This Week in Washington - June 1, 2012

    1 June 2012


    Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 Appropriations.  While the Senate was not in session this week, the House continued work on its FY 2013 appropriations bills.  On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee passed its FY 2013 Legislative Branch spending bill.  Despite a White House veto threat over top-line spending levels, the full House passed its FY 2013 Military Construction-VA spending bill, after removing a contracting provision opposed by organized labor.  On Friday, the full House also began consideration of the FY 2013 Energy-Water spending bill.  

    On Tuesday, the Obama Administration announced a $26 million multi-agency Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge to enhance global competitiveness and foster job creation through public-private partnerships.  The House Wednesday passed legislation (391-2) to establish and authorize $10 million annually for a Border Enforcement Security Task Force within the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate federal, state, municipal, tribal and foreign government efforts in securing the U.S. border.  Also on Wednesday, the House passed legislation that would require the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to comply with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, a law that prohibits employers from discriminating against members of the military based on their military service.  In contradiction to previous statements by Department of Defense officials, a senior official at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) stated Thursday that war funding through the Overseas Contingency Operations account will be subject to the automatic spending cuts set to take effect in January under sequestration.  Also on Thursday, a federal appeals court in Boston, Massachusetts unanimously ruled that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional for denying federal benefits to married gay couples.  Because President Obama decided last year that the U.S. Department of Justice would no longer defend the constitutionality of the law, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group was convened by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to defend it.  The House defeated a measure Thursday seeking to ban sex-selective abortions in the United States.  A two-thirds majority was needed to pass the bill under expedited rules, but it fell short by a vote of 246-168.  The Obama Administration, most Congressional Democrats, and seven House Republicans opposed the measure, which they argued would limit a women’s right to choose and could lead to racial profiling.  Also on Thursday, the House overwhelmingly passed (387-5) the Food and Drug Administration Reform Act, which authorizes for five years user fee programs for prescription and generic drugs, as well as medical devices.  The Senate passed (96-1) a similar bill last week, and both chambers are expected to quickly resolve their differences and deliver a final measure to the President.  Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved a bill to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 Amendments Act of 2008 through the summer of 2017; renewal is a top priority for National Intelligence Director James Clapper.  The measure would extend the law that allows warrantless surveillance of foreign targets, including U.S. citizens with whom they are communicating.

    Labor Statistics. On Friday morning, the U.S. Labor Department released employment data for the month of May.  The report detailed the U.S. economy’s first increase in the unemployment rate in nearly a year, as more job seekers entered the workforce.  The move to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent in April was coupled with only 69,000 new jobs added for the month – the fewest over the past year.

    Political News.  In winning the Texas primary on Tuesday, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney earned the required number of delegates to clinch the Republican presidential nomination at the party’s convention in August.  The Texas primaries also set up a July run-off between Republican Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and Republican Ted Cruz for retiring Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat, and resulted in Beto O’Rourke defeating eight-term incumbent Representative Silvestre Reyes for the Democratic nomination to the state’s solidly Democratic 16th District Congressional seat covering El Paso.  Also on Tuesday, former Democratic Representative from Alabama, Artur Davis, announced he is switching parties and considering a future bid for Congress as a Republican in Virginia.  On Thursday, former North Carolina Senator and 2004 Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee, John Edwards, was found not guilty on one of six campaign finance charges, and the judge declared a mistrial on the remaining five counts.  


    Syria.  The United States strongly condemned last Friday’s massacre of 108 civilians, which included children, in the village of Houla, saying the Assad regime is ultimately responsible for its “thugs” – the shabiha, whom State said were “aided and abetted by the Iranians.”  According to the State Department, U.N. observers were in the Homs area and were able to quickly “bear witness” to the massacre.  On Tuesday, the United States, Australia, Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, France and Germany all expelled top Syrian diplomats.  While U.N.-Arab League Special Envoy Kofi Annan indicated a preference to continue to press for a diplomatic solution, the State Department affirmed Tuesday all options are on the table and that Secretary Clinton has stated the next step in the United Nations is to pursue a Chapter 7 resolution.  However, while engaged in consultations in Denmark on Thursday, Secretary Clinton added, “We’re nowhere near putting together any type of coalition other than to alleviate the suffering.”  On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney accused Iran of engaging in "malignant behavior" in Syria.  Meanwhile, the media reported Qatar and Saudi Arabia may have provided arms to the Syrian opposition.  Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Michigan) predicted Wednesday additional international action will be needed to stop the violence in Syria, or at least to alleviate the carnage via the establishment of safe zones, and that Turkey will likely have a central role.  Meanwhile on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly said Russia does not support any side in the Syrian conflict, which Secretary Clinton suggested may indicate Russia may be willing to work with the international community to plan a political transition in Syria.  From Norway on Friday, Secretary Clinton also said next week she will meet in Istanbul with representatives from the region about the situation in Syria.  

    Iran.  This week, media reports said satellite imagery suggests Iran is sanitizing the sites at Parchin military facility ahead of any potential IAEA inspection.  On Friday, the media also reported President Obama ordered cyberattacks on Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities, specifically the Stuxnet worm, which some credit with allegedly slowing down Iran’s nuclear program.  On Thursday, the House passed (386-28) an FY 2013 intelligence authorization bill that would authorize funding for the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies and, as the result of an amendment by Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan), require the Director of National Intelligence to provide Congress with an assessment of the consequences of a military strike against Iran.  

    This week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey departed for the Asian-Pacific region to consult on the new U.S. defense strategy for the region.  Thursday from Hawaii, the Secretary stressed that while the U.S. military already has a strong presence in the region, it will strengthen even more over the next five to 10 years.  Secretary Panetta is expected to provide more details on the strategy at tomorrow’s 2012 Shangri-la Security Dialogue in Singapore.  

    On Friday in Norway, Secretary Clinton held a bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, discussing Arctic issues, NATO, Afghanistan, Syria, Burma, and climate change mitigation.  In Oslo, Secretary Clinton spotlighted and praised the new Egyptian parliament for allowing the country’s emergency law to expire Thursday, after it had been in force for more than 30 years.  Secretary Clinton also gave a speech on the U.S. Global Health Initiative, outlining a more coordinated approach within the U.S. Government, with partner countries, and with donors.  

    On Wednesday, President Obama signed into law the Export-Import Bank Reauthorization Act of 2012, reauthorizing the Bank to continue financing U.S. exports.  Also Wednesday, the House advanced legislation (H.R. 4041) by voice vote a bill sponsored by Representative Howard Berman (D-California) that would revise the duties of the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee (TPCC), a 20-member interagency task force tasked with developing U.S. trade promotion policies.  The bill directs the Commerce Secretary to report to Congress on findings of a global assessment of overseas markets to determine the greatest potential areas to increase U.S. exports.  President Obama held a teleconference Wednesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, discussing developments in Europe, preparations for the G20 Summit in Mexico, and Syria.

    On Thursday, Vice President Biden called Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to thank Canada for its NATO Summit commitment to provide $110 million annually for three years beginning in 2015 towards the sustainment of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).  The Vice President similarly thanked Austrian Federal Chancellor Werner Faymann for Austria’s significant pledge of financial support for the ANSF.  

    Wednesday, the State Department welcomed the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s Trial Chamber’s prison sentence of 50 years for Charles Taylor for aiding, abetting, and planning war crimes against humanity.