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EARLYBIRD

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Banking lobby on defense again this week as budget details arrive on Capitol Hill. Plus: Obama plans crackdown on offshore tax havens.

Congress: Banking Fight To Play Out This Week

• "Congress this week will continue its efforts to rein in the banking industry as Democrats push new consumer protections for credit cards and mortgage lending, putting the powerful lobby on the defensive amid public anger over the role it played in the recession," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The bills come after banks had a mixed week on Capitol Hill."

• "The White House is expected to deliver its detailed budget to Congress this week, lawmakers said, giving Appropriations Committee leaders more guidance on dividing the $1.086 trillion in the resolution for discretionary spending among their 12 subcommittees," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye said he will push to get all 12 spending bills separately through subcommittees and full committee and to President Obama before the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30."

 

• "Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is set to introduce legislation that would open the door to more agricultural imports to Cuba, taking advantage of" Obama's "pledge to 'seek a new beginning' with the island nation," The Hill reports. "The bill will likely trigger a fight with Democratic proponents of the current Cuba embargo policy, Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson."

Politics: House Seeks Increase For Office Budgets

• "The House wants to increase Members' office budgets next fiscal year by almost 15 percent, partly because 2010 is an election year and lawmakers anticipate a surge in franked mail," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "In a recently released budget request, the House Chief Administrative Officer asked appropriators to raise the Members' Representational Allowances -- which fund everything needed to run offices, including salaries, travel and supplies -- by $90 million, citing increases 'due to the election year cycle.'"

• "Four months into their new terms in Congress, 13 House members are seeking promotions to the U.S. Senate or statewide office -- as lawmakers give up their posts at a faster rate than they have for the past three elections," USA Today reports. "By comparison, five House members had announced plans to leave their positions by May 2007, the most recent non-election year."

 

• "Gov. Sarah Palin is backing a ballot measure to bypass the Legislature and make it illegal for teenagers to get an abortion without telling their parents," the Anchorage Daily News reports. "The governor said she even considered sponsoring the initiative herself, but decided otherwise after checking with the state's lawyers."

White House: Obama To Meet With Israel, Pakistan Leaders

• "When Israeli President Shimon Peres visits Washington" this week, "the establishment of a Palestinian state is not topping the Israeli agenda," The Hill reports. "In his first meeting with Obama, Peres will want to talk Tehran just as the U.S. has expressed willingness to drop a precondition of talks with Iran: that Iran first suspend its uranium enrichment process."

• "The leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan will meet in Washington this week as Pakistan has requested equipment including helicopters from the U.S. to fight extremists," The Hill reports. "The White House is hosting a summit Wednesday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is up for re-election in August, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto who has had his hands full trying to rein in terrorists while his country's economy has withered."

• "In briefings last week, senior officials said, President Obama and his National Security Council were told that neither a Taliban takeover nor a military coup was imminent and that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal was safe," the Washington Post reports. "Beyond the immediate future, however, the intelligence was far from reassuring."

 

Economy: Obama To Announce Offshore Tax Crackdown

• "The Obama administration will roll out details Monday of what aides are calling a far-reaching crackdown on offshore tax avoidance, targeting many U.S.-based multinational corporations and wealthy individuals," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "Obama will flesh out a proposal included in his February budget blueprint seeking to curb the practice of parking foreign earnings in offshore tax havens indefinitely."

• "The results of the bank stress tests to be released by the Obama administration this week are expected to include more detailed information about individual banks -- assessing specific parts of their loan portfolios -- than many analysts have been expecting," the New York Times reports. "Using these results, the administration seems prepared to argue that, while a few banks may need additional money, the broad financial system is healthier than many investors fear."

• "Warren Buffett attacked the government's stress tests of 19 large U.S. banks, saying they failed to properly assess the industry's health, and that he would buy more shares in three big banks Berkshire Hathaway Inc already owns," Reuters reports.

• "The New York Times Co. said last night that it is notifying federal authorities of its plans to shut down the Boston Globe, raising the possibility that New England's most storied newspaper could cease to exist within weeks," the Washington Post reports. "The move could amount to a negotiating ploy to extract further concessions from the Globe's unions, since the notice does not require the Times Co. to close the paper after 60 days."

National Security: Compromise Likely For Guantanamo Prisoners

• "Nearly six years ago, President George W. Bush declared Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri an enemy combatant and had him swept out of federal court and into a U.S. Navy brig so he could be interrogated without the legal protections afforded by the criminal justice system," the Washington Post reports. "The Marri case suggests that as the government pushes forward with plans to prosecute detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, it may again have to accept lesser sentences for those who were subjected to physical and psychological abuse."

• "The top CIA lawyer in charge of overseeing the agency's interrogation program after Sept. 11 says his stance on certain harsh techniques was misrepresented in a Senate hearing and that he actually told Guantanamo Bay officials to be careful, warning that some tactics could violate international protocols," the Washington Times reports. "In a Nov. 18 letter to senators on the Armed Services Committee... Jonathan Fredman said he was trying to tell top Guantanamo officials that legal uncertainties surrounding the word 'torture' meant that interrogators needed clear and specific guidance rather than having to figure it out themselves in individual cases."

• "The Pentagon has done little to collect at least $100 million in overcharges paid in deals arranged by corrupt former officials of Kellogg Brown & Root, the defense contractor, even though the officials admitted much of the wrongdoing years ago, two senators have complained in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates," the New York Times reports. "The letter also said that the Army had almost completely failed to move away from the monopolistic nature of the logistics contract that has paid the contractor, now called KBR, $31.3 billion for logistics operations in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan."

World: Conservative Elected President In Panama

• "A conservative supermarket tycoon has won Panama's presidential election, reversing a recent trend of left-wing victories in Latin America," BBC News reports. "Correspondents say voters seemed to warm to" Ricardo Martinelli's "message that he was the right man to steer Panama through the global economic crisis."

• "Nepal's Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda resigned on Monday after a crisis sparked by his sacking of the country's army chief, plunging the Himalayan republic into a political turmoil," Reuters reports. "The one-year-old Maoist-led government fired General Rookmangud Katawal on Sunday, accusing him of disobeying instructions not to hire new recruits and refusing to accept the supremacy of the civilian government."

• "War crimes judges have rejected a request to acquit Liberia's former President Charles Taylor on charges of crimes against humanity," BBC News reports. "The decision by the Special Court for Sierra Leone at The Hague means that Mr. Taylor, who has pleaded not guilty, must now present his defence."

Technology: Delay On NASA Chief May Be Costly

• Obama "has yet to name the person he wants to lead the National Aeronautics and Space Administration," the New York Times reports. "In this delay Mr. Obama has company: President George W. Bush did not decide on his choice, Sean O'Keefe, until November of his first year in office. But NASA is on the cusp of a once-in-a-generation transition, winding down space shuttle flights and construction of the International Space Station before ramping up ambitions for a return to the moon and an eventual trip to Mars."

• "The body in charge of assigning Internet addresses such as .com and .net should be shorn of its U.S. government links from October and made fully independent, the European Union's information society chief said on Monday," Reuters reports. "The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a not-for-profit organization set up in 1998 but operates under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Commerce, a set-up that raises concerns for some as the Internet is seen as belonging to a wider constituency."

Lobbying: Industries Want Free Pollution Permits

• "A growing number of industries are lobbying for free pollution permits under legislation capping greenhouse-gas emissions, in a potential threat to the funding for" Obama's "proposed middle-class tax cut, the Wall Street Journal reports. "A range of industries, including electric utilities, auto makers, and oil and natural gas refineries, are making their case to lawmakers ahead of a vote on proposed climate legislation expected this week by the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment."

• Obama "says lobbyists won't run his administration, but he picked an antitobacco lobbyist with ties to the pharmaceutical industry as the No. 2 official at the Department of Health and Human Services," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The nomination of William Corr -- former executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, where he was a registered lobbyist until September -- highlights the murkiness of Mr. Obama's antilobbyist policy."

• "Less than a week after the House passed an expansion of federal hate crime laws, gay rights activists are upping the pressure on lawmakers to enact the first of several pro-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bills," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "To press the point, the Human Rights Campaign is blanketing Capitol Hill on Monday and Tuesday with a 'Clergy Call for Justice and Equality,' bringing in more than 300 clergy from all 50 states to lobby on LGBT issues."

• "For going on two weeks," as the swine flu epidemic has spread, "the Washington professionals who represent the nation's 67,000 pork producers have been in a mad dash to, as President Obama once said, put lipstick on this pig," the Washington Post reports.

Energy & Environment: Dems Still Struggling With Climate Bill

• "Congressional Democrats headed into the weekend without an agreement on a climate change bill, raising doubts an accord will be found in time for a scheduled markup this week," The Hill reports. "There is broad support within the party on the bill's overarching goal to cut carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent over the next four decades. But how you get from here to there has split the Energy and Commerce Energy and Environment Subcommittee, the first congressional panel that will review the bill."

• "Hoping to chip away at the image of the Capitol Power Plant as an iconic symbol of the nation's reliance on dirty fuels, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Friday announced that coal will no longer be used for heating Capitol complex buildings and water," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Instead, they said, natural gas will serve as the Capitol's sole fuel source for steam."

• "Australia's government put back its much-vaunted carbon-emissions trading scheme by a year on Monday, bowing to industry demands for more relief amid a recession while opening the door to an even deeper long-term reduction," Reuters reports. The Obama administration "will likely be eyeing Australia's climate tactics as it prepares for its own Senate battle over creating a 'cap-and-trade' law that would slash emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases."

• Obama's "commitment to take on climate change and put science over politics is about to be tested as his administration faces a politically sensitive question about the widespread use of ethanol -- Does it help or hurt in the fight against global warming?" AP reports.

Health Care: Swine Flu May Be On The Downswing

• "The country's top health officials indicated a cautious public may be reducing the threat of the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, but that a vaccine won't be available until the fall," The Hill reports. "Richard Besser, the acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Sunday on 'Meet the Press' that he was 'starting to see some encouraging signs' about the disease, although he 'wasn't fully assured' that the influenza strain could not pose a more significant threat."

• "Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Democrat, said part of the reason that he left the Republican Party last week was disillusionment with its health-care priorities, and suggested that had the Republicans taken a more moderate track, Jack Kemp may have won his battle with cancer," the Washington Times reports.

Transportation: Roads Stimulus To Slow Summer Traffic

• "Caution ahead: stimulus slowdowns. Drivers across the country will have to contend with far more roadwork -- and all the frustration that goes with it -- as states prepare to launch a spate of new highway projects this summer," USA Today reports. "The work is part of" Obama's "$787 billion economic stimulus package and is meant to create jobs by repairing roads and bridges."

Commentary: Sizing Up The Agenda

• Lawmakers Kennedy, Grassley, Baucus and Price push health care reform in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, while commentators sound off on domestic drilling, immigration, education and "card check."

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