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EARLYBIRD

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Obama receives omnibus spending bill and will propose earmark reform. Plus: Some banks say they may return federal aid over strings attached.

Congress: Senate Sends Spending Bill To Obama For Signature

• "Almost six months after the beginning of the fiscal year, the Senate Tuesday drew a line under the FY09 appropriations process after they approved a $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill, sending it to President Obama for his signature," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Senate action on the package came after" Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) "postponed a scheduled vote Thursday after realizing he did not have the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture."

• Reid "acknowledged Tuesday that fierce resistance from Republicans and business groups could force him to delay action on controversial card check legislation sought by unions," Roll Call (subscription) reports. Reid said "the measure... could be completed before the August recess only with Republican help."

 

• "Credit unions have long been fighting for Congress to lift the cap on how much business lending they can undertake, but the deep pockets of their archrivals in the banking industry and the short attention spans of lawmakers have thus far thwarted the issue," Politico reports. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y, "intends to introduce, as early as this week, legislation that would eliminate altogether the statutory limit on the volume of business loans America's 8,000 credit unions can make."

White House: Obama To Propose Earmark Rule Change

• "Obama could sign the $410 billion spending package as early as" today, "although he remains 'troubled' by the so-called earmarks in the bill that Republicans and moderate Democrats have eviscerated as unworthy pork-barrel spending," AP reports. "The president was to announce earmark reforms" today.

• "The director of the 2010 Census will report to the Commerce secretary, a White House official said Tuesday, offering the clearest statement yet about the chain of command on the census and possibly allaying fears among Republicans that it will fall under the political control of the White House," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

 

• "The White House today will announce the nomination of Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a position otherwise known as the drug czar, sources close to the appointment have confirmed," the Seattle Times reports.

Economy: Some Banks Say They May Return Aid Because Of Conditions

• "The Obama administration and lawmakers are attaching more and more strings to rescue funds. The conditions are necessary to prevent Wall Street executives from paying lavish bonuses and buying corporate jets, some experts say, but others say the conditions go beyond protecting taxpayers and border on social engineering," the New York Times reports. "Some bankers say the conditions have become so onerous that they want to return the bailout money."

• "U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said more regulation may be needed for money-market mutual funds, though he didn't endorse rules backed by former Fed chief Paul Volcker that would treat the industry more like banks," Bloomberg News reports.

• "Hope staged a rally on Wall Street" Tuesday "after one of the nation's most troubled banks said it made money the past two months and" Bernanke "called for an overhaul of rules that govern the financial system," the Washington Post reports. "Beleaguered investors latched on to those nuggets of positive news for the biggest one-day gain this year. The leap helped wipe away more than a week of losses."

 

• "Bernard L. Madoff is facing life in prison for operating a vast Ponzi scheme that began at least 20 years ago and consumed billions of dollars of other people's money," the New York Times reports. "While his fate will not be certain until he is sentenced, his lawyer told a federal judge on Tuesday that he intended to plead guilty on Thursday to all the criminal charges that federal prosecutors had filed against him -- a list that could yield a prison sentence of 150 years."

Politics: Final Witnesses To Testify In Minnesota Senate Race Trial

• "The long-running Senate election trial is about to reach another milestone. DFLer Al Franken expects to call his final witnesses today, and his lawyers are proclaiming they are confident that they will have proved their case," Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. "Tuesday's announcement... opens the possibility that the trial could end soon and perhaps go to three-judge panel as early as next week."

• "Charles Freeman, the former ambassador to Saudi Arabia who was picked to lead the National Intelligence Council, withdrew his name from consideration in the face of mounting opposition within Congress," The Hill reports. "Freeman drew strong scrutiny especially from Republicans for critical statements he made about Israel and for his financial dealings with Saudi Arabian princes and Chinese oil companies."

National Security: Former Hussein Aide Gets 15 Years In Jail

• "Former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, the public face of Saddam Hussein's regime, was sentenced to 15 years jail" today "for his role in the execution of dozens of traders for breaking state price controls in 1992," Reuters reports. "The court also condemned Saddam's two half-brothers to death by hanging for their involvement in the same case, judged a 'crime against humanity.'"

• "The government's terrorist watch list has hit 1 million entries, up 32% since 2007. Federal data show the rise comes despite the removal of 33,000 entries last year by the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center in an effort to purge the list of outdated information and remove people cleared in investigations," USA Today reports. The "entries represent about 400,000 individuals, according to the center."

• "Senior U.S. counterterrorism officials are stepping up warnings that Islamist extremists in Somalia are radicalizing Americans to their cause, citing their recruitment of the first U.S. citizen suicide bomber and their potential role in the disappearance of more than a dozen Somali American youths," the Washington Post reports.

• "North Korea vowed 'every necessary measure'" today "to defend itself against what it calls U.S. threats, claiming American military exercises in South Korea are in preparation to invade the communist nation," AP reports. "The statement by North Korea's Foreign Ministry, however, was far less harsh than rhetoric issued by the country's military in the run-up to the annual war games that started across the South on Monday."

World: Students Killed In German School Shooting

• "The U.S. and the U.K. are putting together a global plan to provide several hundred billion dollars in trade financing to fight the sharpest contraction in global trade since the Great Depression," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Government officials in both countries said the initiative will be unveiled on April 2 at the London summit of the leaders of the world's biggest economic powers."

• "A gunman killed at least 11 people, mainly students, at a secondary school in southwest Germany" today, Reuters reports. "It appeared to be the worst school shooting in the country in seven years. The gunman... fled from the school in Winnenden, a town of 27,000 near Stuttgart, and was still on the loose," police said.

Lobbying: Obama Issues Two More Lobbying Waivers

• "Over the course of the past decade, Rep. John P. Murtha has earmarked millions of dollars for the Electro-Optics Center at Penn State University -- money that has, in turn, gone to clients of the PMA Group, the Murtha-linked lobbying shop that was raided in November as part of a federal criminal probe," Politico reports.

• Obama "has issued waivers allowing two appointees who were formally registered lobbyists to work for his administration," The Hill reports. "The waivers ensure the two appointees can work for the administration under his executive order on ethics, which was intended to reform the revolving door between K Street and the government."

• "Business and organized labor unleashed what each called its biggest lobbying effort in history on Tuesday as Democrats in the House and Senate introduced legislation that would make it far easier for workers to unionize," the New York Times reports. "Their target: a handful of moderate Democrats and Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania."

Energy: Obama Sidelines Yucca Mountain Nuclear Plan

• "As a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, coal is no longer king in a Congress run by members driven to pass a climate change bill," The Hill reports. "But coal still enjoys broad support from lawmakers whose constituents rely on the fuel to run their refrigerators or turn on the air conditioning."

• "The Environmental Protection Agency plans to establish a nationwide system for reporting greenhouse gas emissions, a program that could serve as the basis for a federal cap on the buildup of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming," the Washington Post reports.

• "Obama's proposed budget all but kills the Yucca Mountain project, the controversial Nevada site where the U.S. nuclear industry's spent fuel rods were to spend eternity," the Los Angeles Times reports. "There are no other plans in the works, so for now the waste will remain next to" 104 reactors "scattered across the country."

Technology: Philanthropists May Pull Money After Stem Cell Reversal

• "A new interface now makes it easier to collaborate and edit content on the intelligence community's Intellipedia site, officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said today at the FOSE trade show in Washington," Federal Computer Week reports. "The intelligence community uses Intellipedia, which is modeled on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, to collaborate and share information."

• "While praised by scientists," Obama's "decision to lift restrictions on federal financing of embryonic stem cell research could cause state governments and philanthropists to pull back on billions of dollars they have pledged for such work," the New York Times reports. "A number of states and philanthropies rushed in to fill the gap after President George W. Bush imposed the restrictions in 2001."

• "Unhappy lobbyists were lined up on a sidewalk outside the Commerce Department" Tuesday "after seats for a public meeting on broadband Internet buildouts quickly filled," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Not only did the 500-seat auditorium quickly reach capacity but so did several overflow rooms as three agencies that will oversee disbursing almost $8 billion from the economic stimulus bill for the broadband Internet effort came together to provide some guidance to potential grant recipients."

Health Care: Reform Will Cost More Than Budget Outline Predicts

• "The White House budget director told Congress Tuesday that the final cost of the administration's health care reform plan will exceed the $634 billion the president has set aside for the effort," the Washington Times reports.

• "The federal agency charged with protecting the public near toxic pollution sites often obscures or overlooks potential health hazards, uses inadequate analysis and fails to zero in on toxic culprits, congressional investigators and scientists say," AP reports.

Transportation: Mexican Trucking Program On The Ropes

• "Congress has hit the brakes on a Bush administration program to give Mexican trucks wider access to U.S. roads, putting" Obama "in the middle of a politically sensitive trade dispute," the Los Angeles Times reports.

• "Judicial Watch, a conservative public-interest group, is trying to revive a controversy over Speaker Nancy Pelosi's use of military aircraft," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The organization Tuesday released a series government emails that show the speaker's office attempting to arrange transportation for herself and various congressional delegations through the Air Force."

Commentary: Lingering Transition Talk

• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section commentators assess the president's Cabinet demographics, react to Charles Freeman's withdrawal and wonder why czars don't face Senate confirmation.

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