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Legacy Content / EARLYBIRD

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Specter's switch is still reverberating. Plus: Taliban face an expanding fight in Pakistan as U.S. cuts off opium crop.

April 29, 2009

Specter's Switch: Senate, Election In Flux

• "Even as Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) flaunted the support of Democratic leaders in the wake of his decision to switch parties on Tuesday, some in the party indicated they weren't ready to step out of the way and line up behind Specter," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "While Democratic leaders began to show support for their party-switching colleague, at least two potential primary opponents were more hesitant."

• "Specter's switch... could set off a shuffle at the top of some key committees and make it easier for Democrats to push forward with immigration reform and other major legislation," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

• "After Democrats won control of the White House and bolstered their numbers on the Hill in November... many Republican lobbyists" noted that "Democrats did not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, which meant that clients still needed help from Republicans on K Street if they expected to defeat or pass legislation," NationalJournal.com's Under The Influence blog reports. "Well, that marketing pitch to clients likely got a whole lot weaker."

 

• "Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe," R-Maine, "told reporters that they were surprised at Specter's decision and that they largely feel at home in the Republican Conference," The Hill reports. "Collins called Specter's decision 'unfortunate for our party and our country,' and acknowledged that Democratic leaders have long been trying to persuade her to change parties."

Congress: PAYGO Invoked On Budget Resolution

• "The House and Senate will vote on the FY10 $3.5 trillion budget conference report today," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., "said Tuesday the House would not take up any Senate legislation providing for a middle-income estate tax, alternative minimum tax relief or heading off cuts to Medicare physician payments unless they comply with pay/go budget rules."

• "In the wake of reports last week that Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) got caught in a politically embarrassing conversation by a government wiretap, House Democratic leaders are quietly reaching out to the Justice Department" on talks "aimed at developing guidelines for searches of Congressional offices," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

• "The achievement gap between white and minority students has not narrowed in recent years, despite the focus of the No Child Left Behind law on improving the scores of blacks and Hispanics, according to results of a federal test considered to be the nation's best measure of long-term trends in math and reading proficiency," the New York Times reports. "Between 2004 and last year, scores for young minority students increased, but so did those of white students, leaving the achievement gap stubbornly wide."

White House: Official Who Approved Manhattan Flyover Could Be Fired

• "White House press secretary Robert Gibbs pointedly refused to rule out a firing in the case of the Air Force One backup's flight that terrified some in New York City on Monday," the Washington Post reports. "Asked repeatedly whether White House Military Office Director Louis Caldera, who made the decision, would lose his job, Gibbs told reporters... 'I think the president has rightly asked that a review of the situation and the decision-making" be done.'"

• "Amid liberal concerns he is steering too centrist of a course, President Obama met for more than an hour Tuesday with more than 30 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus at the White House," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "During that time, he was pushed to speed up the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq and was urged to be more open to liberal prescriptions to overhaul the healthcare system."

Politics: RNC Members Seek Limits On Steele's Spending

• "A battle over control of the party's purse strings has erupted at the troubled Republican National Committee, with defenders of Chairman Michael S. Steele accusing dissident RNC members of trying to 'embarrass and neuter' the party's new leader," the Washington Times reports. "Randy Pullen, the RNC's elected treasurer, former RNC General Counsel David Norcross and three other former top RNC officers have presented Mr. Steele with a resolution, calling for a new set of checks and balances on the chairman's power to dole out money."

• House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, "said Tuesday that the liberal bills being pushed by President Obama and congressional Democrats make him 'want to throw up' and that Mr. Obama's first 100 days in office have shown he has 'no plan for keeping America safe,'" the Times also reports.

Economy: Citigroup Wants Permission To Award Bonuses

• "Citigroup Inc., soon to be one-third owned by the U.S. government, is asking the Treasury for permission to pay special bonuses to many key employees, according to people familiar with the matter," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "The request comes as Citigroup is grappling with broad government pay restrictions that could break apart its legendary energy-trading unit."

• "In what is turning out to be the largest shareholder uprising yet of the financial crisis, Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis" today "faces calls for his ouster from a growing group of angry shareholders at the bank's annual meeting," USA Today reports.

• "Phoenix has achieved the unwelcome distinction of becoming the first major American city where home prices have fallen in half since the market peaked in the middle of the decade, according to data released Tuesday," the New York Times reports. "Though historical statistics are scant, experts said the precipitous decline probably had few if any equals in modern times."

World: Pakistan Expands Fight Against Taliban As Obama Adjusts

• "After a week of strong criticism here and abroad over its inaction, the Pakistani military deployed fighter jets and helicopter gunships to flush out hundreds of Taliban militants who overran the strategic district of Buner last week, the military said Tuesday," the New York Times reports. "Pakistan also agreed to move 6,000 troops from its Indian border to fight militants on its western border with Afghanistan, according to a Pakistani official who did not want to be identified discussing troop movements in advance."

• "What was planned as a step-by-step process of greater military and economic engagement with Pakistan -- as immediate attention focused on Afghanistan -- has been rapidly overtaken by the worsening situation on the ground," the Washington Post reports. "Nearly nonstop discussions over the past two days included a White House meeting Monday between Obama and senior national security officials and a full National Security Council session on Pakistan" Tuesday.

National Security: Attack Planned On Taliban's Opium Profits

• "American commanders are planning to cut off the Taliban's main source of money, the country's multimillion-dollar opium crop, by pouring thousands of troops into the three provinces that bankroll much of the group's operations," the New York Times reports.

• "Judge Jay S. Bybee broke his silence on Tuesday and defended the conclusions of legal memorandums he had signed as a Bush administration lawyer that allowed use of several coercive interrogation practices on suspected terrorists," the Times also reports. "Judge Bybee, who issued the memorandums as the head of the Office of Legal Counsel and was later nominated to the federal appeals court," said in a statement "that he continued to believe that the memorandums represented 'a good-faith analysis of the law' that properly defined the thin line between harsh treatment and torture."

• "A federal appeals court" on Tuesday "reinstated a lawsuit by five former detainees who sued a Boeing subsidiary over its alleged role in transporting them to foreign countries, where they say they suffered brutal interrogation under the CIA's 'black site' prison system," the Washington Post reports. "Three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit batted aside claims by the Obama administration that the suit would reveal 'state secrets' at the heart of the agency's covert operations and so should be dismissed."

Technology: White House Overhauling Tech Watch List

• "The White House is planning changes to a pair of" Office of Management and Budget "technology watch lists that flag projects across the federal government that need high-level attention," CIO Vivek Kundra said at a hearing Tuesday, CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The lists are a legacy of the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act, which required agencies to submit business plans for information technology investments to OMB."

• Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., "introduced legislation on Tuesday that would alter how agencies ensure the security of their information technology systems and create a new office in the White House with the power to oversee federal IT security," Federal Computer Week reports. "The legislation would also reform the IT acquisition process through increased accountability and transparency."

Health Care: Sebelius Confirmed By 65-31 Vote

• "The Senate confirmed Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) as secretary of Health and Human Services Tuesday, providing President Obama with the final member of his Cabinet," The Hill reports. "Sebelius won Senate approval on a 65 to 31 vote, with seven Republicans, including Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), who announced he's becoming a Democrat, voting with Democrats to confirm."

• "Several health organizations Tuesday suggested ways in which the federal government could help them deal with the swine flu outbreak, at a cost of about $1 billion," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The plea to aid the public health sector, battered recently by several thousand layoffs and program cutbacks, came during an emergency hearing called by Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa."

• "The leaders of four House caucuses on Tuesday called on Democratic Congressional leaders and" Obama "to ensure that a public health insurance plan is part of comprehensive health care reform legislation this year," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

Lobbying: Palin's Online Army Fails To Stop Sebelius

• Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) "didn't outright oppose Sebelius," McClatchy Newspapers reports. "But the Alaska governor also said nothing while her supporters on Team Sarah, a Web site affiliated with an anti-abortion group, worked the phones in an effort to derail Sebelius' nomination because she favors abortion rights."

• "It's hard for competitors to speak with one voice when their industry faces extinction. And that's exactly what competing constituencies within the private student loan industry are discovering as they scramble to preserve the way they do business," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "The industry is responding to the president's proposal in his 2010 budget to switch the federal student loan system entirely to the government's direct student loan program, eliminating the 'middlemen' of banks and lenders that critics say are inefficient and wasteful."

• "Pork producers are pushing back against suggestions from public interest groups that the flu virus popping up across the world may have been caused by factory farms in Mexico," The Hill reports. "If the farms, based in the Mexican province of Veracruz, are determined to be the source of the swine flu, watchdogs expect to argue for increased regulation of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, to lawmakers on Capitol Hill."

Energy & Environment: Hoyer Denies House Is Slow-Walking Climate Legislation

• Hoyer "tried to dispel concern that Democratic leaders there would hold off on a combined climate and energy strategy until it is clear there are 60 votes in the Senate," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "'I think we are moving on parallel tracks. I don't want to imply that we are waiting for the Senate to act because that would not be accurate,' Hoyer said."

• "Getting 60 votes is crucial for all sorts of big-ticket legislation -- especially climate change. But Sen. Specter's support won't come free," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Hailing from a coal-rich manufacturing state, Sen. Specter is especially sensitive to two issues when it comes to energy and environmental policy: American jobs and the future of coal."

Transportation: LaHood Reiterates Support For Interstate System

• Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on "Tuesday told the Senate Commerce Surface Transportation Subcommittee that the administration's support for the interstate highway system would not mean that President Obama would retreat from his commitment to expand mass transit," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

• In General Motors' "latest restructuring plan, the U.S. would get at least a 50% stake in the largest Detroit auto maker," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Even without a majority stake, the government was able to use its muscle in March to oust GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner. But such a major holding would turn GM into a sort of Government Motors, making the federal government the company's de facto boss and bank lender."

Commentary: Senate Inspectors

• Pennsylvania GOP senatorial challenger Pat Toomey admonishes Specter while Snowe and other Republicans lament the loss to the GOP in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section.

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