White House: Budget Receives Mixed Reaction
• "President Obama delivered to Congress" on Thursday "a $3.6 trillion spending plan that would finance vast new investments in health care, energy independence and education by raising taxes on the oil and gas industry, hedge fund managers, multinational corporations and nearly 3 million of the nation's top earners," the Washington Post reports.
• "Democrats on Capitol Hill welcomed President Obama's budget as a long-awaited reordering of the government's priorities. Republicans expressed dismay for much the same reason," the Wall Street Journal reports. "But even some Democrats expressed unease with some of the president's sweeping proposals."
• "The Obama administration has tightened up its in-house vetting in the wake of problems with several nominees," The Hill reports. "The higher level of scrutiny is the main reason President Obama's nominee as trade representative has yet to receive a hearing, according to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the chairman of the Finance Committee."
• "In a reversal of an 18-year-old military policy that critics said was hiding the ultimate cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the news media will now be allowed to photograph the coffins of America's war dead as their bodies are returned to the United States, but only if the families of the dead agree," the New York Times reports.
Congress: Senate Moves D.C. Voting Rights Act With Looser Gun Laws
• "The Senate passed the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act on Thursday, 61-37, marking the first time in 30 years the chamber has passed a measure to give the city representation in Congress," Roll Call (subscription) reports. The "excitement was tainted with some anger over an amendment attached to the bill that would overturn most of the city's gun safety laws."
• "The Senate Intelligence Committee is completing plans to begin a review of the C.I.A.'s detention and interrogation program, another sign that lawmakers are determined to have a public accounting of controversial Bush administration programs despite White House concerns about the impact of unearthing the past," the New York Times reports.
Politics: Pelosi Distances Herself From Obama
• House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., "repeatedly stood to applaud" Obama "when he addressed a joint session of Congress Tuesday night. But in the days since, the speaker of the House has been standing up for herself -- distancing herself from the president on Iraq, on tax cuts and on the prosecution of former Bush administration officials," the Politico reports.
• "For a Republican Party seeking to change its image, Colorado's 2010 ballot could prove to be an interesting test case," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "After several better-known Republicans... announced they would not run for the Senate, former Rep. Bob Beauprez, who ran for governor in 2006, emerged as a top GOP contender. But party activists seem more energized by the likely candidacy of Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier, who is black, and they don't rule out conservative radio talk show host Dan Caplis."
Economy: Treasury To Increase Citigroup Stock
• "The Treasury Department reached a deal late Thursday to take a stake of 30 to 40 percent in Citigroup as part of a third bailout of the embattled bank, according to several people close to the deal," the New York Times reports. "Vikram S. Pandit, the chief executive, will remain at the helm, but Citigroup will have to shake up its board so that it has a majority of independent directors, a move that federal regulators had already been pursuing."
• "The U.S. economy shrank in the fourth quarter at an even faster pace than previously estimated as companies trimmed inventories and exports sank, economists said before a government report today," Bloomberg News reports.
• "The FBI made the first arrest in the $8 billion Stanford Financial Group fraud investigation on Thursday, detaining chief investment officer Laura Pendergest-Holt on federal obstruction charges," Reuters reports. "The U.S. Justice Department said Pendergest-Holt was to make an initial court appearance before a U.S. magistrate in Houston" today.
National Security: Obama To Announce August 2010 Iraq Pullout
• Obama "told lawmakers on Thursday he plans to withdraw most American troops from Iraq by August 2010 but leave tens of thousands behind to advise Iraqi forces and protect U.S. interests, congressional officials said," AP reports. "Obama is expected to announce the new strategy" today "during a trip to Camp Lejeune, N.C."
• "Afghanistan's defense minister warned Thursday that the Obama administration's proposed changes in U.S. war strategy risk undermining Kabul's civilian government because they appear to scale back U.S. goals in the country," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Abdul Rahim Wardak said" senior officials' talk of "'lowering expectations' in Afghanistan in order to set more 'obtainable goals'... recalls memories of the U.S. desertion of Afghanistan after the Soviet Union pulled out in 1989."
• "Obama wants Congress to increase a user fee imposed on airline passengers to pay for airport security screening -- a proposal that puts him at odds with the nation's biggest air carriers," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The budget blueprint Obama released Thursday includes a proposal to increase the passenger security fee 'to minimize overall costs to taxpayers.'"
World: Banks To Aid Eastern Europe
• "Three big development banks Thursday said they will offer €24.5 billion ($31 billion) in financing for struggling banks in Eastern Europe and some of their customers, trying to free up lending and pressure wealthier Western Europe to pitch in," the Wall Street Journal reports.
• "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hopes to close a dark chapter in U.S.-Russia relations when she meets Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov next week, but experts and officials say a major breakthrough will take time," Reuters reports. "Clinton is set to meet Lavrov on neutral territory in Geneva next Friday, after talks with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels -- a European capital where U.S. and Russian rhetoric has been brutal as Moscow opposed membership to the military alliance for ex-Soviet states of Georgia and Ukraine."
• "Iceland's parliament moved to oust central-bank chief David Oddsson, who had for weeks resisted appeals by the prime minister and public to resign," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Oddsson, Iceland's prime minister from 1991 to 2004 and central-bank chief since 2005, is widely blamed for a banking-system collapse that wreaked havoc on the island's economy."
Health Care: Budget Sparks Debates On Foreign, Biotech Drugs
• Obama's budget plan "reopens some long-standing health care debates, including a plan to legalize the importation of foreign-made drugs," the Washington Times reports. "Democrats say the practice would lead to lower subscription drug prices, but most Republicans and drug manufacturers decry such action, saying it would be impossible to ensure the safety of pharmaceuticals made outside the United States."
• "Obama's budget aims to foster generic competition for costly biotech drugs used to treat cancer and other intractable ailments," AP reports. "With Americans now spending more than $40 billion a year on such medications, the budget calls on Congress to set up a framework for regulators to approve generic versions, cutting costs for government programs, employers and patients."
• "The Biotechnology Industry Organization is looking to help its struggling start-up companies and bolster its argument that brand biologic drugmakers need more incentives in legislation being crafted to allow FDA to approve generic versions of biologic drugs," CongressDaily (subscription) reports. "BIO President Jim Greenwood told reporters Thursday half of BIO's publicly traded member companies are down to their last year in cash and one-third are sitting on just six months of cash."
Energy: Cap-And-Trade Plan Could Leave Little Room For Deals
• In Obama's budget, "a 'cap-and-trade' system for reducing carbon emissions from power plants and other industrial facilities would cut total emissions 14% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% below 2005 by 2050," the Los Angeles Times reports. "The proposal... is unusually detailed. That suggests that" Obama "will be less willing to negotiate with Congress over the specifics of his global warming strategy."
• "Like the first blades of grass in scorched earth, a new crop of wind turbines in Solano County will be generating not only electricity but steady income for refugees of the ravaged housing and automotive industries," the Sacramento Bee reports. They "are among the growing ranks of 'green collar' workers that" Obama "references in his plans to lift the nation's economy through investment in clean energy."
• "With thousands of protesters expected to descend Monday on the Capitol Power Plant," Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "demanded Thursday that the plant be fully converted from coal to gas," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The Capitol Climate Action Coalition, made up of about 40 advocacy groups, says it expects more than 2,500 people to protest at the plant on Monday afternoon."
Transportation: Panel Recommends Gasoline Tax
• "As Washington struggles to find ways to fund highway improvements, a congressionally created commission on Thursday called for a 10-cent-a-gallon increase in the federal gas tax, while proposing that the country move to a system of charging motorists for how much they drive," the Los Angeles Times reports.
• "Trucking companies suddenly have more applicants than jobs, thanks to a recession-driven jump in applications from the ballooning ranks of the unemployed and a decline in the number of trucks on the road as freight volumes plummet," the Wall Street Journal reports. "In January alone, the industry, which employs roughly 1.32 million people, lost 25,000 jobs, according to the American Trucking Associations."
• "The Energy Department has $25 billion to make loans to hasten the arrival of the next generation of automotive technology -- electric-powered cars," the New York Times reports. "But no money has been allocated so far, even though the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan program, established in 2007, has received applications from 75 companies, including start-ups as well as the three Detroit automakers."
Lobbying: Fundraiser Charged With Making Illegal Contributions
• "A foreign national employed by a top Florida Republican fundraiser has been indicted in California, accused of steering illegal campaign contributions to Gov. Charlie Crist and three presidential candidates," the Miami Herald reports. "Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles charged Ala'a al-Ali of the Dominican Republic with using straw donors to give about $50,000 to presidential candidates John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton and $5,000 to Crist's 2006 campaign."
• A lobbyist "got scolded by name for trying to spy on an administration conference call with reporters Thursday," The Hill reports. "The call was set up for the press but, information being power, at least one lobbyist was dying to hear for herself what the OMB had to say."
• "The growing prospect that there may be federal action on climate change apparently has spawned a wave of lobbyists in Washington," the Baltimore Sun reports. "The Center for Public Integrity reports that in the past year, as climate legislation finally came to a vote on Capitol Hill, more than 770 companies and interest groups hired an estimated 2,340 lobbyists to influence federal policy."
Technology: Cybersecurity Sees Budget Increase
• "Obama proposed a 21 percent increase in the Homeland Security Department's fiscal 2010 cybersecurity budget, but how the funds would be distributed remains unclear," NextGov reports. "Obama called for $355 million in cybersecurity spending in DHS, up from the $294 million fiscal 2009 budget."
• "Facebook is giving its 175 million-plus members an unprecedented voice in helping dictate the social networking giant's future governing direction," USA Today reports. "If need be, Facebook will put any subsequent changes up to a vote that will be binding if more than 30% of active registered members cast a ballot."
Commentary: Looking For Heroes
• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, commentators debate how much Obama can lift the economy with his confidence and rhetoric. Is the savior Tiger Woods?