This Week in Washington - June 22, 2012

    22 June 2012


    Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 Appropriations.  The House continued to work on its FY 2013 spending bills this week, holding full committee mark-ups of the Agriculture, Financial Services, and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bills and a subcommittee mark-up of the Interior-Environment bill.

    On Thursday, after addressing more than 70 amendments throughout the week, the Senate passed (64-35) its version of the farm bill.  One of the amendments accepted was a bipartisan agreement regarding the proposed across-the-board spending cuts under sequestration, requiring reports from: 1)  the Office of Management and Budget on the proposed top-line budget numbers; 2) the Pentagon on the impact on Defense programs; and 3) the President explaining how implementation and the effects on defense and non-defense areas.

    Conferees on the surface transportation reauthorization bill announced Thursday that they had reached agreement on “major” transit issues within the measure, but will continue to work on several policy riders before the current authorization expires next week, including potentially fast-tracking the Keystone XL pipeline, curbing EPA regulation of coal ash, and returning much of BP’s federal fines related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the affected Gulf Coast states.  Senators also moved closer to reauthorizing the national flood insurance program after agreeing to invoke cloture (96-2).  President Obama increased pressure on Congress this week to also find a solution to the student loan impasse and stop the doubling of interest rates on federally-subsidized loans (set to expire July 1st).  Democratic and Republican Senate leaders have confirmed they are working on a compromise.  After President Obama invoked executive privilege to withhold documents requested by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-California) in connection with the Justice Department’s discontinued “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking program, the Committee voted along party lines (23-17) Wednesday to find Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.  Congressional Republican leaders then announced plans for the full House to vote on the issue next week.  The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday in favor of Fox and ABC in their fight with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over indecency, saying the commission failed to give the television networks fair notice.  However, the justices did not make a broader ruling on the constitutionality of the government’s authority to regulate the airwaves.

    Political and Economic News.  President Obama accepted the resignation Thursday of Commerce Secretary John Bryson and indicated that Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank will stay on as acting Secretary until after the November election.  Both President Obama and presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney spoke to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Orlando, Florida, this week.  Governor Romney announced a new proposal to allow immigrants earning advanced degrees in certain fields and those who join the military to receive green cards.  However, a new poll out Friday found President Obama ahead of Romney by 36 points among registered Hispanics in five swing states.  Romney confirmed Tuesday that his campaign is vetting Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), among others, in the process to determine his vice presidential running mate.  Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Federal Reserve (Fed) Chairman Ben Bernanke said that, in response to a downgraded projection of 1.9 to 2.4 percent growth this year, the Fed would continue its “Operation Twist” program to buy bonds to reduce interest rates on loans.


    Los Cabos G20 Summit.  On Tuesday, the G20 leaders issued a communiqué that: agrees on a growth and jobs action plan; supports economic stabilization; reaffirms commitment to open trade; strengthens the international financial architecture; reforms the financial sector; enhances food security; addresses development challenges; promotes inclusive green growth; and intensifies the fight against corruption.  On the margins of the summit on Monday, President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin met and issued a joint statement, outlining discussions that touched on various areas of collaboration and disagreement, including:  Russia’s impending WTO accession, nonproliferation, implementation of the New START Treaty, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Afghanistan, and counternarcotics.  The OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair Presidents issued a joint statement Monday on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, encouraging Azerbaijan and Armenia to negotiate a peaceful settlement that can allow the Southern Caucasus region to move beyond the status quo.  President Obama met Tuesday with Chinese President Hu Jintao.  Also Tuesday, President Obama, Mexican Felipe Calderón and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomed the announcement by the nine Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries to incorporate Mexico and Canada into the ongoing TPP trade negotiations.  Also Tuesday, President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan discussed Syria, Iraq, counterterrorism and an upcoming meeting in Ankara to advance bilateral commercial ties.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Monday.  Also Monday, President Obama welcomed the outcome of Greece's elections, saying it showed a "positive prospect" for the formation of a Greek government that could work with international partners to address its debt crisis.  Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras took office on Wednesday as head of a broad Greek coalition government.

    Iran.  The P-5+1 met this week with Iran for a third round of negotiations in Moscow, ultimately not achieving a breakthrough.  On Wednesday, House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chair Buck McKeon (R-California) held a hearing to explore whether a U.S. military option is viable.  Thursday, Iran declared it had detected a planned “massive cyber attack” against its nuclear facilities, blaming the United States and Israel.  In response, House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers (R-MI) said the United States has not used any cyber “offensive capability.”

    Syria.   Last weekend, citing violence against its unarmed observers, the U.N. suspended its activities in Syria.  Early this week, London’s Standard Club withdrew insurance for the MV Alaed, effectively stopping the cargo ship from delivering three Russian refurbished attack helicopters destined for Syria.  Tuesday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) issued a statement encouraging the Administration to re-impose sanctions on Rosoboronexport, the Russian company that is reportedly selling arms to Syria.  On Thursday, HASC Chair McKeon disagreed with Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member John McCain (D-Arizona), who is calling for U.S. military action to stop the Syrian regime from killing civilians.  Congressman McKeon instead said President Obama has said “very little” about the United States’ national interests in Syria.  Also Thursday, a Syrian Air Force Colonel landed his MiG-21 fighter at a Jordanian military air base and was granted political asylum, after U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford had declared, “Members of the Syrian military should reconsider their support for a regime that is losing the battle….”  Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta defended the Administration’s decision not to provide direct lethal assistance to the Syrian rebels, saying “…the situation there could deteriorate into a terrible civil war."

    Tuesday afternoon in Washington, Secretary Clinton announced the release of the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report.  On Wednesday, the Secretary met with Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat; Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz; and Ambassador Chan Heng Chee of Singapore.  On Thursday, the State Department designated three senior leaders of Boko Haram as foreign terrorists.  Late Thursday, Secretary Clinton departed Washington for Brazil to attend the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development ("Rio+20").  In Rio de Janeiro Friday, Secretary Clinton met with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati; Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard; and Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić.

    Last Saturday, President Obama and Vice President Biden expressed condolences to King Abdullah, the royal family, and the people of Saudi Arabia for the passing of Crown Prince Nayif.  On Tuesday, President Obama congratulated King Abdullah and the Saudi people on the selection of Prince Salman as Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister.  President Obama informed King Abdullah Wednesdsay that a senior U.S. delegation, led by Defense Secretary Panetta, had left for Jeddah to pay condolences.     

    Egypt.  While Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi and former Premier Ahmed Shafik have both claimed they are the winner of the recent run-off presidential election, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has delayed the release of the official results, possibly until Sunday.  On Friday, thousands of protesters converged in Tahrir Square to protest perceived interference.  Meanwhile, the SCAF warned it will act with “utmost determination and force” to stem protests.

    The House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced to the House floor a bipartisan resolution (H. Con. Res. 127) Wednesday that urges preservation of “the multi-stakeholder governance model under which the Internet has thrived.”  The resolution also demands the U.S. delegation heading to a global conference to reject any proposals seeking to change the existing Internet governance system.  

    President Obama announced Wednesday his intention to nominate Polly Trottenberg to be Under Secretary for Policy at the Transportation Department.  Brett McGurk withdrew from consideration to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.