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EARLYBIRD

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Torture investigations divide congressional Democrats, and a probe into the White House auto adviser's firm expands. Plus: Somalis turn to K Street.

White House: Investigation Into Auto Adviser's Firm Expands

• "Government officials are expanding their investigation of Quadrangle, the private-equity firm founded by the Obama administration's lead auto negotiator, as new details emerge about an alleged kickback scheme involving the New York state pension fund," the Washington Post reports. "On Wednesday, the New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. said he is working with the state's attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, to determine whether the city's pension funds were 'intentionally misled or deceived.'"

• "Pitching his energy plan on Earth Day, President Obama" on Wednesday "called for a 'new era of energy exploration in America' and argued that his proposal would help the economy and the environment at once," AP reports. "The president announced his administration is creating the nation's first program to authorize offshore projects to generate electricity from wind turbines, ocean currents, and waves."

 

• "One day after stepping down as White House communications director, Ellen L. Moran accompanied President Obama" to Iowa "to visit a plant that makes wind turbine towers," the Washington Post reports. "Moran's resignation makes her the first senior aide to leave Obama's White House, sparking all manner of intrigue."

Congress: Energy Plan Lacks Details On Cap-And-Trade

• "While House Democratic leaders have touted the use of a blueprint from a broad coalition of industry and environmental groups in helping produce a draft energy and climate strategy, the differences between that blueprint and the draft remain the biggest obstacles in Capitol Hill climate talks," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

• "Obama administration officials said Wednesday that an ambitious energy and climate-change proposal sponsored by House Democrats could help create jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but they stopped short of endorsing it," the New York Times reports. "Steven Chu, the secretary of energy, and Lisa P. Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, told a House committee... they were still studying the details of the 648-page draft."

 

• "As Senate Democrats move closer to using reconciliation to pass health care reform this year, key GOP Senators are signaling plans to avenge the move by employing parliamentary tactics to trip up even the most noncontroversial of agenda items," Roll Call reports. Although Democrats "are far from reaching a consensus on the reconciliation issue, party leaders confirmed Wednesday that they are reserving the right to use it."

• "The House Appropriations Committee will likely give a pass to the dozens of members who missed the panel's deadline for posting their earmark requests on the Internet," The Hill reports. "The decision not to punish members will avert nasty confrontations, but raises questions about how Democratic leaders will enforce their new earmark requirements."

National Security: Torture Investigations Divide Dems

• "The legacy of George W. Bush continued to dog President Obama and his administration" on Wednesday, "as Congress divided over creating a panel to investigate the harsh interrogation techniques employed under Bush's authorization and the White House tried to contain the controversy over the president's decision to release Justice Department memos justifying and outlining those procedures," the Washington Post reports.

• "The CIA briefed top Democrats and Republicans on the congressional intelligence committees on enhanced interrogation techniques more than 30 times, according to intelligence sources, who said those members tacitly approved the techniques which some Democrats in Congress now say should land Bush administration officials in prison," the Washington Times reports.

 

• House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., "was notified that intelligence agents had eavesdropped on Rep. Jane Harman's conversations three years ago," The Hill reports. "This means the Speaker knew about the wiretap when she decided to stop" the California Democrat "from becoming chairwoman of the House Intelligence Committee."

• "The Pakistani government 'is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists,' Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Congress" on Wednesday "in an unusually blunt statement that reflects the unease within the Obama administration about an agreement authorized by President Asif Ali Zardari last week," the Washington Post reports.

Economy: Obama To Meet With Credit Card Industry

• "Obama, appealing to mainstream consumers, is pushing for more legal protection for the millions of Americans who use credit cards," AP reports. "Obama was meeting with leaders of the credit-card industry" today, "and he's already backing tougher legislation."

• "David Kellermann, acting chief financial officer of the troubled US mortgage financier Freddie Mac, was found dead early on Wednesday in his suburban Virginia home, police said," the Financial Times reports. "Mr Kellermann's wife reported an apparent suicide, according to local media. Police said there was no evidence of foul play."

• "Falling home prices are starting to ignite bidding wars in a few parts of the U.S. as first-time buyers compete with investors for the same foreclosed properties," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Home prices in many markets continue to fall, and foreclosures, which slowed in late 2008 as mortgage companies delayed taking action against delinquent borrowers, are picking up again."

World: Zuma Looks Set To Win South African Presidency

• "Jacob Zuma is on course to be confirmed as South Africa's next president today as early election results showed the African National Congress in a commanding lead," the London Guardian reports. "With more than 4m votes counted, the ANC has a 64% share, representing 2.6m ballots cast in its favour. It is well clear of the Democratic Alliance on 19%."

• "Retired dictator Fidel Castro slapped down his younger brother, Cuba's President Raúl Castro, six days after he suggested Cuba was ready to negotiate fundamental differences with the U.S.," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The brusque rebuke sent a clear, two-part message to the U.S.: Despite Raúl Castro having assumed Cuba's presidency last year, it's the elder Castro who continues to be in charge."

• "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been invited to visit Egypt," BBC News reports. "The offer was made during talks between Mr Netanyahu and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman in Jerusalem."

Technology: Earmark Transparency Online Falls Short

• "The House Appropriations Committee will likely give a pass to the dozens of members who missed the panel's deadline for posting their earmark requests on the Internet," The Hill reports.

• "After a few weeks of intense criticism, Time Warner Cable last week temporarily halted most of its experiments in charging broadband customers by the byte," Wired reports. "But the consumer advocacy group Free Press isn't mollified and is asking a powerful House committee to investigate whether such billing plans are anti-competitive."

• "The director of the Obama administration's 60-day review of cyberspace policy said today 'the national dialogue on cybersecurity must advance now,'" Federal Computer Week reports. "Melissa Hathaway, acting senior director for cyberspace for the National Security and Homeland Security councils, made that comment in prepared remarks for the RSA Conference in San Francisco."

Lobbying: Somali Region Hires Lobbyist To Combat Piracy

• "A region of Somalia that is home to many of the pirates who have made national news terrorizing area waters is seeking help from K Street," The Hill reports. "The Puntland State of Somalia, an autonomous region in northeastern Somalia formed in 1998," is "hoping to make the case that lawmakers on Capitol Hill should send money their way to combat piracy and reduce terrorism in the chaotic Gulf of Aden region."

• "Despite faltering support for a bill that would make it easier for unions to organize, backers of the Employee Free Choice Act are continuing to push key Senators to move forward on the legislation," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "After a two-week recess during which big business and unions blanketed lawmakers' districts with anti- and pro-'card check' rallies, advertisements and phone calls, both sides are soldiering on in what has become a multiyear, multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign."

• "Big industry trade groups cut their lobbying spending during the first three months of 2009, while large labor unions ramped up expenditures to influence Congress and the Obama administration," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Disclosure statements made public Tuesday showed a 31% slide to $62.5 million in spending on lobbying activities by 20 leading business trade associations.... The largest labor unions increased lobbying spending by 15% to $5.3 million in the same period."

Health Care: GOP Threatens Retaliation If Dems Use Reconciliation

• "As Senate Democrats move closer to using reconciliation to pass health care reform this year, key GOP Senators are signaling plans to avenge the move by employing parliamentary tactics to trip up even the most noncontroversial of agenda items," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

• "The Food and Drug Administration will allow 17-year-olds access to the Plan B emergency-contraceptive pill without a prescription," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The decision, which complies with a federal court order issued last month, lowers an age requirement set by the Bush administration for Plan B, sold by Duramed Pharmaceuticals, a unit of Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd."

• "A new federal subsidy designed to help laid-off workers pay for health insurance could be out of reach for thousands of jobless workers because they worked for a small company or their former employer has gone out of business," USA Today reports. "The subsidy, part of the economic stimulus package enacted earlier this year, covers 65% of COBRA premiums for individuals laid off between Sept. 1, 2008, and the end of this year. The subsidy is available for up to nine months."

Energy & Environment: Waxman Pushing Ahead With Climate Legislation

• "Despite nervousness from some conservative Democrats about moving quickly on legislation capping carbon emissions, Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that he's sticking to his aggressive timeline of voting the bill out of committee by Memorial Day and wants it on the House floor before the August recess," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

Commentary: Prosecution Speculation

• How should the administration and Congress move forward with the torture memos? Should anyone be prosecuted? Would an investigative panel be beneficial? Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., and others sound off in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section.

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