White House: Obama Calls For 'New Beginning' To Muslim Relations
• "Quoting from the Quran for emphasis, President Barack Obama called for a 'new beginning between the United States and Muslims'" today "and said together, they could confront violent extremism across the globe and advance the timeless search for peace in the Middle East," AP reports from Cairo. "'This cycle of suspicion and discord must end,' Obama said in a widely anticipated speech in one of the world's largest Muslim countries, an address designed to reframe relations after the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the U.S.-led war in Iraq."
• Obama "said on Wednesday that he was receptive to Congressional proposals that would require Americans to have health insurance and oblige employers to share in the cost. But he said there should be exemptions for people who cannot afford insurance and for small businesses in general," the New York Times reports.
• "The White House sent a deputy national security adviser to Capitol Hill Wednesday evening to urge Senate Democrats to drop their resistance to relocating Guantanamo Bay detainees to U.S. prisons," The Hill reports. "The adviser met with the Democratic Conference for about an hour, pressing them to modify an amendment adopted in May to the war-spending measure that would deny the administration funding to close the prison in Cuba and transfer the prisoners into the United States."
Congress: Dems May Pass On Climate Change To Focus On Health Care
• "House Ways and Means Committee Democrats are likely to punt on their opportunity to help shape climate-change legislation, given a tiny window for action, zero agreement among panel members and a desire to focus instead on health care," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "That tentative decision was made during an hour-long closed-door meeting of Democrats on the tax-writing panel on Wednesday."
• House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., "issued an ultimatum to her committee chairmen: move climate change legislation by June 19 or risk losing jurisdiction over the bill," The Hill reports. "By imposing the deadline," she "is asserting her authority over Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), among others, in an effort to unhinge her signature issue, which has been mired in intra-party politics."
• "Responding to a challenge from" Obama, "House GOP leaders are offering up a roster of more than $23 billion in spending cuts over the next five years," AP reports. "The proposed cuts, which were to be sent to the White House" today, "bear little resemblance to the dramatic proposals Republicans unfurled when they took over Congress 14 years ago."
• "The House will begin posting representatives' expense reports online, giving the public easy access to records of the millions of dollars lawmakers spend on staff and items such as catering, cars, computers and TVs," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "Separately, Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) said Wednesday he would introduce a bill requiring the expense records be posted online in the Senate, as well."
Politics: New Hampshire Legalizes Gay Marriage
• "New Hampshire became the sixth state to legalize gay marriage after the Senate and House passed key language on religious rights and Gov. John Lynch -- who personally opposes gay marriage -- signed the legislation Wednesday afternoon," AP reports.
• "Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) has emerged as the GOP's leading critic of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, arguing that Republican Senate opposition to her installment should be expected given how" Obama "treated former President George W. Bush's high court picks," Roll Call (subscription) reports.
• "The White House late Tuesday asked for new funding for flu preparedness, and in a twist, the administration also sought the power to take an additional $3 billion from unspent stimulus funds in the event of a pandemic emergency," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The proposal immediately prompted criticism from Republicans that Mr. Obama and the Democrats want to turn the stimulus package into what Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for House Appropriations Committee Republicans, called an all-purpose 'slush fund.'"
Economy: Fed Chairman Warns Of Ballooning Deficit
• "Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned Congress and the White House that the U.S. economy will suffer if they don't move soon to rein in the federal budget deficit, which the Fed chief blamed for helping to push long-term interest rates higher," the Wall Street Journal reports.
• "As governments worldwide try to spend their way out of recession, many countries are finding themselves in the same situation as embattled consumers: paying higher interest rates on their rapidly expanding debt," the New York Times reports. "Increased rates could translate into hundreds of billions of dollars more in government spending for countries like the United States, Britain and Germany."
• "The recession is driving the safety net of government benefits to a historic high, as one of every six dollars of Americans' income is now coming in the form of a federal or state check or voucher," USA Today reports. "Benefits, such as Social Security, food stamps, unemployment insurance and health care, accounted for 16.2% of personal income in the first quarter of 2009, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. That's the highest percentage since the government began compiling records in 1929."
World: Cuba Rejoins OAS Without Meeting U.S. Demands
• Obama "unlocked the door to ending Cuba's diplomatic isolation by easing travel barriers and offering talks on migration issues. Latin American nations yesterday forced it wide open," Bloomberg News reports. "The region's governments voted to lift Cuba's 47-year-old expulsion from the Organization of American States without meeting the U.S. demand that the Castro regime first ease its crackdown on political dissent."
• "Chinese security forces took full control of Tiananmen Square" today, "the 20th anniversary of the government's brutal crackdown on the student democracy movement, monitoring every individual approaching it, randomly stopping foreigners for identification and harassing reporters and those who spoke to them," the Financial Times reports. "This came as the Chinese government reacted angrily to US calls for a public accounting of the 1989 massacre."
• "Continued bans on U.S. pork imports by China, Russia and more than a dozen other counties have baffled government and industry officials, leading some to speculate that the issue is more about market share than health concerns," AP reports. "The bans, instituted in the wake of the swine flu outbreak, cost the U.S. hog industry millions of dollars every week. And they continue despite insistence by international health officials that the pork is safe and the country's hogs are not to blame for the epidemic."
• "Two American journalists faced trial" today "in North Korea on accusations of illegal entry and 'hostile acts' in a case that could send them to a labor camp for 10 years. Back home, their families pleaded for leniency," AP reports. "Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for former Vice President Al Gore's California-based Current TV media venture, were arrested March 17 near the North Korean border while on a reporting trip to China."
National Security: Top Special Ops Commander Wants Help From Other Troops
• "Elite special operations forces can't grow fast enough to meet increasing global demands, so the Pentagon is depending more heavily on support that is not always available from regular forces, according to the military's top special operations commander," AP reports. "Adm. Eric T. Olson, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, says he needs the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to provide more logistics, intelligence, communications and air transportation support for his troops overseas."
• "Just as President Obama arrived in the Middle East, the television channel Al Jazeera broadcast an audiotape on Wednesday that it said was from Osama bin Laden, accusing Mr. Obama of planting new seeds of 'hatred and vengeance toward Americans.'" the New York Times reports.
• "Obama's plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan aims to strengthen the Afghan National Security Forces, which include both the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP). The ANP is more than a police force; it is the key to sustaining local security in Afghanistan," the Washington Times reports. "About eight policemen are killed in Afghanistan for every Afghan soldier who dies in counterinsurgency operations, according to a December report by the International Crisis Group."
• "Energy Secretary Steven Chu conceded on Wednesday he was caught off guard by the unauthorized dissemination of 'highly confidential' documents showing the whereabouts of stockpiles of nuclear weapons and fuel," CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports. "At a House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Chu acknowledged that he learned about Monday's release of 'highly confidential material' on a Web site devoted to federal secrecy issues from media reports."
Technology: Digital TV Transition Hampered By Budget Snafu
• "A last-minute funding snag could leave hundreds of thousands of residents permanently on hold when they try to reach operators at an FCC hotline intended to provide assistance with the June 12 transition to digital television signals," CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports. "With only nine days to go before the remaining 974 TV stations operating in analog go all-digital, the FCC disclosed" Wednesday "that it needs $10 million to ensure that 4,000 operators are available to handle inquiries through June 22."
• "Public interest groups praised" Pelosi's "decision Wednesday to put Members' official expenditures online, but they cautioned that the usability of such a system remains to be seen," Roll Call (subscription) reports.
• "A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed lawsuits targeting the nation's telecommunication companies for their participation in" Bush's "once-secret electronic eavesdropping program," Wired reports. "In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker upheld summer legislation protecting the companies from the lawsuits."
Lobbying: Tech Companies Snapping Up Republican Talent
• "Google's recruitment of Seth Webb, the House Financial Services Committee's second-most senior Republican aide, is the latest in a string of recent GOP hires by major high-tech companies in Washington," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The trend, some policy watchers believe, demonstrates the tech lobby hasn't shied away from wooing Republicans even as much of K Street has augmented its Democratic workforce since Obama took office."
• "As the Obama administration works to put the finishing touches on plans for a major revamp of financial services regulations, a who's who of the sector's top lobbyists and high-level representatives are making the rounds this week at Treasury and the White House," Roll Call (subscription) reports.
• "The U.S. House approved by a wide margin an effort to force the ethics committee to report within 45 days on what actions, if any, it has taken to examine an escalating federal investigation involving at least one senior House Democrat and a defunct defense lobbying firm," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Democrats are under increasing political pressure to respond following a series of subpoenas issued last Friday to employees in both the congressional and campaign offices of Rep. Peter Visclosky (D., Ind.) regarding the lawmaker's relationship with the defunct lobbying firm, PMA Group."
• "In the 2008 cycle, pharmaceutical companies gave the two parties about $14.5 million each, and this year the industry has given $714,000 to Republicans and $721,000 to Democrats," The Hill reports. "But the industry's main lobbying arm in Washington is now going beyond writing a check. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, better known as PhRMA, spent the congressional recess running advertisements thanking four vulnerable Democratic freshmen for their early work in Congress."
Health Care: FDA Chief Seeks More Money For Food Safety
• "Margaret A. Hamburg, the new commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, plunged on Wednesday into the contentious debate over how to fix the nation's food safety system," the New York Times reports. "In her first appearance before Congress as commissioner, Dr. Hamburg told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health that a safety overhaul sponsored by several leading Democrats was 'a major step in the right direction,' but that her agency would need more money to carry it out."
Commentary: Twenty Years After Tiananmen Square
• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, commentators remember the "haunting, inspiring" Tiananmen Square protests and express disappointment that China remains politically "frozen" two decades later.