Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The State of the Union : Winning the future

Watch the speech
Pleading for unity in a newly divided government, President Barack Obama implored Democratic and Republican lawmakers to rally behind his vision of economic revival for an anxious nation, declaring in his State of the Union address Tuesday night: "We will move forward together or not at all." The president unveiled an agenda of carefully balanced political goals: a burst of spending on education, research, technology and transportation to make the nation more competitive, alongside pledges, in the strongest terms of his presidency, to cut the deficit and smack down spending deemed wasteful to America. Yet he never explained how he'd pull that off or what specifically would be cut. Obama spoke to a television audience in the millions and a Congress.

Cantor Opposes Bankruptcy for States

A top House leader on Thursday applauded a proposal by conservative Republicans to reduce federal spending by $2.5 trillion over 10 years, but stopped short of endorsing the specific cuts recommended. “I applaud the Republican Study Committee for proposing cuts in federal spending, and I look forward to the discussion on reducing spending that our country so desperately needs to have,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor said in a statement. “As promised, we will have an open process when it comes to spending bills. I look forward to these cuts and others being brought to the floor for an up-or-down vote during consideration of the CR [continuing resolution], and I support that effort.” The Virginia Republican’s expression of general support marked the first leadership statement on the spending cut proposal by the RSC, the group of the most conservative House Republicans. During a Thursday press conference formally unveiling the plan, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, chairman of the RSC, acknowledged he had not discussed the package with House leaders.
But he said he was “cautiously optimistic that they’re going to like a lot of the elements in this proposal and hopefully include them as we move forward, whether it’s in the context of the CR, the debt ceiling vote or the budget process.” A bill to make the cuts proposed by the RSC was expected to be introduced later Thursday by Jordan and Scott Garrett, R-N.J. Six other cosponsors of the plan appeared at the news conference. The lawmakers said they see the plan as just the first attempt at cutting spending, reducing the deficit and gaining control of the national debt. They all said that rising federal spending is the cause of the deficit, and that cutting discretionary spending was the first step in getting the nation’s fiscal house in order. “What we have here is a start,” said John Campbell of California. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, a freshman Republican, said he views the GOP pledge to cut an initial $100 billion in non-security discretionary spending as “simply a start, a floor. We want more.” Republicans Tom McClintock of California, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and freshmen Joe Walsh of Illinois and James Lankford of Oklahoma also appeared at the event. The lawmakers made clear that they plan to hold leaders’ feet to the fire in pursuing spending cuts. Some conservatives are concerned that GOP leaders may not attempt to cut a full $100 billion in discretionary spending in fiscal 2011, as originally pledged. Upcoming deadlines will put that promise to the test. The current stopgap spending bill (PL 111-322), which continued most funding at fiscal 2010 levels, expires March 4, and lawmakers will need to clear another spending bill before then to avoid a government shutdown.
The House GOP is likely to press for a stopgap funding measure to cover the rest of fiscal 2011 that includes deep spending cuts. But Senate Democrats are almost certain to rebuff the GOP’s preferred reductions, meaning lawmakers would have to clear another short-term CR as they work on a broader spending deal. A House GOP aide said the first take on the stopgap spending bill from Republicans would be a “credible CR.” “We’re not the kind of committee to put something out there in terms of dog and pony exercise,” the aide said. “The chairman hopes to get this done by the March 4 deadline. The chairman’s intention is to do specific cuts to get to level the budget committee gives us. We’d like to get that sooner than later...But as you know, this is a negotiation.” Jordan said the RSC was working on a letter to send to leaders to “encourage them to go for the full $100 billion.” Although House GOP leaders did not rush to embrace the proposal, the RSC counts more than 165 Republicans as members. That suggests that a sizable chunk of the new GOP majority plans to try to follow through on a campaign pledge to reduce spending. The RSC proposal would hold fiscal 2011 non-security discretionary spending to fiscal 2008 levels, saving a total of $80 billion, according to a summary. In the following fiscal years, the legislation would hold non-defense discretionary spending to fiscal 2006 levels, a move estimated to save $2.29 trillion through fiscal 2021.
Paul M. Krawzak writes for CQ. Frank Oliveri contributed to this story.

Uncertainty Over Economy Clouds Obama Speech

A year ago, the economy looked as if it were speeding down the runway, only to stall out in the spring. Now tentative signs of a pickup are emerging across the country again. Factory production, retail sales and existing-home sales are rising, while unemployment claims are trending down. Companies like General Motors and Macy’s have recently announced hiring plans, and bank lending to businesses is starting to expand. Investor sentiment is strengthening, as major stock market indexes climb to their highest levels since mid-2008. This time, though, economists and business leaders are more measured in their optimism about the recovery. Growth is real, they say, though they remain unconvinced it will accelerate all that much. As President Obama prepares to tackle the economy in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, economists and industry executives are likewise sifting through the data. The darkest clouds that marred the economic landscape last summer and fall have indeed lifted, but expectations have also been reined in. Many of the factors that have restrained growth, including heavy household debt and strained state and local budgets, remain. Parts of Europe are still unstable, and higher food and energy prices could crimp household spending. The construction industry has not yet staged a comeback. The unemployment rate, stubbornly high at 9.4 percent, could climb higher as more people who stopped looking for work return to the job search. And few see enough jobs being created over the next year to help more than a small portion of the eight million people who lost work during the recession. So even if the economy is picking up steam, and the president is hoping to ride its momentum, making a significant dent in joblessness will probably remain frustratingly difficult for him and his new economic advisers. “It’s really a muddle-through economy,” said David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist for the investment firm Gluskin Sheff & Associates. Part of what has changed is simply a growing belief that unlike in previous recoveries, the economy will not suddenly ignite. “After a normal recession, once the economy starts growing again, within six months, you’re back to where you started,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a professor at Harvard and co-author, with Carmen M. Reinhart, of “This Time Is Different,” a history of financial crises. “We’re still just crawling back to where we started.” He added, “It’s going to take a few more years, really, before we’re back at whatever normal is.” One reason that hope was crushed last spring was that debt crises in Europe’s weak countries destabilized the stock markets, in turn unnerving consumers. And when fiscal stimulus measures expired, like the tax credit for first-time homebuyers, the housing market sagged. Unlike last year, hardly anyone is expecting skyrocketing growth in coming months. Industry leaders instead talk of stable improvement. “We don’t expect a big upswing in sales,” said Tom Henderson, a spokesman for General Motors. “It’s just slow and steady, which is tracking along what we’re seeing in the economy.” The automaker announced on Monday that it was beginning a third shift at its pickup truck assembly plant in Flint, adding 750 jobs. Most of those slots will be filled by people who were laid off in recent years. Overall sales are starting to improve, and bank lending to businesses rose in the fourth quarter of last year for the first time since the end of 2008, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics. Small businesses — which represented about two-thirds of job growth in the last recovery — are still cautious. “It’s not that sales haven’t been improving, but it’s improving from a really horrible level of a year ago,” said William C. Dunkelberg, chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Business. “We still haven’t got
Main Street
firing on many pistons.” Some small businesses are having trouble getting bank loans because they do not have the collateral. Ami Kassar, chief executive of MultiFunding, a small-business lending broker in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., said that many of his clients had seen the values of their homes, office buildings and warehouses fall so much that banks would not accept them as security. Mr. Kassar said that when his clients did procure loans, they often used the money to cover payrolls rather than to hire new workers, in part because many of their largest customers were taking longer to pay their bills. Other small businesses are concerned about what they view as onerous regulation. Jason W. Speer, vice president of Quality Float Works, a small manufacturer of parts that are used in valves and pumps in the agricultural and oil industries, said the company hired six people last year, after letting four workers go during the recession. Mr. Speer said the company, in Schaumburg, Ill., northwest of Chicago, was ready to hire two more people, but was hesitating in part because of fear of new regulations and the burden of increased corporate taxes in Illinois. “Every little bit helps or hurts in a small company,” said Mr. Speer. “There’s a lot of agencies now that are coming out with new rulings and regulations, and it’s hard to keep up with that. So instead of hiring or giving bonuses or buying new equipment, we’re paying to cover us for regulation issues.” President Obama recently announced plans to initiate a governmentwide review of corporate regulation, vowing to “remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation.”  That measure, along with the one-year cut in the payroll tax, could spur consumer and business spending, said Mr. Dunkelberg. Time, too, tends to generate spending, as washing machines, boilers, industrial machinery and cars eventually wear out.  Mr. Henderson of G.M. said that part of the reason the company was adding a shift in Flint was that it had seen a surge in demand from small businesses like heating and air-conditioning companies, plumbers and carpenters who were buying trucks and vans. “In the fourth quarter, our sales to this segment were up 36 percent,” he said.  Another sign of hope is in the jobs data. Last year, job growth was relatively strong in the first quarter as measured by the government, but other indicators — like the number of people filing for unemployment insurance each week and surveys of business hiring intentions — were still weak. Now, the average weekly jobless claims have fallen and several key surveys have indicated that companies are planning to hire this year. “There is supporting evidence that the market has turned decisively,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief United States economist at MFR Inc. “If you look at all the evidence that surrounds the labor market, it’s pretty compelling that we’re on the cusp of further improvements here.” Another encouraging sign is that federally withheld employment taxes have been rising, according to an analysis of Treasury Department data by James F. O’Sullivan, chief economist at MF Global. Once hiring picks up, it feeds many corners of the economy, including housing. As people get jobs, Mr. O’Sullivan said, they move out of their parents’ homes or split with roommates and rent new apartments. Eventually, some of them will start buying homes.  At Toll Brothers, a higher-end home builder, the chief executive, Douglas C. Yearley Jr., hesitates to predict robust growth after disappointment last year. “I think we’re just more guarded,” he said.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

You can now e-mail John Boehner

Anyone in the country can now e-mail House Speaker John Boehner.
After former Speaker Nancy Pelosi passed Boehner the gavel, his office launched to voters to easily contact him.
Members of Congress have long accepted e-mail from their constituents through web forms, but they've typically blocked people from outside their districts or states from writing.
Boehner’s new media director Nick Schaper said having a general address makes it easy for citizens to contact the Speaker online.
Schaper noted the "Speaker Boehner" mailbox — which collects messages from both a web form on and direct e-mails — received about 150 emails over the weekend, with roughly 20 percent related to the Tucson shooting.
"It's our goal to make sure we’re tracking every touch we have with citizens — calls, letters, emails — in a way that allows us to keep them informed on the issues they care about," Schaper told in an e-mail.
The all-access mailbox originated with Pelosi during her first stint as Minority Leader five years ago. She invited people to e-mail her at Staffers read and evaluate the emails, and they even send responses to a lucky few.
"We want to hear from everyone, not just constituents," Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill said. "It's an opportunity for people to have a way to weigh in on issues of the day."
According to Hammill, Pelosi receives reports on the trends and issues that are dominating the email correspondence.
And just as the email operated during her tenure as both Minority Leader and Speaker, Hammill said "will continue to serve as her way to hear from people across the country" in her new role.
As for Boehner's new e-mail address, Hammill noted the success of AmericanVoices likely inspired the Speaker's team.
"I have no doubt that’s something they wanted to mirror," he said.
Meanwhile, Schaper said the GOP has taken "full advantage" of the web in recent years, and added that citizens will "now see that enthusiasm translated into more effective governing."
And Speaker Boehner recently told NBC's Brian Williams he gets "strength every day just going to my Facebook site." Boehner's no stranger to other forms of new media, and has a @SpeakerBoehner Twitter account to go along with his accounts on Facebook and YouTube.
"Whether it's Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or the next communications tool we’ve yet to see, the Speaker and his colleagues will continue to explore new avenues to connect with those they represent," Schaper wrote.

Friday, January 14, 2011

US ambassador lampoons Nordic military pact

The Stoltenberg plan, drafted after years-long consultations with Nordic capitals, was summed up as 'dreams in Polar fog' (Photo: Defence Images)
Today @ 09:18 CET
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Proposals for the five Nordic countries to create a mini-Nato alliance are "dreams in Polar fog" but may be useful for "keeping an eye on Polar bears and Russians", according to the former US ambassador to Norway, Benson Whitney. Mr Whitney used the irreverent language in a confidential cable dated March 2009 and published on Thursday (13 January) by WikiLeaks. His remarks came shortly after Norway's former leader, the 74-year-old Thorvald Stoltenberg, put forward 13 ideas for military co-operation including a Nato-style mutual defence pact. Nordic foreign ministers are to debate the text in April amid growing strategic interest in the High North for energy and trade reasons. UK Prime Minister David Cameron will next week also host a meeting of Nordic and Baltic state leaders on the topic. The US ambassador predicted that the Nordic mutual defence clause is the least likely to fly. "Officials including the PM's foreign policy advisor and the MFA's [foreign ministry's] political director have privately indicated to us that there is little or no interest in a Nordic solidarity declaration in the GON [government of Norway]," he reported, despite the fact the Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, is Thorvald Stoltenberg's son. On joint surveillance flights in Icelandic airspace, he added: "Surprisingly, Norwegian officials have been very critical of this proposal ... expressing strong dislike for this item." On diplomatic and consular co-operation, Mr Whitney said: "Co-operation between foreign services is much more difficult and will likely be limited to countries where none of the Nordics have representation now." The cable was not entirely negative. In his concluding remarks, the ambassador said: "Joint Nordic transport capabilities, medical teams, amphibious units, a stabilization task force and maritime awareness could be important contributions to UN, Nato or US missions." A separate dispatch published on Thursday displays the high level of trust between Sweden and the US, with Stockholm briefing Washington in detail on an upcoming EU foreign ministers' meeting. Swedish diplomat Jonas Wendel in July 2009 told the US charge d'affaires in Stockholm, Robert J. Silverman, about sensitive issues in an upcoming EU foreign ministers meeting. Mr Wendel spoke in detail about the position of fellow US ally Britain on Iran sanctions, but maintained some discretion. Speaking of whether or not the EU will use tough language against Russia, he said the move is being opposed by the "usual members," instead of naming EU capitals. The Wendel dispatch comes after Swedish diplomat Johan Frisell in 2008, in a previously leaked US cable, dished up painful details on internal EU divisions on the Georgia-Russia war. The revelation raised eyebrows among some senior EU officials because internal EU debates are supposed to be kept secret. In another positive note, the Wendel dispatch indicated that EU countries are capable of sticking together in times of crisis.  Commenting on whether EU states might withdraw their ambassadors from Iran after it put a British embassy worker in jail, the cable said: "Solidarity among EU members is strong, and if the discussion is emotionally charged, then the ministers might agree to a withdrawal." For his part, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt in a dispatch dated December 2009 and published in December 2010 gave a mostly upbeat opinion on the newly-minted EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton. Mr Bildt said that he "knew and liked" Ms Ashton. "He described her as a 'street fighter' with a disciplined mind for bureaucratic battles. While competent and intelligent, Bildt described her as having 'no foreign affairs knowledge'."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Biden in Pakistan for Talks With Top Officials - New York Times

Biden in Pakistan for Talks With Top Officials - New York Times
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. arrived in Pakistan on Wednesday for a day of talks with Pakistan’s top civilian and military leaders on the strategic partnership, officials said. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari met in Islamabad on Wednesday. This is Mr. Biden’s second visit to Pakistan, considered an uneasy partner in the efforts against terrorism. Relations have been strained recently over American insistence that Pakistan Army troops move into North Waziristan, a safe haven for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants who have used the rugged tribal sanctuary to stage assaults inside Afghanistan. Pakistani officials say that they want to undertake the offensive at a time of their own choice.  An American Embassy spokesperson said that Mr. Biden is meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and will discuss bilateral relations and how both countries can work to ensure peace and stability in the region, officials said.  Mr. Biden is also meeting the country’s powerful army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, according to Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the spokesperson for the Inter-Services Public Relations, the media wing of the military.
Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, is also expected to be present although a spokesperson for the powerful intelligence organization said a separate meeting with General Pasha was not scheduled. Mr. Biden was greeted by Nawabzada Malik Amad Khan, state minister for foreign affairs, and other Foreign Ministry officials at Chaklala Air Base on his arrival.

Shootings Upend K Street, Fundraising Calendar

Washington’s political and lobbying scene, which is ordinarily abuzz with activity this time of year as lawmakers get to work in the new Congress, largely took a pause this week in response to the shootings in Arizona. Fundraising was postponed,
K Street
welcome receptions for new Members put off, health care campaigns delayed and even a local political trivia night canceled as lobbyists, lawmakers and the Capitol Hill community responded to the weekend’s killings and attempted assassination on a Member. “Whether it’s a birthday or a fundraiser or a welcome reception, it doesn’t seem in good taste when there are people who have gone through a tragedy and are grieving,” said Monica Notzon, a GOP fundraiser. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it was postponing all political events, fundraisers and communications regarding health care reform as a result of the shooting, which left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) critically injured and six others dead. One canceled event is a reception this evening at Tortilla Coast hosted by the political action committee of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of centrist lawmakers to which Giffords belongs. Democratic fundraiser Mike Fraioli said that his clients would not be making phone calls soliciting campaign contributions this week, either. “People are in a reflective mood. They are focusing on the tragedy at hand,” he said. The Democratic strategist likened the pause to the period after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when most political activity ceased. As in 2001, Fraioli said, individual lawmakers will decide when they feel comfortable resuming their routine activities. Some trade groups and industry lobbyists were also taking a break from their normal beginning-of-session schmoozing with Members. Restaurant interests postponed a welcome reception planned for freshmen and other friends that was scheduled for today. “Given the circumstances, we felt it was the right thing to do,” said Jeff Pannozzo, director of government affairs in the Washington, D.C., office of Yum Brands Inc., the parent company of several fast-food chains including A&W, KFC, Long John Silver’s, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Yum Brands planned to host the reception at Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar along with the National Restaurant Association and several chains including Outback, McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts. The event is expected to be rescheduled for Feb. 8, when Congress will likely be back in session. While lobbyists and other officials said they canceled their events out of respect for the victims and their families, they are also pragmatically readjusting their schedule because there will be little activity on Capitol Hill this week. House leaders canceled the week’s legislative agenda, including a repeal of the health care law, after the shootings. A planned Wednesday fundraiser for Rep. Kristi Noem, a newly elected Republican from South Dakota, “was in flux,” according to spokesman Joshua Shields. Shields cited the tragedy and “the fact there aren’t any votes this week” for the change. Health Care for America Now, a coalition of union and progressive groups that campaigned for the new health care law, had planned more than 50 events around the country, many in swing districts held by Republicans, to put pressure on those lawmakers to reject the repeal effort. But Executive Director Ethan Rome said those campaign-style events have been postponed until a new vote is scheduled. “Congress has paused and is not taking up the issue,” he said. Rome added that the decision to put off those events also reflected “a sense of when it is appropriate to campaign given the horrific events of the weekend.” HCAN worked with Giffords, whose support for the health care measure sparked opposition within her district. On the night the health care reform law was passed last March, a window was smashed in the Congresswoman’s Tucson office. The heated debate did not end with the law’s enactment. There has been intense lobbying over its repeal, with the National Restaurant Association on Friday putting out an “urgent” call to action asking its members to press lawmakers to support the repeal. Political groups also put the brakes on advertising planned for the week in pivotal states. The conservative American Future Fund shelved a planned ad campaign targeting Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). “We have changed some plans,” AFF leader Nick Ryan told Roll Call in an e-mail. “We had a two-week buy in North Dakota, and the ad is not running this week.” In the past week, the AFF and the liberal group Commonsense Ten had already begun sparring over the North Dakota airwaves about Conrad’s record as a fiscal conservative. The National Republican Congressional Committee also is in a holding pattern, waiting on its work related to the repeal measure until legislative business resumes. Not all activity has come to a halt. Republican National Committee members said they still planned to attend the annual RNC meeting this week. On Friday, the party will hold elections for the chairmanship and other positions. The BP oil spill commission is still scheduled to deliver its final report at the National Press Club today about the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue will still make his annual “State of American Business” address this morning at chamber headquarters. A chamber spokesman said Donohue will reference the weekend shootings at the beginning of his remarks. The spokesman also referred to a blog entry by Tom Collamore, the chamber’s senior vice president for communication and strategy, who called the shootings “reprehensible.” “We are praying for the full recovery of Congresswoman Giffords and the others who were injured,” Collamore wrote. “And our hearts go out to the families of those who lost their lives.”
Tricia Miller and Kyle Trygstad contributed to this report.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Analysis: 2011 could be big year for Obama on trade


Wed, Jan 5 2011
After years of trade policy stalemate, there could be big strides in 2011 with approval of U.S. trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization and perhaps even the end of the longest-ever round of global trade talks.
The Republican takeover of the House of Representatives, a sluggish economic recovery and President Barack Obama's goal of doubling exports could combine to spur action on several fronts, analysts say.
"It might be a very big year," said Ed Gresser, president of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.
Government data shows U.S. exports likely grew about 17 percent last year, one of the fastest rates ever as world trade bounced back from a historic slump brought about by the financial crisis.
But Obama needs exports to grow about 15 percent annually during the next four years to double them, which will be difficult without new market-opening agreements, Gresser said.
With U.S. consumers rebuilding battered balance sheets, the economy will need to lean more heavily on the export sector. Stronger U.S. export growth in turn would help bring about a more-balanced pattern of global trade.
The White House took a big step toward winning congressional approval of the South Korea pact in December by renegotiating auto provisions to win the support of the United Auto Workers and Ford Motor Co (F.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz).
Many Democrats still oppose the deal and are even more steadfast in opposition to the Colombia agreement but newly empowered Republicans are eager to pass all three trade deals.
"The unknown is to what extent the Republican leadership will demand to vote on all three" if Obama balks at submitting one or both of the Latin American pacts, said Dan Griswold, director of the Cato Institute's trade policy section.
Both Gresser and Griswold said they believed there would be votes to pass all of them if Obama made a big push.
The three FTA countries will be listening for a clear signal from Obama in his State of the Union speech on January 25, and so will negotiators in Geneva trying to finish the 9-year-old Doha round of world trade talks.
Those negotiations aimed at opening agriculture, manufacturing and services markets around the world have recently shown renewed signs of life.
But to convince the other 152 members the United States is serious about a deal, "Obama is going to have to take on the farm lobby the way he hasn't done before," Griswold said.
The United States has been pushing big developing countries like China, India and Brazil to make better offers in the negotiations to open their markets, while fending off pressure for deeper cuts in U.S. farm subsidies.
The huge U.S. budget deficit could change that dynamic and help Obama strike a deal since it will be harder for U.S. farmers to resist spending cuts when programs from Medicare to defense are facing the ax, Gresser said.
If nations agree to bigger tariff cuts and significantly greater market openings than now on the table, the deal could lift global growth by as much as $283 billion a year, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Even if a Doha round is not finished, there is a good chance Russia's nearly 19-year-old bid to join the WTO could conclude in 2011, bringing the largest economy outside the WTO into the rules-based trading system.
To accomplish that, Obama needs to persuade Russia to address U.S. concerns in areas ranging from meat trade to intellectual property rights enforcement.
He also will have to convince Congress to grant "permanent normal trade relations" to Russia by finally removing a Cold War restriction known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment.
That measure used the threat of higher U.S. tariffs on imports from centrally planned economies to promote the rights of Jews and other religious minorities to emigrate freely.
Meanwhile, concerns in Congress about China's trade and currency practices remain strong as U.S. lawmakers accuse Beijing of deliberately undervaluing its currency to give Chinese companies a trade advantage. The yuan's value is certain to be a topic when Obama meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Washington later this month.
But efforts in Congress to get tough with China over its currency policies may have "hit the high-water mark" in 2010, when the Senate killed a bill that would have ramped up pressure on China to let its currency rise, Griswold said.
Supporters have vowed to try again but will face a tougher environment with Republicans controlling the House.
As the host this year of the 21-member economy Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, the United States has an opportunity to advance open trade among countries that already account for about 60 percent of world economic growth.
When Obama, Hu and other APEC leaders gather in Honolulu in November for their annual summit, one major development could be the announcement that the United States has struck a deal with eight APEC members -- Vietnam, Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Peru, Singapore and Brunei -- on terms of the Transpacific Partnership pact.
If a deal is reached, it could become a "pathway" agreement for an even bigger pact covering all 21 APEC members.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hoyer Eyes Task Force to Hone Floor Strategy (05.01.11)

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Incoming Minority Whip Steny Hoyer has been floating the idea of forming an intra-Caucus task force to help Democratic Members make better use of their floor strategy as they move back into the minority. Hoyer has brought up the idea of forming the task force at several closed-door meetings, an aide to the Maryland Democrat confirmed Monday. The aide said the purpose of the Member group would be to create the best strategy for using motions to recommit, a procedural technique used to try to delay or change legislation brought by the majority. A Democratic leadership aide said the issue came up before Christmas as part of a larger discussion about what Democrats can do to make better use of the procedural maneuver. Republicans often employed the motion to recommit to try to stall or trip up the Democratic agenda during the 111th Congress. The leadership aide said that it remains unclear whether Hoyer or incoming Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) would craft the party's motions to recommit in the 112th Congress. Outgoing Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) has led the effort for Republicans. Moderate Rep. Heath Shuler on Monday endorsed the idea of the task force, and he said he would like to see Hoyer's office be in charge of the party's strategy on the issue. The North Carolina Democrat also said he and other moderates want to make sure that liberal Democrats don't use the technique try to advance their agenda.

Senate has treaties up its sleeve - Plenty of treaties have been sitting on the Senate docket for decades (04.01.11)

When the Obama administration coaxed a new arms agreement with Russia through the Senate just before adjournment, it was a resounding victory for the White House, and it showed once more that treaty ratification is sometimes a tricky task. Indeed, some of the treaties the administration has indicated it wants the Senate to approve have been sitting on the docket for decades. They deal with topics including the environment and the treatment of women and have collected dust over the years for reasons such as ideological opposition and objections from business groups. Ideological disputes helped make the latest Russian arms treaty, called New START, difficult to muscle to the finish line. Some conservatives argued that, despite assurances from the administration, the agreement would limit the United States’ ability to deploy a ballistic missile defense system. hat’s more, "Many conservative Republicans have tended to be skeptical of large multilateral treaties as a general matter, particularly some of the human rights treaties that have loose language," says John Bellinger III, a legal adviser of the State Department in the George W. Bush administration and now a partner at Arnold & Porter. or instance, a small group of conservative senators, led by James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, have opposed the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, arguing that it could impinge on U.S. sovereignty. Obama has indicated his support for that treaty .President George Bush opposed a 1992 treaty meant to protect animal and plant diversity on the grounds that it could weaken patent protections for U.S. biotechnology companies. Opposition sometimes comes from the left, such as when trial lawyers and consumer groups teamed up to lobby in 1983 for the defeat of the Montreal Aviation Protocols that would have limited passenger damage awards that airlines pay after international crashes. The difference between the treaty-approval record of the George W. Bush and Obama administrations is instructive of how the conventional wisdom on treaties can be turned on its head. Bellinger points out that despite a reputation for disdaining international agreements, Bush pushed through 20 in his first two years. Obama, in his first two, has been able to ratify seven, although Bellinger predicts that the administration will devote itself more fully to treaties in the new year. No later than spring, Obama is expected to present to Congress his list of treaty priorities for the next two years, as he did in 2009. Arizona Republican Jon Kyl, who opposed New START, said after its approval that because the administration pushed the treaty through so aggressively, ratification of other arms control agreements, such as the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban that President Bill Clinton signed in 1996, would be more difficult. They might have been difficult anyway. Kyl, after all, led the defeat of the ban when it came before the Senate in 1999. Administration officials now are outwardly optimistic, however, arguing that the New START debate helped return arms control to the forefront. "There’s always been a bloc of opponents historically to nuclear arms reduction and control in the Senate," said Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of State for arms control, verification and compliance, at a Dec. 23 briefing with reporters. "That's part of a healthy debate; it's part of a healthy process. I don't see that as a major, major issue." But Bellinger says the environment for treaties will be difficult in 2011, given the tough fight over New START. The administration will have to choose its battles carefully: It won’t have many shots at winning approval for a big treaty before the election year rolls around and everything grinds to a halt.
-- Tim Starks, CQ Staff

GOP likely to impede EPA efforts - House Republicans may limit funds to target environmental regulations (04/01/10)

Environmental regulations were a prime target of House Republican appropriators last year, and that is making advocates of the rules jittery about what will happen in the 112th Congress.
With a single sentence in a spending bill, appropriators can starve a program or initiative of money, crippling it or even stopping it cold. And once Republicans are in control of the House and the Appropriations Committee, they will have no trouble writing so-called limitation amendments into fiscal 2012 spending bills stating that “none of the funds” provided to an agency can be used to carry out a specified task. During the July 22 markup of the House’s fiscal 2011 Interior-Environment spending bill, GOP appropriators offered eight amendments that sought to change or block EPA policies. That tops the five amendments that sought to amend, repeal or prohibit publicity for the health care overhaul (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) offered during the markup of the fiscal 2011 Labor-HHS-Education bill on July 15, and the one amendment directly addressing the financial regulatory overhaul (PL 111-203) offered during markup of the Financial Services bill on July 29.Franz Matzner of the Natural Resources Defense Council calls limitation amendments and similar directives in appropriations bills “policy earmarks,” because they can block federal actions by shutting off funds. These may have “less legitimacy than the old-fashioned” earmarks, which merely direct a chunk of federal spending to a lawmaker’s favored projects, Matzner said. The ability to block funding for an entire program can affect people across the nation, he noted. “Appropriations bills have always been fertile territory for these kinds of mischievous policy sneak attacks,” said Matzner, climate legislative director for the council, a nonprofit environmental group. Democrats and Republicans alike have used this tactic for decades to block federal agencies from taking actions that they did not like. The “none of the funds” approach gets around a general prohibition against legislating policy changes in an appropriations bill, while still accomplishing a policy objective. In the 1980s, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, used the tactic to preserve hunters’ right to use lead shot, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in recent years relied on it to prevent the shooting of deer in a park in Marin County, Calif. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., barred the Agriculture Department for several years from using federal funds to clear imports of poultry from China, arguing that such poultry products posed a health risk to consumers. That action led China to launch a protest at the World Trade Organization and was long opposed by U.S. producers of beef and pork, who feared retaliation against their own products. Since at least 1995, appropriators have also blocked the financially strapped U.S. Postal Service from ending Saturday service, a direction tucked into spending bills written by both Democrats and Republicans. The Postal Service has estimated that it could see annual savings of about $3 billion from ending Saturday service. A former staff director of the House Appropriations Committee said that lawmakers need to weigh the risks of overusing their power to withhold funds to change policy. Lawmakers do get “very broad authority to restrict or redirect the activities of the executive branch” when House and Senate appropriators agree to deny funds to a program, said Scott Lilly, who served as both clerk and minority staff director of the House Appropriations Committee. “If Congress becomes too assertive in the use of such powers it is likely to face considerable public scrutiny,” Lilly said. “In other words, there are a lot of things that Congress may do under the Constitution that are better left undone if the ruling party wishes to remain in power.” With the Republican takeover of the House, the Natural Resources Defense Council is particularly worried about the likely renewal of an effort that appropriator Steven C. LaTourette, R-Ohio, made in July to block the EPA from putting in place regulations regarding smog. The EPA in January proposed tightening the air-quality standard for ground-level ozone to between 60 and 70 parts per billion, down from a 75-ppb standard established in 2008. Ozone, a form of oxygen, forms a protective layer against the sun’s rays in the outer atmosphere. Closer to the ground, it is a component of smog. Many groups, including the American Lung Association, have supported the EPA’s effort to tighten the standard. But the Chamber of Commerce has protested that it would have “potentially devastating consequences” on business and industry, and would be “the equivalent of hitting the ‘stop’ button on development in the midst of a recession.” It applauded the EPA’s early December decision to delay until July 2011 a final decision on the new ozone rule. The House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee last year rejected LaTourette’s amendment to bar the EPA from using any of its fiscal 2011 funding to promulgate the tighter standard. The amendment failed 5-8 in a party-line vote. Republicans on the panel argued that LaTourette’s amendment would have continued environmental rules established just three years ago that have yet to be implemented or evaluated.
Sometimes, appropriators do not need to go as far as blocking funds for specific programs. Instead, just by registering their displeasure with a program they can add to the pressure on an agency to change its rules. At a June markup, House appropriator JoAnn Emerson, R-Mo., proposed and then withdrew an amendment that would have blocked the Department of Agriculture from aiding EPA if the environmental agency went ahead with plans to make dairies comply with pending regulations intended to prevent oil spills. The fat content of milk had moved its storage containers wrongly into the scope of this rule, according to a trade group, the Dairy Farmers of America. In July, the House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee adopted an amendment offered by Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, that sought to prompt EPA to exempt dairies from regulations intended to prevent oil spills. The EPA appears to have listened to these complaints and others made about its pending Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule, according to Jackie Klippenstein, vice president of legislative and industry affairs for Dairy Farmers of America. “Staff at the EPA has indicated that they will soon be finalizing the proposed SPCC rule to exempt milk storage containers,” she said in a Dec. 29 e-mail. “This was the goal of many legislative efforts last year.”Democrats will remain in control of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and will fight House GOP efforts to deny funding for implementation of major environmental regulations, the health care overhaul and the financial regulatory overhaul. President Obama, with his veto pen, can backstop the Senate Democrats. But if House Republicans pepper limitation provisions throughout the appropriations bills, even as they make deep cuts in spending on domestic programs, they could prevail on some of the lesser ones as the White House bargains to protect its top priorities.
Kerry Young, CQ Staff