Congress: Reconciliation Debate Awaits Lawmakers
• "Congress returns this week from its spring recess to face tough negotiations on a final version of the budget resolution, the details of a multibillion dollar supplemental war request from the Obama administration, and tough committee-level deliberations on climate change policy," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The most difficult issue will likely be whether to include reconciliation instructions, which the House included for healthcare and education legislation. The Senate version does not include reconciliation."
• "After weeks of negotiations, banks and credit unions are continuing to drag their heels, at least publicly, on committing to compromise language in a bill that would give bankruptcy judges the power to modify mortgages," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "No official compromise has been reached, but Sen. Dick Durbin's (D-Ill.) staff is working urgently to get several banks and credit unions on board by midweek."
• "Sky-high unemployment rates threaten to stall immigration reform despite a push by Hispanic and Asian lawmakers to keep the issue on the agenda this year," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Some Democrats privately acknowledge that the economy -- and in particular the jobless numbers -- has to start turning around before they can consider bringing a comprehensive reform bill to the floor."
White House: Obama To Ask Cabinet For $100 Million In Cuts
• "President Obama plans to convene his Cabinet for the first time today, where he will order members to identify a combined $100 million in budget cuts over the next 90 days, according to a senior administration official," the Washington Post reports.
• "In the runup to the Obama administration's 100-day mark, the Senate is poised to consider a handful of the president's nominations to fill vacancies in the Justice and State departments," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Returning tonight after a two-week break, the Senate will take up the nominations of Lanny Breuer, Christine Varney and Tony West to serve in various assistant attorney general posts in the Justice Department."
• "Obama plans to crack down on deceptive credit-card industry practices that have saddled U.S. consumers with huge debts and soaring interest rates, U.S. officials said on Sunday," Reuters reports. "Top White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers said Obama would be 'very focused in the very near term on a whole set of issues having to do with credit card abuses.'"
Economy: TARP Banks Lending Less
• "Lending at the biggest U.S. banks has fallen more sharply than realized, despite government efforts to pump billions of dollars into the financial sector," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "The biggest recipients of taxpayer aid made or refinanced 23% less in new loans in February, the latest available data, than in October, the month the Treasury kicked off the Troubled Asset Relief Program."
• "Obama's top economic advisers have determined that they can shore up the nation's banking system without having to ask Congress for more money any time soon, according to administration officials," the New York Times reports. "In a significant shift, White House and Treasury Department officials now say they can stretch what is left of the $700 billion financial bailout fund... simply by converting the government's existing loans to the nation's 19 biggest banks into common stock."
• An image of "a radically transformed IMF -- whose role in the global economy had turned largely advisory in recent years -- is now coming together through internal IMF documents, interviews and think-tank reports," the Washington Post reports. "Finance ministers from major nations will begin grappling with the formidable details of the IMF's makeover this weekend when they converge in Washington for the fund's biannual assembly."
Politics: Pennsylvania Republicans Slow To Support Specter
• Pennsylvania's congressional Republicans "are choosing to sit on the sidelines in what is expected to be a blockbuster primary in 2010" for Sen. Arlen Specter, Roll Call (subscription) reports. "The state's Republican House Members indicated in separate interviews that they are not ready to endorse Specter, who faces a challenge next year from former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) in what is likely to be the toughest battle of his 30-year Senate career."
• "Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano blamed 'politicization' for a week of furor over a report that warned 'right-wing extremists' were recruiting veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars," the Washington Times reports. "She also said the Obama administration's veterans programs were necessary to combat such extremism."
National Security: Two Key Suspects Were Repeatedly Waterboarded
• "C.I.A. interrogators used waterboarding, the near-drowning technique that top Obama administration officials have described as illegal torture, 266 times on two key prisoners from Al Qaeda, far more than had been previously reported," the New York Times reports. "The C.I.A. officers used waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002 against Abu Zubaydah, according to a 2005 Justice Department legal memorandum," and "183 times in March 2003 against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks."
• "The conclusion in recently released Justice Department memos that CIA interrogation techniques would not cause prolonged mental harm is disputed by some doctors and psychologists, who say that the mental damage incurred from the practices is significant and undeniable," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Lasting effects" can include "paranoia, anxiety, hyper-vigilance" and "the destruction of people's personalities."
• "A suicide bomber wearing an Iraqi military uniform struck a U.S. military delegation visiting the mayor of violence-wracked Baqouba on Monday, injuring at least eight American soldiers and nine others," the AP reports. "It was not immediately clear whether the attacker was a member of the Iraqi military or in disguise, but U.S. forces have faced both types of assaults."
World: Pakistani Leader Calls For Sharia Law
• "A potentially troubling era dawned Sunday in Pakistan's Swat Valley, where a top Islamist militant leader, emboldened by a peace agreement with the federal government, laid out an ambitious plan to bring a 'complete Islamic system' to the surrounding northwest region and the entire country," the Washington Post reports. "Speaking to thousands of followers in an address aired live from Swat on national news channels, cleric Sufi Mohammed bluntly defied the constitution and federal judiciary, saying he would not allow any appeals to state courts under the system of sharia, or Islamic law, that will prevail there as a result of the peace accord signed by the president Tuesday."
• "Lawmakers will be faced this week with the Senate version of a bill granting massive amounts of aid to Pakistan -- and more questions than answers about whether the billions will make a dent in the extremist threat," The Hill reports.
• Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, "in a rare effort to intervene in the justice system, urged Tehran's chief prosecutor on Sunday to fairly examine the cases of an Iranian-American journalist and an Iranian-Canadian blogger," the New York Times reports. "The Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi, has been sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of spying for Washington, her lawyer reported Saturday."
Technology: Silicon Valley Embraces Obama CTO Choice
• "For all of its attributes as the world's epicenter of innovation, Silicon Valley remains an insular region in some ways," Business Week reports. "But that hasn't stopped many technology leaders from rallying behind" Obama's "surprising choice for the nation's first Chief Technology Officer: Virginia Secretary of Technology Aneesh Chopra."
• "The Poker Players Alliance is betting $3 million that it can overturn an Internet gambling ban, or at least carve out an exemption that would legalize and regulate online poker," AP reports. "The alliance, chaired by former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., says it plans to spend that much on lobbying in this session of Congress. The group gets its money from the Interactive Gaming Council, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based trade association for online casinos, as well as from its poker player members."
Energy & Environment: Boehner Still Opposes Carbon Caps, Credits
• "House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Congress should employ an 'all of the above strategy' on energy legislation this year, but he discounted capping carbon emissions and creating a system of tradable emission credits as a valid approach," Roll Call (subscription) reports.
• "Clean energy has a dirty secret. It isn't cheap," USA Today reports. "Consumers already are starting to feel at least a modest pinch in their electric bills. The impact is expected to grow in the next few years as utilities accelerate their investments to meet state quotas requiring a portion of clean energy in their generation mix. And bills in Congress would impose a similar national quota, an idea" that Obama supports.
• "The International Energy Agency warned Monday that China must clean up its coal sector or face dire environmental consequences for itself and the world, outlining a series of steps to mitigate pollution including tougher enforcement of regulations, more foreign investment and an eventual price on carbon emissions," the Wall Street Journal reports.
Health Care: Baucus Wants Reform Bill By June
• "When President Obama vowed last week to rebuild the nation's slumping economy on the strength of 'five pillars,' there was little doubt on which column construction would begin first -- health care reform," the Washington Times reports. "Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, who is expected to take the lead on writing a health care reform package, has said he wants to have a bill ready by the end of June."
• "Democratic and Republican Senators have been working for months to bridge the partisan divide on health care reform," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "But with the pace and tenor of the negotiations set to heat up this week as Congress returns from its spring recess, the limits of bipartisanship on the issue could be severely tested."
• "Two of the nation's most influential health care adversaries are uniting to promote key portions of health care reform but leave unaddressed the debate's most controversial element: the creation of a public insurance plan," Politico reports. "The consumer group Families USA and the trade association Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America are launching a multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign to push the package of reforms, which includes expanding Medicaid."
Lobbying: Foreign Governments Turn To K Street
• "Transportation, health care and high-tech firms aren't the only special interests" courting Obama "since he replaced George W. Bush. Turnover at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. also means some foreign governments are seizing the opportunity to try to ingratiate themselves to the executive branch," Roll Call (subscription) reports.
• "Only a few years ago, Quinn Gillespie and Associates was the lights, camera, action darling of K Street. Big names. Big money. Big timing," Politico reports. "But following any good buzz, there's always the hangover. And for Quinn Gillespie, 2008 was a take-two-of-these-and-call-me-in-the morning kind of year."
• "After weeks of negotiations, banks and credit unions are continuing to drag their heels, at least publicly, on committing to compromise language in a bill that would give bankruptcy judges the power to modify mortgages," Roll Call (subscription) reports.
Commentary: Gauging The Economy
• Commentators discuss high inflation, what Ireland's falling GDP could teach the U.S. and why comparisons of the Great Depression aren't quite accurate in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section.
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