses on January 3rd. Every Republican presidential nominating contest is now set. On Friday, the House Ethics Committee announced that it is investigating whether California Democrat Laura Richardson has misused her staff for political purposes. Also Friday, Andy Rooney, former “60 Minutes” commentator, died at 92 years of age.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    On Thursday and Friday, President Obama attended the G-20 meeting in Cannes, France. Largely responding to the financial crisis in Europe and the faltering global economy, the G-20 countries committed to an Action Plan for Growth and Jobs “to address short term vulnerabilities and strengthen medium-term foundations for growth.” Moreover, the G-20 leaders agreed to “move more rapidly toward more market determined exchange rate systems and enhance exchange rate flexibility to reflect underlying economic fundamentals, avoid persistent exchange rate misalignments and refrain from competitive devaluation of currencies.” While in Cannes, President Obama held a bilateral meeting with G-20 Summit host, French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Talks were focused on strengthening the global economic recovery in order to create jobs for and on stabilizing the global financial markets. In a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the discussion also concentrated on the themes of the G-20 Summit, with President Obama acknowledging German leadership in resolving the E.U. financial crisis. President Obama also held a bilateral meeting with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, discussing the possibilities of deeper cooperation on economics, trade, science, technology, and security issues, as well as setting an agenda for the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Colombia.

    Greater Middle East Developments. At midnight on Monday, NATO’s Libya Operation Unified Protector concluded after seven months. Libya’s National Transitional Council announced the selection of Abdel Rahim al-Keeb, an electronics engineer originally from Tripoli who spent most of his career abroad, as Prime Minister. On Thursday, Secretary Clinton released the status report on Afghanistan and Pakistan civilian engagement, a report that details an increased focus on civilian initiatives in both Afghanistan and Pakistan as U.S. troops begin a phased drawdown in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, on Friday after making disparaging comments about Afghan President Hamid Karzai to a U.S. media publication (Politico), Major General Peter Fuller, a top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, was relieved of his duties. Also, the media reported this week the U.S. Government continued to transfer detainees to the Afghan intelligence service, despite having been informed of acts of torture being committed at Afghan detention center Department 124. The State Department is investigating whether the Leahy Amendment was violated; a law that prohibits the United States from funding units of foreign security forces when credible evidence of human rights abuses exists. With the U.S. military winding down its presence in Iraq, five bipartisan Senators wrote to Secretary Clinton urging the State Department cooperate with the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) in accounting for taxpayer dollars. The State Department has blocked SIGIR inspectors from assessing State's multi-billion dollar Iraqi police training program. On Friday, after yet more violence against Syrian citizens this week, the State Department said the Syrian Assad regime has failed to fulfill any of the commitments made to the Arab League, which State summarized as “stopping all of the violence, releasing all detainees, withdrawing all armed elements from populated areas, and allowing unfettered access to journalists and to Arab League monitors.” This coming week, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Amano is expected to release his report on Iran – a report that the State Department said Friday will likely make clear the concerns that Iran is not meeting its international obligations.

    Secretary Clinton spoke Monday in Washington at the annual Conference on U.S.-Turkey Relations. She was scheduled to attend and speak at the London Conference on Cyberspace, but had to cancel after her mother Dorothy Rodham, passed away at the age of 92 on Tuesday. Instead, Vice President Biden provided remarks Tuesday at the Cyberspace Conference, saying the United States’ cybersecurity approach includes balancing the questions of how to ensure the Internet remains open yet secure. The Vice President further said the United States supports a public-private collaboration approach.

    On Thursday and Friday, the United States hosted the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF)’s Criminal Justice/Rule of Law Working Group’s inaugural meeting. The Working Group is co-chaired by the United States and Egypt and is one of five expert-led working groups of the GCTF, a new multilateral counterterrorism forum with 30 founding members (29 countries plus the EU). Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns delivered keynote remarks Friday at the World Affairs Councils of America 2011 National Conference, saying strengthening bilateral relationships across the Pacific and throughout our hemisphere is necessary to ensure economic prosperity and to affirm U.S. leadership in the future. This week, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner and U.S. Special Envoy Derek Mitchell traveled to Burma. On Friday, the State Department welcomed the announcement that the Governments of Russia and Georgia have come to agreement on an arrangement for monitoring trade between their two countries, especially highlighting the Government of Switzerland’s intermediary role. This agreement is expected to clear the way for Russia’s membership petition to the World Trade Organization. On Monday, The President issued a congratulatory statement to the people and government of Kyrgyzstan for last Sunday’s democratic and peaceful presidential election. Yesterday, President Obama extended greetings for a happy Eid al-Adha to Muslims worldwide.

    This week, President Obama announced his intention to nominate: Meredith Broadbent to be a member of the U.S. International Trade Commission; Anne Richard to be Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration (State); Tara Sonenshine to be Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (State); and Ajit Varadaraj Pai to be a Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). President Obama will host President Anibal Cavaco Silva of Portugal for a meeting in the Oval Office on November 9th. The White House also announced President Obama will welcome the leaders of the European Union to a summit in Washington on November 28th and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on December 12th.