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EARLYBIRD

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Obama to announce faith-based policy expansion, arbitration face-off looms in Employee Free Choice Act debate, executive salary cap's consequences unclear, report shows immigration policy shifted away from criminals.

• "When President Barack Obama launches his version of the faith-based initiative" today, "he will expand the mission to include abortion reduction and outreach to the Muslim world," the Wall Street Journal reports. "He will also try to avoid the thorniest constitutional issues that beset the program for years under his predecessor."

• Also today, Obama "will roll out the names of a long-anticipated 'faith advisory council' of more than two dozen religious leaders who will advise him on policy issues," the Washington Times reports.

 

• "The nomination of Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-Calif.) for labor secretary goes to a scheduled Senate committee vote today after a face-off with Republican lawmakers that highlights their disagreements with President Obama's labor policies," the Washington Post reports.

• "In a clear signal that the Obama administration is shifting the government's approach to energy exploration on public lands, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar" Wednesday "canceled oil and gas leases on 77 parcels of federal land after opponents said the drilling would blight Utah's scenic southeastern corner," the Post also reports.

• "Ending a two-year effort by Democrats, Obama signed legislation Wednesday that will allow about 7 million children to continue coverage through the State Children's Health Insurance Program and allow an additional 4 million to sign up," AP reports.

 

• "As he insists that ethical standards should be the same for both the powerful and the people, critics say" Obama "is looking the other way when it comes to his Treasury secretary," the Washington Post reports. "Timothy F. Geithner, like former senator and Cabinet nominee Thomas A. Daschle, failed to pay his taxes.... But as Daschle heads back to a life as a private citizen, Geithner sits in his office at the Treasury Department, leading the nation's effort to avoid an economic collapse."

• "For decades, the face of the criminal justice system in this country has been black and male," the Post also reports. "This week, Eric H. Holder Jr.'s swearing-in as the nation's first black attorney general and its top law enforcement official came weighted with heavy expectation that the system could change."

• "As she makes a 'get-to-know-you' tour of federal agencies," Michelle Obama "is using her considerable platform to amplify the message coming out of the White House: pass the stimulus plan, and pass it now," the Politico reports. "The White House seems to be betting that" she "can work some of her old campaign magic -- she was nicknamed 'the closer,' because she was so effective at getting undecided voters on board."

• "Former Vice President Dick Cheney warned that there is a 'high probability' that terrorists will attempt a catastrophic nuclear or biological attack in coming years, and said he fears the Obama administration's policies will make it more likely the attempt will succeed," the Politico also reports.

 

Congress: Arbitration Face-Off Looms In 'Card-Check' Battle

• "Unions and business groups kicked off dueling campaigns over card-check legislation Wednesday," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "But on Capitol Hill, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been shifting the focus to a second, less-noticed part of the Employee Free Choice Act: a provision that would force unions and companies into mandatory arbitration on the first contract they are unable to reach agreement on."

• "The Senate voted Wednesday night to give a tax break of up to $15,000 to homebuyers in hopes of revitalizing the housing industry, a victory for Republicans eager to leave their mark on a mammoth economic-stimulus bill at the heart of President Obama's recovery plan," AP reports.

• "A group of about 20 centrist senators from both parties working on an alternative economic stimulus package remained far apart on a deal as of mid-afternoon Wednesday," The Hill reports. "The lack of an agreement between the two leaders of the talks, Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), has thrown the final outcome of the stimulus plan into doubt. Both want to reduce the package's cost, but Collins wants to impose deeper cuts."

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• "Citing urgent economic conditions, President Obama and key advisers Wednesday pressed Senate Democrats to allow spending cuts to the economic stimulus bill to win Republican backing, senators said," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

• "Working to get the last Senate votes for his economic recovery plan," Obama "reached out Wednesday to his old rival, Sen. John McCain, even as he warned Republicans against making 'the perfect the enemy of the essential,'" the Politico reports.

• Obama's "pick to head the CIA is expected to face tough questions today from the Senate Intelligence Committee about his qualifications to lead the embattled agency, including possibly having to respond to concerns that surfaced Wednesday about his financial dealings," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports on Leon Panetta's confirmation hearing.

• Congress on Wednesday "approved a four-month delay in plans to halt analog television, the latest chapter in a troubled effort by the government to clear airwave space for emergency responders and wireless services by moving millions of households to digital television," the Washington Post reports. "Now, on June 12 broadcasters will be required by law to turn off their analog signals."

• "Faced with the prospect of remaining in political purgatory -- otherwise known as the minority -- for the foreseeable future, an increasing number of younger House Republicans are opting to abandon Washington, D.C., altogether in the hopes of finding better electoral fortunes back home," Roll Call reports.

Economy: Executive Salary Cap's Consequences Unclear

• "Thousands of people in the Washington area and hundreds of thousands more across the country are waiting longer than they should for unemployment benefits at a time when they need the money the most because rising joblessness is overwhelming claims offices," the Washington Post reports.

• "In announcing executive pay limits on Wednesday, President Obama is trying to hold the financial industry accountable to taxpayers while aiming to change an entrenched corporate culture that endorses outsize bonuses and perks that often bear little relationship to corporate performance," the New York Times reports.

• "The government's move Wednesday to slap a salary cap on top Wall Street executives at firms who hit up taxpayers for big cash infusions will have bigger ramifications than just shrinking the million-dollar paychecks of financiers, compensation experts say," possibly ranging from "brain drain of top talent to a potentially less-generous approach to paying employees" at financial firms, the USA Today reports.

• "Executives at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and hundreds of financial institutions receiving federal aid aren't likely to be affected by pay restrictions" that Obama announced Wednesday, Bloomberg News reports. "The rules, created in response to growing public anger about the record bonuses the financial industry doled out last year, will apply only to top executives at companies that need 'exceptional' assistance in the future."

• "Paul Volcker, one of President Obama's senior economic advisers, said on Wednesday that he was opposed to consolidating regulatory power over the country's financial system with the Federal Reserve," The Hill reports. "Lawmakers have been discussing a proposal to establish a 'systemic risk regulator' that would have an eye on the financial market system as a whole."

Nation: Immigration Policy Shifted Away From Criminals, Report Shows

• "As the Obama administration vows to re-engineer immigration policy to target criminals, a new report says that in recent years, a high-profile federal program shifted its focus away from catching the most dangerous illegal immigrants who were evading deportation orders," the Washington Post reports.

• "A federal law taking effect Tuesday makes it illegal for anyone to sell children's toys, books, clothes and jewelry if the items contain virtually any lead or phthalates, chemicals commonly found in plastics," the USA Today reports. "But testing whether the products contain either is not required for a year. And a bill co-sponsor told the agency in charge of enforcing the ban that it doesn't necessarily have to do so."

• "Researchers tracking Sept. 11 responders who became ill after working at the World Trade Center site found many had lung problems more than five years later in a study experts said proves persistent illness in people exposed to toxic dust caused by the twin towers' collapse," AP reports.

• "On buttons, posters and websites, the image was everywhere during last year's presidential campaign: A pensive Barack Obama looking upward, as if to the future, splashed in a Warholesque red, white and blue and captioned 'HOPE,'" AP reports. "The image," artist Shepard Fairey "has acknowledged, is based on an Associated Press photograph... The AP says it owns the copyright, and wants credit and compensation. Fairey disagrees."

• "Breast cancer's sudden decrease in several countries can be credited to a 2002 federal warning against overuse of hormone-replacement drugs after menopause, a new study argued," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The findings, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, were disputed by a hormone-pill maker and others, adding to the debate over the safety of such treatment."

• "F.B.I. agents searched Wednesday inside a building where a man connected to the fatal Tylenol poisonings of 1982 now lives," the New York Times reports. "Agents who said they were from the Boston and Chicago offices of the F.B.I. left" James W. Lewis' building "with several boxes and a Macintosh desktop computer."

Iraq: Votes Due, Expected To Favor Al-Maliki's Allies

• "Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim voters chose nationalism and security over religion in local polls, backing allies of the prime minister in a vote that could give them the upper hand in parliamentary elections later this year," Reuters reports. "Results from Saturday's election are due later" today, "and early signs point to potentially big wins for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's allies at the expense of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI), which had dominated the Shi'ite south."

• "Iran appears to have suffered a setback in last weekend's Iraqi elections, with Tehran's closest allies losing key races in what suggests a public backlash to what many Iraqis see as undue Iranian influence in their country," AP reports.

• "Suspected militant recruiter Samira Jassim reportedly calls herself 'the Mother of Believers'. Detained in January by Iraqi security forces, the mother of six is accused of converting dozens of vulnerable women into suicide attackers," BBC News reports. "In an apparent video confession, the middle-aged woman described how she identified potential bombers, helped supply them with explosives and led them to their targets."

World: U.S. Searches For Central Asian Air Base Replacement

• "The Obama administration scrambled Wednesday to come up with an alternative to a crucial United States air base in Central Asia, used to supply the growing military operation in Afghanistan, after the president of Kyrgyzstan ordered the American base in his country closed," the New York Times reports.

• "Russia is reasserting its role in Central Asia with a Kremlin push to eject the U.S. from a vital air base and a Moscow-led pact to form an international military force to rival NATO -- two moves that potentially complicate the new U.S. war strategy in Afghanistan," the Wall Street Journal reports.

• "A senior Hamas official says his group is leaving Cairo without an agreement on a long-term truce with Israel, saying differences remain over opening border crossings into the seaside territory" of Gaza, AP reports. "Egypt has been trying to negotiate a long term truce between Israel and Hamas."

• Meanwhile, "a big stumbling block remains: how to rebuild the Gaza Strip and its shell-shocked economy," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Gaza suffered $1.9 billion in damages in the 22-day Israeli offensive that ended last month, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the agency the United Nations relies on for data from the territory."

• "Swiss Reinsurance Co., the world's second-biggest reinsurer, turned to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. for 3 billion Swiss francs ($2.6 billion) to shore up capital depleted by record losses," Bloomberg News reports.

• "Responding to an extraordinary burst of global outrage, especially in Pope Benedict XVI's native Germany, the Vatican for the first time on Wednesday called on a recently rehabilitated bishop to take back his statements denying the Holocaust," the New York Times reports.

Commentary: Bashing The Bankers

• Wall Street CEOs don't get any slack in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, while Obama receives praise for capping their salaries.

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