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EARLYBIRD

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Obama considers limiting financial industry executive pay. Plus: Pope calls for Palestinian state during visit to West Bank.

Health Care: Medicare Expected To Go Bankrupt In Eight Years

• "Medicare trustees announced Tuesday that the program's biggest fund for serving the elderly would run out of money in just eight years," the Los Angeles Times reports. "But the announcement, the latest in a succession of dire predictions about Medicare's fiscal condition, also pointed up the chasm separating Democrats and Republicans as the Obama administration and its congressional allies prepare for another major attempt to reshape the U.S. healthcare system."

• "The fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition likely holds the key to enacting a universal health care plan this year, but so far the Democratic bloc feels like it's being cast aside," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Forty-five Blue Dogs, led by Rep. Mike Ross (Ark.), on Monday warned that they need to be part of the writing of health care legislation in a sharply worded letter" to the House Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor chairmen.

 

• "Providing health insurance to the roughly 50 million people without it will cost something like $120 billion a year," the New York Times reports. "President Obama has proposed $60 billion or so in new revenue for this purpose -- a 'down payment,' his advisers say. But Congress seems set to reject about half of the down payment (a plan to limit high-income families' tax deductions for charitable giving and other such things). That makes for the $90 billion health care hole. And no one is quite sure how to fill it."

Congress: Pentagon Spending Reform Expected To Pass

• "The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass legislation" today "aimed at reforming massive waste in the Pentagon's biggest weapons programs, a bill that got a ringing endorsement from the White House on Tuesday," Reuters reports. "Congressional aides said... passage was likely given widespread concern over chronic cost overruns and schedule delays in major weapons programs."

• "The Supreme Court on Thursday is scheduled to consider whether it will revisit constitutional Speech or Debate Clause protections under an appeal from ex-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.)," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Should the Supreme Court decide to take up the case, it would all but certainly have an impact on Speech or Debate protections and could affect future indictments against Members of Congress, or even establish new precedents for submitting evidence to grand juries."

 

• "The online gambling industry is waging a campaign in Congress to legalize Internet betting, arguing that it is here to stay and can be regulated and taxed," the Los Angeles Times reports. "But opponents are raising moral objections."

White House: Obama Exploring Limits On Executive Pay

• "The Obama administration has begun serious talks about how it can change compensation practices across the financial-services industry, including at companies that did not receive federal bailout money, according to people familiar with the matter," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports.

• Obama "plans deep new cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal at a time when the government faces a 15-year backlog of warheads already waiting to be dismantled and a need for billions of dollars in new facilities to store and dispose of the weapons' plutonium," USA Today reports. "Much of the infrastructure needed to dispose of those weapons don't exist yet, according to federal audits and other records."

Economy: Increasing Home Sales Seen As Trend

• "Sales of existing homes picked up in 17 states in the first quarter compared with the previous one, pointing to more signs of life for the home market," USA Today reports. "Economists predict more states will show sales gains throughout the year, given still-falling prices in many markets, low mortgage rates and some signs of improvement in the overall economy."

 

• Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan on Tuesday "told the nation's Realtors that his agency plans to unveil in a few days new rules that would allow first-time home buyers to use an $8,000 federal tax credit to make a down payment on homes," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

• "Several large U.S. banks undertook big capital-raising efforts on Tuesday, hoping to satisfy regulators who want bigger cushions against a deep recession, or proof that they have enough of a buffer already," Reuters reports. "Bank of America Corp, which regulators last week ordered to find $33.9 billion of capital, sold $7.3 billion of China Construction Bank Corp (CCB) shares to a group of investors, according to a person directly involved in the sale who was not authorized to discuss it."

Politics: Gay Marriage Legislation Advances In New York

• "The State Assembly approved legislation on Tuesday night that would make New York the sixth state to allow same-sex marriage -- a pivotal vote that shifts the debate to the State Senate, where gay rights advocates and conservative groups alike are redoubling their efforts," the New York Times reports. "In a sign of how opinion in Albany has shifted on the issue, several members of the Assembly who voted against the measure in 2007 voted in favor of it on Tuesday."

• "Gov. Sarah Palin has signed a book deal with HarperCollins Publishers for what is described as her memoir," the Anchorage Daily News reports. "Palin and HarperCollins would not say how much she was being paid. Asked why, the governor and former Republican nominee for vice president said she didn't want to distract from the substance of the book."

• "In a move cheered by conservatives, the Internal Revenue Service has ruled that ministers and pastors do not risk losing their tax-exempt status for engaging in political acts on behalf of issues such as traditional-values advocacy," the Washington Times reports. "The IRS said in a letter to the Niemoller Foundation that the Houston-based nonprofit organization did not violate its tax-exempt status when it brought together pastors and politicians to champion moral issues during Republican Gov. Rick Perry's 2006 re-election campaign."

National Security: McChrystal Made His Name As A Manhunter

• "Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former Special Operations chief who is President Obama's new choice to lead the war in Afghanistan, rose to military prominence because of his single-minded success in a narrow but critical mission: manhunting," the Washington Post reports.

• "Disguised in Afghan Army uniforms and a burqa, Taliban fighters carried out coordinated attacks in eastern Afghanistan Tuesday, leaving at least nine people dead after a daylong hostage siege and a gun battle with American forces, government officials said," the New York Times reports. "The assault, which included a bombing outside the governor's office in Khost Province, was one of a number of increasingly audacious attacks that seemed intended to underscore the vulnerability of the government."

• "Despite heavy pressure from colleagues, Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye," D-Hawaii, "said Tuesday he will not propose buying more C-17 transport aircraft when his committee marks up the FY09 supplemental spending bill Thursday," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Inouye said he would prefer to add funding to the FY10 Defense appropriations bill for the Boeing Co.-built planes, which the Obama administration did not request in its supplemental or annual budget requests."

World: Pope Calls For Palestinian State

• "Pope Benedict visited the Israeli-occupied West Bank" today "to hammer home his calls for an independent Palestinian state and the lifting of Israel's embargo on Gaza," Reuters reports. "Cheers of 'Long Live the Pope, Long Live Palestine' rose up as Benedict rode through the narrow ancient streets of Bethlehem to start his first visit as pontiff to Jesus's birthplace."

• "The European Commission imposed a record 1.06 billion euros ($1.45 billion) fine on chipmaker Intel Corp on Wednesday and ordered it to halt illegal rebates and other practices to squeeze out rival AMD," Reuters reports. "The EU antitrust fine is the biggest imposed on an individual company, exceeding an 896-million euro penalty last year against glass maker Saint-Gobain for price fixing, and a 497-million euro fine in 2004 on Microsoft for abuse of dominance."

• "Voting is drawing to a close" today "in India's largest election ever, and a slowing economy, terrorism and the rural poor have been front and center in the campaign," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "But of growing concern are the country's teeming new megacities, which are swelling rapidly even as jobs dry up and funding for infrastructure disappears."

Technology: Officials Want Cyber Czar Under NSC

• "The nation's top military, intelligence and homeland security officials are recommending that" Obama "establish a new White House cyber czar under the National Security Council with broad policy-setting authority for protecting both public- and private-sector computer networks, according to sources familiar with the discussions," the Washington Post reports.

• "The Homeland Security Department plans to deploy a new departmentwide enterprise records management system to improve its ability to store, retrieve and archive electronic documents, DHS' top management official said" Tuesday, Federal Computer Week reports. "Elaine Duke, DHS' undersecretary for management, said the new system officials hope to start under a pilot program in fiscal 2010 would allow the department to manage its records more efficiently and improve searchability."

• "Google, the Internet goliath, is on a collision course with President Obama even though its employees and executives have lavished money and support on America's new chief executive," The Hill reports. "The administration's signal this week that it will take a more aggressive stance toward monopolies has huge implications for Google, according to several antitrust lawyers."

Transportation: Committee Won't Add Earmark Transparency

• "An extra layer of earmark transparency established by the House Appropriations Committee will not be adopted by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for the massive transportation authorization bill the panel plans to take up later this year -- the sequel to the bill that created the infamous 'Bridge to Nowhere,'" Roll Call (subscription) reports.

• "A highway bill to revamp the nation's transportation infrastructure should be coming from Congress 'pretty soon,'" Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday, CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "In a luncheon speech to members of the National Retail Federation... LaHood said he expected House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar," D-Minn., "to draft 'probably a five-year bill' that will be very workable in reforming the country's surface transportation network, including high-speed and light rail systems as well as rebuilding roads, bridges and highways."

• "Nearly three months after" Obama "approved a $787 billion economic stimulus package, intended to create or save jobs, the federal government has paid out less than 6 percent of the money, largely in the form of social service payments to states," the New York Times reports.

Lobbying: Drug Lobby To Ramp Up Spending

• "The drug industry, already the biggest-spending lobby in Washington, is placing an even bigger bet on the influence game," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Potential windfalls and pitfalls in the expected overhaul of the health-care system have energized drug companies, which spent $47.4 million on lobbying in the first three months of 2009. That is up 36% from the first quarter of 2008, according to company disclosure reports filed with Congress and analyzed by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics."

• "A breakaway group of homebuilders is mounting its own lobbying campaign -- and working around the powerful National Association of Home Builders -- to secure passage of a tax provision that would help its members write off billions of dollars in losses," Roll Call (subscription) reports "The new entity, the Homes for America Alliance, includes about 75 big and small builders."

Energy & Environment: House Dems Strike Deal On Cap-And-Trade

• "Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have reached a deal on the most contentious aspects of cap-and-trade legislation for carbon emissions and plan to unveil the bill on Thursday, Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said Tuesday night," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

Jimmy Carter, who presided "over the oil crisis of 1979, told Congress Tuesday that America's energy challenges are deeper and more urgent today than when he was president, but the solutions are the same," The Hill reports. "In testimony to the Foreign Relations Committee, Carter called on Congress to make energy independence a top national priority and urged a comprehensive approach that could blunt the influence of lobbyists."

• House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., "is helping to organize a congressional trip to China around the Memorial Day recess, with global warming as the focus," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Word of the trip came as Congress continued to grapple this week with the climate change issue specifically and energy legislation in general."

Commentary: Republicans' Road Ahead

• Commentators in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section speculate on the national implications Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's Senate bid, while another pushes former Secretary of State Colin Powell to switch parties.

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