This Week in Washington - September 28, 2012

    28 September 2012


    Budget.  On Saturday, the Senate approved the Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13) Continuing Resolution (CR), which now awaits the President's signature.  The CR makes continuing appropriations for FY13 starting October 1 through March 27, 2013. The discretionary spending levels in the CR are set at an annualized level of $1.047 trillion, in line with the cap set by last year’s Budget Control Act.  On Tuesday, Senate appropriators released a draft spending bill for Interior and Environment programs, hoping it will be addressed during the lame-duck session.  Meanwhile, the bipartisan Senate “Gang of Eight” continues working to avoid sequestration.  Given those ongoing discussions, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) stated that he has no plans yet to open discussions with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) regarding the impending expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts or the looming automatic spending cuts.  Congress is in recess until November 13th.  

    During its pro forma session on Friday, the House cleared S. 3625, a bill that changes the effective date for publishing certain information on the Internet “to prevent harming national security….”  The House also passed S. 3624, a bill allowing states to issue commercial driver's licenses to service members whose duty station is located within the state.  The House also passed S. 743, which provides whistleblower protections to Transportation Security Administration employees, setting up a possible Conference Committee.

    On Tuesday, the index of property values detailed a better-than-expected gain for home prices over the last year, which increased by 1.2 percent for the 12-month period ending in July.  Thursday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also released a revision to its employment figures, indicating the economy netted 2.3 million jobs from April 2011 to March 2012, which is 386,000 more jobs than previously reported.  However, on Thursday the Commerce Department revised its GDP growth calculations for the second quarter of 2012 down to 1.3% from 1.7%, with an “adjustment to farm output and inventories for the drought” a key factor.

    Political News.  President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney both campaigned in Ohio this week.  Governor Romney also visited Colorado, where he last appeared on August 2.  The two candidates also visited Virginia this Thursday.   On Friday, Governor Romney traveled to Pennsylvania for the first time since July.  An average of recent polling shows single-digit leads for the President in all four states.  The candidates are also preparing for their first debate, which will focus on domestic policy, scheduled for October 3 in Denver.  As Tuesday’s ballot access deadline passed in the Missouri Senate race, Republican Congressman Todd Akin, who had come under bipartisan criticism for his August comments on rape and pregnancy, decided to continue his challenge to Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill.

    On Wednesday, Senate Republicans filed an amicus curiae brief challenging President Obama’s January recess appointments of Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three members to the National Labor Relations Board.  Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s fall term begins Monday. 


    In New York City Tuesday, President Obama addressed the 67th U.N. General Assembly (UNGA), speaking about the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and categorizing the attacks in the Middle East of the last two weeks as “not simply an assault on America,” but “also an assault on the very ideals on which the United Nations was founded.”  Echoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks of last week, President Obama described the film that sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world as “crude and disgusting,” affirmed the U.S. Constitution enshrines the right for Americans to practice free speech but said “There is no speech that justifies mindless violence.”  On Wednesday, Secretary Clinton suggested the attack in Libya that killed Ambassador Stevens may be linked to an al Qaeda safe haven in Mali.  Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta added Thursday the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was a planned attack by terrorists.  The Secretaries’ remarks intimate the Administration is revising its initial assessment, as articulated by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, that the attack was spurred by spontaneous mob violence.  On Wednesday, eight senior House Republicans wrote to President Obama to express “grave concern about the events surrounding the terrorist attack in Benghazi….”  On Thursday, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) accused Ambassador Rice of “either incompetence or blatantly misleading the American people”.  While anti-extremist demonstrations again occurred in Libya Friday, U.S. Embassy staff in Tripoli was temporarily evacuated this week.  Also citing security concerns, FBI investigators reportedly have yet to travel from Tripoli to Benghazi, which appears to be slowing the official U.S. investigation.  President Obama also said to the General Assembly “the regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end so that the suffering of the Syrian people can stop and a new dawn can begin.”  Friday, Secretary Clinton hosted the Ad Hoc Friends of the Syrian People Ministerial meeting, discussing the humanitarian crisis and how to bolster the Syrian opposition.  The Secretary met Tuesday with U.N.-Arab League Special Envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi.  

    Accompanied by Secretary Clinton, President Obama also met separately with UNGA President Vuk Jeremic and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  Tuesday afternoon, President Obama addressed the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), focusing on “modern slavery,” which the President said distorts markets, endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime.  President Obama also announced a new Executive Order to amend federal contracting regulations to strengthen the U.S. Government’s zero-tolerance policy on trafficking in persons.  Earlier that morning, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also addressed the CGI, outlining his foreign assistance approach:  “couple aid with trade and private investment to empower individuals, encourage innovators, and reward entrepreneurs.”  

    Also at UNGA, Monday Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad implied Israel is a “fake regime”, accused the U.S. and others of misusing freedom of speech, and called the P5’s veto power “discriminatory”.  On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the General Assembly, suggesting the need for “placing a clear red line on Iran’s nuclear weapons program”.  Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas launched a bid Thursday for Vatican-like “non-member state” status for Palestine.  On Thursday, Secretary Clinton attended the P-5+1 minus Iran ministers meeting.  Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi gave his debut speech Wednesday before the General Assembly, calling for regime change in Syria (but not foreign intervention) and support for the Palestinian territories and Sudan.  Secretary Clinton met with President Morsi Monday, discussing embassy security and reinforcing the Administration’s continued intention to provide military and economic foreign assistance to Egypt.  However, on Friday, House Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chair Kay Granger (R-Texas) placed a hold on $450 million in new assistance until Congress can further examine the U.S.-Egyptian bilateral relationship. 

    Thursday, Secretary Clinton attended the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, reiterating the U.S. Asia-Pacific focus on disaster relief, nonproliferation, and maritime security.  The Secretary said the Administration is encouraged by the dialogue between ASEAN and China as they work toward a comprehensive code of conduct for the South China Sea.  Secretary Clinton affirmed the United States does not take a position on competing territorial claims over land but has a national interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, freedom of navigation, and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea.  Early this week, Taiwan’s government sought to assert a territorial claim in what has largely been a dispute between the Governments of Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands.  Secretary Clinton met Thursday with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, discussing the Senkaku Islands, the South China Sea, North Korea and Syria.  On Thursday, Burma President U Thein Sein addressed the General Assembly for the first time – with the speech broadcast live in Burma – enumerating “amazing changes” moving Burma toward democracy and congratulating countrywoman Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for the honors she has received in the United States “in recognition of her efforts for democracy.”  President Thein Sein met the day before with Secretary Clinton, where the Secretary announced Washington would ease a ban on imports from Burma.  

    Thursday, President Obama welcomed the agreement between Sudan and South Sudan, saying the United States is committed to working with both countries.  Also Thursday, Vice President Biden joined White House Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan in a meeting with Yemeni President Abdo Rabu Mansour Hadi.  Secretary Clinton had met with President Hadi in New York Tuesday.  Today, President Obama issued waivers for Libya, South Sudan and Yemen for the Child Soldiers Prevention Act sanctions.  Late last Friday, President Obama announced his intention to nominate Alan Estevez to be Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics and Vincent Logan to be Special Trustee for American Indians.  

    Secretary Clinton and Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin Cuellar met Thursday with several Western Hemisphere foreign ministers to advance Connecting the Americas 2022.  At UNGA, Secretary Clinton met with:  Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak; EU High Representative Catherine Ashton; Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina; Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari; Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf; Afghan President Hamid Karzai; Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati; Iraqi Vice President Khudayr Musa Jafar Abbas al-Khuzai; Arab League Secretary General Nabil Al-Araby; Belgium Foreign Minister Didier Reynders; Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos; British Foreign Secretary William Hague; Foreign Minister of Turkey Ahmet Davutoğlu; Jordanian King Abdullah II; Palestinian Authority President Abbas; Malawian President Joyce Banda; Haitian President Michel Martelly; Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hor Namhong; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba; Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan; Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila; and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.