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Legacy Content / EARLYBIRD

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Obama to revise fuel economy standards. Plus: Credit card legislation nears completion even as banks plan workarounds.

May 19, 2009

Energy & Environment: Obama Boosts New Mileage Standards

• "The Obama administration will announce new mileage standards for vehicles" today "that are intended to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cars and trucks," The Hill reports. "Environmentalists heralded the move, which they said would improve fuel efficiency standards that should cut carbon dioxide from tailpipes by 30 percent by 2016."

• "After the decade they've had, Capitol Hill's climate-change skeptics might well feel like polar bears on a shrinking ice floe," the Washington Post reports. "But this spring, it's been obvious: Doubt is not dead. In fact, as Congress considers placing a national limit on emissions, Washington's climate skeptics have been louder than usual -- and they've been reinforced by other voices in the Republican Party."

• "House Energy and Commerce Republicans will use scores of amendments starting today to try to prove their point that a pending energy and climate bill the panel is marking up this week would be economically disastrous," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Even though Republicans are not expected to be able to halt the measure's progress in committee or later in the full House, this week's marathon markup will at least help them fine-tune a message" that could last into "the 2010 election season."

 

Congress: Credit Card Bill Expected To Pass Easily

• "The Senate is expected this morning to overwhelmingly pass a bill tightening regulations on the credit card industry's billing practices, with the House expected to follow suit in coming days in spite of the Senate's inclusion of a pro-gun amendment opposed by the many liberals," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. Passage would give "Congress and President Obama a victory on an easily understood and popular measure heading into the Memorial Day recess."

• As Congress moves to "limit the penalties on riskier borrowers, who have become a prime source of billions of dollars in fee revenue... the card companies are going after those people with sterling credit," the New York Times reports. "Banks are expected to look at reviving annual fees, curtailing cash-back and other rewards programs and charging interest immediately on a purchase instead of allowing a grace period of weeks, according to bank officials and trade groups."

White House: Administration Talking With Schumer On Immigration

• "With labor organizations and outside activists ramping up their lobbying efforts, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and White House officials have opened backstage discussions on making a push for comprehensive immigration reform later this year -- despite continued resistance from Republicans," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

• "The Obama administration is expanding a program initiated by President George W. Bush aimed at checking the immigration status of virtually every person booked into local jails," the Washington Post reports. "In four years, the measure could result in a tenfold increase in illegal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes and identified for deportation, current and former U.S. officials said."

• "A leading candidate for the top job at NASA is a former astronaut who would be the first African-American to head the space agency," USA Today reports. "Obama is scheduled to meet" today "with Charles Bolden, 62, to talk about the open position at NASA, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday."

Politics: High Pay For Steele's Close Associates Raises Questions

• "When Michael S. Steele took over as chairman of the Republican National Committee earlier this year, he brought along longtime personal assistant Belinda Cook and gave her a salary nearly three times what her predecessor made," the Washington Times reports. "Mr. Steele's early record and personnel decisions figure to be hot topics at a special meeting of Republican state party chairmen" today and Wednesday.

• "The House ethics committee is reviewing whether the chamber's rules were broken when Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) put three of Rep. Loretta Sanchez's (D-Calif.) aides on her own payroll in late 2006 because of a budget shortfall in her sister's office," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "The shortfall occurred because a then-aide to Loretta Sanchez had been embezzling funds from the office for personal use."

• "The upcoming redistricting will be the first since passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which eliminated soft money and will severely limit Members' involvement in the process," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Traditionally, the Republican National Committee has coordinated the GOP's redistricting effort, relying heavily on soft money. In contrast, Democrats have relied on outside groups, such as labor unions for fundraising and coordination, making it easier for them to adapt to the new rules."

Economy: Banks Apply To Repay TARP Money

• "Goldman Sachs Group Inc, Morgan Stanley and other banks have applied to repay billions of dollars they borrowed under the U.S. government's Troubled Asset Relief Program, sources familiar with the situation said on Monday," Reuters reports. "Banks began gearing up to repay government funds soon after the U.S. government announced the results of stress tests on May 7."

• "Billions of dollars were included in the economic stimulus package to avert painful teacher layoffs and spur education reform, but Education Secretary" Arne Duncan "said Monday most states are not exactly champing at the bit to get their share," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "As of Monday, just 22 states and Puerto Rico had completed applications for their initial share of the package's $48.6 billion state fiscal stabilization fund, with the first two-thirds ready to go starting April 1."

• "Commercial real-estate loans could generate losses of $100 billion by the end of next year at more than 900 small and midsize U.S. banks if the economy's woes deepen," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "Such loans, which fund the construction of shopping malls, office buildings, apartment complexes and hotels, could account for nearly half the losses at the banks analyzed by the Journal, consuming capital that is an essential cushion against bad loans."

National Security: Court Rules Leaders Not Responsible In Abuse Case

• "A Pakistani Muslim who was arrested after the Sept. 11 attacks may not sue John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, and Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for abuses he says he suffered in a Brooklyn detention center, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday," the New York Times reports. "Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 5-to-4 decision, said" Javaid Iqbal "failed to allege a plausible link between the officials' conduct and the abuses he said he had suffered."

• "A planned U.S. missile shield to protect Europe from a possible Iranian attack would be ineffective against the kinds of missiles Iran is likely to deploy, according to a joint analysis by top U.S. and Russian scientists," the Washington Post reports. "The U.S.-Russian team also judged that it would be more than five years before Iran is capable of building both a nuclear warhead and a missile capable of carrying it over long distances."

• "The Air Force on Monday showed new budgetary restraint, sending Congress a modest $1.9 billion wish list of programs that were left out of the Pentagon's FY10 budget -- roughly 10 percent of what the service asked for last year," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

World: Karzai Denies Reports Of Job For Bush Official

• "Afghan president Hamid Karzai has no plan to install former U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as 'chief executive' of his country, a spokesman said" today, "denying a report in the New York Times," Reuters reports. "The U.S. newspaper, citing unidentified U.S. and Afghan officials, said Khalilzad, an Afghan-born U.S. citizen who served as" Bush's "ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, was discussing taking a powerful post under Karzai."

• "One of the world's most ruthless and elusive rebel leaders, Tamil Tiger chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, was reportedly killed Monday by Sri Lanka's military in a firefight that signaled the effective end to one of Asia's longest-running military conflicts," the Washington Post reports.

• "Obama said Monday that he expected to know by the end of the year whether Iran was making 'a good-faith effort to resolve differences' in talks aimed at ending its nuclear program, signaling to Israel as well as Iran that his willingness to engage in diplomacy over the issue has its limits," the New York Times reports. Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for two hours in the Oval Office.

Technology: Electronic Medical Records Pose Risks, Experts Say

• "The Obama administration must ensure vendors are held accountable for faulty health care technology fielded as part of efforts to expand electronic medical records, some health informatics specialists say," Nextgov reports. "The administration views electronic records and other clinical data technologies as a way to cut costs and increase accountability in federally funded health care. But granting vendors immunity from liability for software that causes medical errors could run counter to that mission, according to academics and doctors who study health IT."

• "As OMB, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the General Services Administration prepare to issue recommendations for how agencies can show transparency, public participation and collaboration outlined by" Obama "on his first day in office, public interest groups want a chance to weigh in," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

• "Calling the development of a 'smart' electric power grid an 'urgent national priority,' the Obama administration unveiled a set of 16 standards to help ensure that new devices can send vital information to power suppliers," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke discussed the White House's smart-grid plans Monday with more than 70 executives from utilities, manufacturers, and telecommunications and information technology firms."

Lobbying: Some Republicans Turning On Club For Growth

• "Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter's switch to the Democratic Party underscores the clout of Club For Growth, a conservative group that targets Republicans it brands insufficiently committed to low taxes and small government," the Wall Street Journal reports. Specter's "decision has prompted some Republicans to turn on the organization, saying it backs those who are so conservative that they then lose to Democrats."

• "Despite moves by Senate Republicans to downplay expectations of a battle royal over the next Supreme Court nominee, conservative judicial activists are increasing pressure on their Congressional allies to oppose a liberal jurist," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Groups such as the Third Branch Conference, the Judicial Confirmation Network and the Committee for Justice are mapping out their strategy to rally Senate Republicans' appetite for pushback."

• "Union groups are targeting one of their close allies in Congress over a controversial proposal to tax employee healthcare benefits," The Hill reports. "In a coordinated campaign using radio advertising, mail and other pressure mechanisms, three top unions are urging Oregonians to voice their displeasure to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), whose proposal may be stalled in the Senate."

Health Care: Is Wyden The Key To Reform?

• "Some of the biggest names in the Democratic Party have lined up to take the lead on healthcare reform, but the key to a bipartisan compromise may be" Wyden, The Hill reports. "Wyden has emerged as a potential game-changer by insisting the legislation have strong support across the aisle and forging a partnership with a GOP senator who has the Senate minority leader's ear."

• "The Justice Department and 16 states joined two whistleblower lawsuits alleging that Wyeth defrauded the government by offering discounts to hospitals on two of its drugs that it didn't offer to Medicaid," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "The lawsuits, filed in federal District Court in Massachusetts, claim that Wyeth avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in rebates to state Medicaid programs for its Protonix Oral and Protonix IV acid-reflux drugs."

• "A compromise on a public healthcare insurance option might be in the works, or a least a proposal that might test Republican strategists and private insurance providers in devising positions on it," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, talked at length Thursday in a private meeting between members and staffers about the possibility of creating a fallback public option that only would kick in several years down the road if insurance companies are not doing their part to bring down healthcare costs and expand coverage, a Republican committee aide said."

Commentary: Analyzing India

• Commentators in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section fear the nuclear capabilities of India, chide Obama for ignoring the country and urge India's leaders to step up to the plate as a "rising power."

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