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EARLYBIRD

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Senate and House approve different budget plans, while Blagojevich and his aides face felony charges. Plus: Napolitano and Holder visit Mexico to address flow of drugs and guns.

Congress: Senate, House Approve Budget Plans

• "The House and Senate approved competing $3.5 trillion Democratic budget plans Thursday night, each tracking the priorities of President Barack Obama but also falling short of the bold mandate," Politico reports. "No Republican in either chamber backed the president, but the 233-196 House vote surpassed the size of budget victories for either party over the last decade. And Democrats lost only two of their members on the 55-43 vote in the Senate."

• "Legislation that would bring major changes to the U.S. patent system passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday garnering widespread praise from previously divided stakeholders in the high-tech, manufacturing and pharmaceuticals sectors. But the battle over the bill is far from over," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

 

• "Less than a week after" Obama "unveiled his new strategy for turning around the war, lawmakers are demanding benchmarks to judge its success or failure and threatening to impose conditions on delivery of aid to Pakistan," Politico reports. "But the Obama administration, which has promised to set its own benchmarks and conditions, isn't eager to have Congress legislate in this area."

Politics: Blagojevich Indicted On 16 Felony Counts

• "Federal prosecutors expanded their case against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Thursday in an indictment that drew more of his closest aides into the scandal and adds new schemes to the list of charges against him," the Chicago Tribune reports. "Blagojevich was indicted on 16 racketeering, fraud and extortion counts."

• "Republican James Tedisco has taken a 12-vote lead in New York's still-too-close-to-call special Congressional election, as county elections officials continue to recanvass Tuesday's ballots," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Democrat Scott Murphy held a 59-vote lead after ballots were first tallied Tuesday night, then saw that margin whittled to 25 Wednesday after one county reported" some votes miscounted.

 

• "The chairmen of two key committees are at odds over the pace with which Congress should overhaul the nation's financial regulatory system," The Hill reports. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., "offered a 'word of caution' Thursday about the pace of the overhaul," but Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank D-Mass., "who is at the helm of the overhaul in the House, dismissed his colleague's call for a slowdown."

White House: Obama In France For NATO Summit

• "Obama was mobbed by cheering crowds after arriving in France" today "for a NATO summit, where he hopes to secure backing for his new strategy over Afghanistan," Reuters reports. "Obama helped broker a deal at a G20 summit in London on Thursday to tackle the global financial crisis and will be hoping for a similarly broad accord at the two-day NATO summit on how to turn the tide against the worsening Afghan crisis."

• "The White House's selection of a census director Thursday offered relief to those eager to install an experienced leader at the helm of the laborious 2010 headcount," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The naming of Robert Groves, who served as the Census Bureau's associate director of statistical design from 1990-1992, comes almost exactly a year before the mobilization of census counters begins in April 2010."

• "In September 2005, Timothy Geithner made one of his most visible moves as a supervisor of the U.S. banking system. He summoned the nation's top financial firms and their regulators to streamline an antiquated system that threatened Wall Street's boom," the Washington Post reports. "Yet as Geithner and the New York Fed worked to solve narrow mechanical issues in the derivatives market" in the following years, "they missed clear signs of a catastrophe in the making."

 

Economy: Grim Predictions For New Unemployment Report

• "The U.S. jobless rate rose in March to the highest level in 25 years and payrolls plunged, exposing the economy to the risk of renewed declines in spending that would scuttle a recovery, economists said before a report today. Unemployment jumped to 8.5 percent from 8.1 percent in February, according to the median of 79 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey."

• "The leaders of the world's largest economies agreed Thursday to bail out developing countries, stimulate world trade and regulate financial firms more stringently. But President Obama conceded that there were 'no guarantees' that those measures would reverse the biggest global downturn in six decades," the New York Times reports. "The leaders had committed to $1.1 trillion in new funds that would greatly increase the capital available to the International Monetary Fund."

• "Rising mortgage defaults could force the Federal Housing Administration to seek a taxpayer bailout for the first time in its 75-year history, housing officials and lawmakers said during a Senate hearing Thursday," the Wall Street Journal reports. "If defaults drain the FHA's insurance fund, the Obama administration will have to decide whether to ask Congress for taxpayer money or raise the premiums it charges to borrowers."

National Security: Napolitano, Holder To Meet With Calderon On Drugs, Guns

• "The U.S. and Mexico agree on the need to stop the illegal flow of guns and drugs between the two countries, but the question is how to do that," AP reports. "U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder were meeting" today "with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and other top Mexican officials to develop strategies for dealing with those critical problems."

• "North Korea is readying a controversial rocket for launch as early as Saturday, officials said, pushing ahead with a plan widely seen as a disguised long-range missile test," Reuters reports. "North Korea has said it will send a satellite into space between Saturday and Wednesday, and insists it has the right to do so as a part of a peaceful space program. Analysts said the launch helps North Korean leader Kim Jong-il shore up support after a suspected stroke in August raised questions of his grip on power."

• "A federal judge ruled" Thursday "that three detainees at a U.S. military prison in Afghanistan may challenge their confinement before a U.S. court, handing the Obama administration one of its first legal defeats on a claim of executive power," the Washington Post reports. "U.S. District Judge John D. Bates rejected the government's argument, first made by the Bush administration and later adopted by the Obama Justice Department, that it could detain prisoners indefinitely in a 'war zone.'"

World: Chávez Opponent Arrested

• "Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez moved to jail a prominent opposition figure for the second time in recent weeks, an apparent bid to tighten his grip on power amid a sharp downturn in economic growth," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Raúl Baduel, a former defense minister-turned-Chávez-critic, was arrested on corruption charges Thursday, according to Mr. Baduel's lawyer, Omar Mora Tosta, and government officials. Mr. Mora Tosta says the charges are unfounded."

• "Mexican authorities on Thursday announced the capture of Vicente Carrillo Leyva, a suspected top leader of a family-run drug gang based in Ciudad Juarez and one of the country's most wanted figures," the Los Angeles Times reports.

• "Nearly eight months after the war between Russia and Georgia, Russian troops continue to hold Georgian territory that the Kremlin agreed to vacate as part of a formal cease-fire," the New York Times also reports. "The Russian military, working with the governments and the small military forces of" the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, "has stationed forces in two large swaths of territory that were under Georgian control before the war."

Technology: States Want More Control Over Broadband Stimulus Money

• "State utility commissioners and tech companies are fighting over how Washington should distribute $7 billion in stimulus funds to increase Internet broadband access across the country," The Hill reports. "State government officials want a greater say in where the money goes out of fear that the federal agencies responsible for the broadband grants will be overwhelmed by an influx of applications."

• "The United States and Switzerland have entered into an agreement on scientific and technological cooperation designed to foster joint research programs, State Department officials announced today," Federal Computer Week reports. "The agreement, signed April 1, commits the countries to strengthen and promote scientific and technological cooperation on the basis of equality, reciprocity and mutual benefit, department officials said."

• "Nearly two dozen public interest groups, trade pacts and library groups urged" Obama "on Thursday to quit filling his administration with insiders plucked from the Recording Industry Association of America," Wired reports.

Lobbying: Jump To K Street Tough For Former Lawmakers

• "The assumption that any member of Congress can successfully trade the crushing demands of public life for the money-lined confines of K Street is one of Washington's most enduring story lines," Politico reports. "It's also a myth."

Energy & Environment: Wind Could Power U.S., Interior Department Says

• "Wind turbines off U.S. coastlines could potentially supply more than enough electricity to meet the nation's current demand, the Interior Department reported Thursday," the Los Angeles Times reports.

• House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., "has set her sights on passing a global warming bill by the end of the year, pushing past strong misgivings from moderate Democrats in the House and Senate," Politico reports. "Asked Thursday when the House would pass an energy measure that seeks to reduce carbon emissions and possibly impose a cap and trade system, Pelosi said simply: 'This year.'"

• "Environmental groups are downplaying the significance of a Supreme Court ruling yesterday that held U.S. EPA may weigh the costs and benefits of new water regulations on power plants," the New York Times reports.

Health Care: Sebelius Breezes Through Confirmation Hearing

• "Here's one way to breeze through a confirmation hearing: Get it scheduled for the same day that the Senate votes in a marathon session on the budget resolution," Politico reports. "Health and Human Services nominee Kathleen Sebelius fielded less than two hours' worth of softballs tossed at her Thursday by members of the Finance Committee as they rotated through the hearing room between votes in the chamber."

• The Kansas governor "appeared Thursday to be headed for confirmation as health and human services secretary, but several Republican senators objected to an immediate vote, so the Senate is unlikely to take up the nomination until later this month," the New York Times reports.

• "The healthcare happy talk is over. Just as the spring flowers are starting to bloom, so is the inevitable controversy over efforts to overhaul the nation's $2 trillion-a-year healthcare system," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Tops on the list is whether to pursue the effort through the budget reconciliation process. Republicans -- and some deficit-hawk Democrats -- view the fast-track procedure as a way to effectively cut them out of the process, since a reconciliation bill is protected from Senate filibuster and needs only a simple majority to pass."

Commentary: 'A Missed Opportunity'

• Most commentators argue that the G-20 leaders didn't do enough to address the global economic crisis in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section.

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