This Week in Washington - December 11, 2011

    11 December 2011

    DOMESTIC POLICY MATTERS

    Budget & Appropriations. The nine remaining Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 appropriations bills will be packaged into a single omnibus bill and likely approved by Congress prior to the expiration of the current Continuing Resolution (CR) on December 16th. However, significant policy issues remain unresolved with the following three bills: Labor-HHS-Education, Financial Services, and the Interior-Environment bill. Reports this week indicate that if any of these three bills cannot be resolved, they may be replaced by year-long CRs. House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) introduced a package of ten budget reform bills Wednesday aimed at controlling federal spending, enhancing oversight, and providing greater transparency.

    Also Wednesday, President Obama announced he will reject any extension of the payroll tax cut if it includes a measure forcing approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. After forty-eight Senators filibustered a White House-backed bill to extend the payroll tax cut on Thursday, House Republicans released a new proposal – The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2011 – to extend the payroll tax cut on Friday. The bill includes language that would allow for the building of the Keystone pipeline, despite the President’s threat, as well as changes to unemployment compensation.

    House and Senate conferees met this week to negotiate a final version of the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization bill. Despite a White House veto threat over terrorist detainee language in the Defense Authorization bill, four top Defense appropriators in the Senate and House announced plans this week to  insert similar language into their FY 2012 Defense Appropriations bill, challenging President Obama to veto the forthcoming omnibus appropriations bill as well.

    On Monday, House Financial Services Committee Chair Spencer Bachus (R-Alabama), who is currently facing allegations of insider trading, introduced legislation that would require members to place their assets in blind trusts run by independent managers. In remembrance of the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Wednesday, President Obama issued a tribute to “the Americans who served and sacrificed seventy years ago today.” Also Wednesday, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the Federal Drug Administration’s assessment that emergency contraceptive Plan B should be available without a prescription to women of all ages. Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to fourteen years in prison Wednesday following his conviction on eighteen felony counts related to his attempts to sell President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat. Jon Corzine, former U.S. Senator and former Governor of New Jersey who presided over the collapse of commodities brokerage MF Global, told the House Committee on Agriculture on Thursday that he cannot account for hundreds of millions of dollars the firm was holding for customers.

    Political News. Last Saturday, Republican Presidential nominee Herman Cain suspended his campaign in the wake of allegations of an extramarital affair and claims of sexual harassment. With just over a month before the Iowa caucus, a poll of likely Iowa caucus voters released last Saturday shows Republican Presidential hopeful and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich leading. After being charged Saturday with drunken driving, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Jerome Randolph “Randy” Babbitt offered his resignation on Tuesday. On Thursday, Senate Republicans blocked President Obama’s nomination of Caitlin Halligan to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, as well as the nomination of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The White House announced the departure of Assistant to the President and Special Advisor Phil Schiliro on Thursday. This week, courts finalized the redistricting plans for Colorado and Nevada, adding Democratic-leaning voters to Congressman Mike Coffman's (R-CO) district and creating two competitive seats in the Las Vegas suburbs.

    FOREIGN POLICY MATTERS

    Iran. On Tuesday, the State Department unveiled its Virtual Embassy Tehran, which was in turn blocked by the Iranian government one day later. Iran claimed Thursday an unmanned stealth U.S. drone was shot down intact while flying over Iran last week. After last week’s unanimous Senate passage of the Menendez-Kirk Iran amendment targeting the Central Bank of Iran, the Administration lobbied House and Senate conferees this week to change the language as negotiations on the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization bill commenced. On Thursday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-California) spoke out in favor of the Menendez-Kirk amendment, saying “[e]very Administration wants total discretion on foreign policy, but that is an impulse that Congress must always resist.”

    Greater Middle East. Wednesday, Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-California) introduced the Haqqani Network Terrorist Designation Act (S. 1959), a bill to require Secretary Clinton take a position on whether or not the Haqqani network (based in Pakistan) satisfies the criteria for designation as a terrorist organization under Section 219 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Secretary Clinton met Wednesday in Europe with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to discuss the ongoing violence by the Syrian regime. U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford returned to Damascus Tuesday, with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney saying Ambassador Ford’s return demonstrates the United States stands in solidarity with the Syrian people. Early this week, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied human rights abuses; and the State Department warned Friday it appeared a large Syrian regime military offensive was in the works for Homs. On Wednesday, the Mexican government reported it had averted a plot to smuggle Al-Saadi Qaddafi (son of the late Libyan dictator) into Mexico under false names and documents. In Egypt, military rulers reportedly said this week they will appoint a council to counter religious extremist influence on the drafting of a constitution, saying the recent parliamentary elections are not representative enough. The State Department continues to encourage the Egyptian leaders to move forward along a democratic path.

    Secretary Clinton Abroad. Monday in Bonn, Germany, Secretary Clinton attended the International Conference on Afghanistan and met with NATO, E.U. and U.N. Special Representatives for Afghanistan. The Secretary also met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Secretary Clinton travelled to Lithuania Tuesday, meeting with her foreign counterparts from Kazakhstan and Lithuania; and meeting with Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. Later that day in Geneva, the Secretary met with a small group of Syrian National Council members. Also Tuesday, President Obama released a presidential memorandum on international initiatives to advance the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people. Secretary Clinton spoke in Geneva on the new U.S. foreign policy, which will ensure diplomacy and foreign assistance programs promote and protect the rights of LGBT persons. The Secretary also strongly condemned the suicide bombing that killed more than 50 people marking the Shia holy day of Ashura in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, Secretary Clinton attended the 7th Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention Review Conference in Geneva. Later in Brussels, Belgium, Secretary Clinton and Slovakian Foreign Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda signed a joint action plan to combat nuclear smuggling. Thursday, the Secretary attended the NATO-Russia Council Meeting, as well as held bilateral meetings with her foreign counterparts from Kosovo, Georgia, Latvia, and Greece. Also Thursday, Secretary Clinton said at the Conference on Internet Freedom at The Hague the private sector needs to embrace its role in protecting Internet freedom and “governments must resist the urge to clamp down.” The Secretary also met with Dutch Foreign Minister Uriel Rosenthal. This week, Secretary Clinton said Russian voters deserve a full investigation of alleged electoral fraud and manipulation in last Sunday’s Duma elections, which the Secretary deemed "neither free nor fair.” On Thursday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who filed his papers Wednesday to run for President next March, accused Secretary Clinton of spurring the protests in Russia.

    On Tuesday, President Obama welcomed Indonesia’s ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). President Obama called German Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday to discuss the financial situation in the eurozone. Late Friday, 23 of 27 E.U. countries agreed to rewrite an E.U. treaty that calls for strict fiscal limits to try to save the euro, with Britain opposing. Britain does not use the euro. President Obama also held a bilateral meeting Wednesday with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, after which details on the Beyond the Border Action Plan and the Regulatory Cooperation Council Action Plan were announced. Both plans are complementary and will further promote bilateral cooperation on trade, investment, emergency preparedness, security, and defense. On Thursday, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issued two general licenses authorizing “all activities and transactions” for the petroleum and petrochemical industry in South Sudan, effectively amending U.S. economic sanctions against Sudan and allowing U.S. companies to invest in South Sudan’s oil sector.

    On Monday, Secretary Clinton announced the formation of a new Foreign Affairs Policy Board of outside experts, which will meet December 19th to focus on the Secretary’s economic statecraft initiative. The State Department announced Thursday the new Office of the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment – which combines three bureaus and two offices. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) announced late Thursday the Senate will debate and vote next week on whether to consider the U.S. Ambassador nominations of Mari Carmen Aponte (El Salvador) and Norm Eisen (Czech Republic).