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EARLYBIRD

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Michelle Obama changes her role, while Democrats express confidence over today's energy vote. Plus: Freshman lawmakers struggle to keep up with summer's rapid legislative pace.

White House: Michelle Obama Seeks New Role

• "For weeks, Michelle Obama had been telling her staff and closest confidantes that she wasn't having the impact she wanted. She is a woman of substance, with a background in law, public policy and management, who found herself relegated to role model in chief. The West Wing of the White House -- the fulcrum of power and policy -- had not fully integrated her into its agenda. She wanted more," the Washington Post reports. "So, earlier this month, she changed her chief of staff, and now she's changing her role."

• "President Barack Obama is taking heat from some gays and lesbians for not fulfilling campaign pledges. He's also taking their cash," AP reports. "Gay rights activists have complained that Obama has not followed through on his promises to repeal a law banning their open service in the military, to do away with a federal marriage law or to champion their causes from the White House. During his first five months, he's taken incremental steps that have little real effect and left some people feeling betrayed. But he still felt comfortable sending Vice President Joe Biden to a Democratic National Committee fundraiser Thursday evening with gay and lesbian donors."

 

Energy & Environment: House Enters Final Turn on Climate Bill

• "It may have been Thursday, but it was hump day in the House for the landmark climate change bill," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "With critical backing from the White House, Democratic leaders leaned into their push to round up support for the package ahead of a scheduled Friday vote. They broadcast cautious confidence while acknowledging work remains to win over some holdouts, many of them moderates."

• "House Democratic leaders enter today's scheduled floor vote on climate change legislation confident they will have enough backing, although there is still uncertainty in their Caucus that they might fall short," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "By midafternoon Thursday," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "was advising some Democrats that she was nearing the needed 218 votes. 'Nancy says we're just eight votes away,' said one Western Democrat who supports the bill, after talking with Pelosi."

• "Industrial opponents of climate change legislation tried to slow momentum for the measure by challenging recent government studies that found the proposal would not dramatically raise consumer prices," The Hill reports. "Supporters got a boost when the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would only cost the average American household $175 in 2020. The poorest households would actually see a benefit of about $40 from the bill."

 

• "The final version of climate change legislation provisions that ease the burden on import-sensitive industries through tariffs is softened from previous iterations, providing more flexibility to the president and less-stringent standards for other nations to meet," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

• "Despite House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson's farm and forestry amendment to the climate change bill, agriculture groups are all over the map in their views on the underlying bill that is expected on the House floor today," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

Health Care: $1 Trillion Reform Deal Near

• "Senate health-care negotiators said yesterday they were closing in on a $1 trillion health-care bill that would be fully funded by tax increases, Medicare cuts and new penalties for employers who do not offer health insurance," the Washington Post reports.

• "It has become the trillion-dollar question: can President Obama find that much in spending cuts and tax increases to keep his campaign promise to overhaul the health care system, without adding to already huge deficits? Mr. Obama and the Democrats running Congress are deeply split over the possibilities," the New York Times reports. "House and Senate leaders do not like his ideas but cannot agree on alternatives."

 

Congress: Freshmen Struggle To Keep Pace

• "This summer's reading list on Capitol Hill includes tomes with page counts that rival 'War and Peace' -- and the freshmen are having a hard time keeping up,"Politico reports. "The House votes Friday on the Democrats' 1,201-page climate change bill. Up next is an 850-page outline for health care reform. 'The pace is making many well-intentioned people nervous,' said Rep. Parker Griffith, a first-term Democrat from Alabama."

• "Congress leaves town for the Independence Day recess with partisan stalemates clogging the legislative pipelines in both chambers and leaders searching for ways to change the dynamic before what is expected to be a pivotal work period in July," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "While it is relatively early in the two-year term, the acrimony and wheel-spinning that defined June threatens to spoil the rest of the year and send lawmakers into next year's elections with little to show except battle scars."

Ethics: Sanford Visited Mistress On Public Dime

• "Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina acknowledged Thursday that he visited his mistress in Argentina on a taxpayer-financed trade mission to South America early last summer, an admission adding another layer to a scandal that produced increasing calls for his resignation," the New York Times reports. "Mr. Sanford called questions about the trip to Argentina 'very legitimate' and said he would reimburse its costs. Documents provided by the South Carolina Department of Commerce suggested that they totaled at least $12,000."

• "The House ethics committee is investigating whether five Democratic lawmakers, including two committee chairmen, received improper gifts in travel to Caribbean conferences 2007 and 2008," AP reports. "The committee said it was investigating: Charles Rangel of New York, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee; Carolyn Kilpatrick of Michigan; Donald Payne of New Jersey; Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and Donna Christensen, the delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands."

• "House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) engaged in a shoving match on the House floor early Thursday evening that ended with Obey raising his voice and bellowing, 'I'm not going to approve that earmark!'" Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Waters has been seeking $1 million for an employment center in her district that bears her name, but Obey has decided to ban any 'monuments to me' when it comes to funding project requests this year."

Economy: Fed Scales Back Emergency Loans Programs

• "The Federal Reserve, signaling increased optimism that the economy is improving, is scaling back some of the emergency loan programs it created over the last 18 months to deal with the nation's financial crisis," the Los Angeles Times reports. "But the Fed is still concerned about the fragile state of financial markets and said it would extend several of the same programs until early next year in case they might be needed."

• "For years, supermarkets, drugstores and discount retailers packed their shelves with an ever-expanding array of products in different brands, sizes, colors, flavors, fragrances and prices. Now, though, they believe less is more," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "In the next year or so, these and a few of the other largest retailers are expected to slice the assortment of products in their stores."

• "In the recession following a borrowing binge that sent consumer debt to the highest level ever, Americans are shutting their wallets and building their nest eggs at the fastest pace in 14 years," Bloomberg News reports. "While the trend will put the country's finances in better balance and reduce its dependence on Chinese investment, it may also restrain economic growth in 2010 and beyond, said Lyle Gramley, a senior economic adviser with New York-based Soleil Securities Corp. and a former Federal Reserve governor."

National Security: Iraqi PM Hails Troop Withdrawal

• "Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has taken to calling the withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq's cities by next Tuesday a 'great victory,' a repulsion of foreign occupiers he compares to the rebellion against British troops in 1920. And the Americans are going along with it, symbolically and substantively," the New York Times reports. "American commanders have hewed far more closely to the June 30 deadline for withdrawing combat forces from Iraq's cities than expected only a few weeks ago, according to American and Iraqi officials."

• "In Afghanistan, the bulk of the violence occurs in the country's south and east. In the north, it's a different story: The area is relatively calm. But there are simmering tensions among the ethnic groups in the north, which human rights workers say could increase ahead of Afghanistan's upcoming presidential election," NPR reports. "As travelers cross Afghanistan's Hindu Kush mountain range and start heading north, the war that's being fought in the rest of the country begins to seem a long way away."

• "Key advisers to the Obama administration are warning of a violent summer for Pakistan as its forces prepare to enter the rugged tribal areas of North and South Waziristan for a showdown with the Taliban and al Qaeda," the Washington Times reports. "The two Waziristans form a nexus for Taliban fighters along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. And with the U.S. surge in Afghanistan under way, a Pakistani military success on its side of the border could represent the turning point in a war that has gone badly for all three nations."

• "Two soldiers were killed" today "in the first suicide bombing in Pakistani Kashmir, while three people were killed and seven wounded in two bomb blasts in a militant-infested areas near the Afghan border. Islamist militants have carried out a series of bomb attacks across Pakistan in recent weeks in retaliation for a military offensive in the northwest, but there have been none in Pakistan's part of the disputed Kashmir region," Reuters reports.

• "As Chancellor Angela Merkel prepared to depart for her meeting in Washington with President Obama, the deaths of three German soldiers in Afghanistan thrust Berlin's role in the escalating conflict onto front pages nationwide and back to the forefront of political discourse here," the New York Times reports. "Afghanistan is not likely to top the agenda when Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Obama meet at the White House" today. "But if the military action heats up, and bodies continue to arrive back in Germany, the pressure to cut down on the deployment will become intense, many experts say."

World: Power Struggle Under Way In Honduras

• "Tensions are rising in Honduras after President Manuel Zelaya ignored a court order to reinstate the army chief," BBC News reports. "Mr Zelaya fired Gen Romeo Vasquez after he refused to help with a referendum on constitutional change that could allow the president to seek a second term. Both Congress and the courts have already deemed the planned referendum unlawful."

• "The Obama administration is moving forward with plans to fund groups that support Iranian dissidents, records and interviews show, continuing a program that became controversial when it was expanded by President Bush," USA Today reports. "The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which reports to the secretary of state, has for the last year been soliciting applications for $20 million in grants to 'promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Iran,' according to documents on the agency's website."

Technology: Army Takes Another Look At Social Media

• "Social media tools such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter are forcing Army officials to rethink how they share information with traditional and new media providers, an Army public affairs official said" Thursday "at a workshop about social media," Federal Computer Week reports.

• "The Obama administration could ask Congress for regulatory changes to create 'far-reaching incentives' for prioritizing cybersecurity in the private sector, which controls much of the nation's critical IT infrastructure, a high-ranking Department of Homeland Security official said Thursday," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

Transportation: Overhaul Can Wait, White House Says

• "After rejecting criticism that it is taking on too much, the Obama administration has identified one area where ambitious reforms will have to wait: overhauling the nation's aging, congested and carbon-emitting transportation system," the Washington Post reports.

• Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., "indicated Thursday that her panel is moving toward a simple 18-month extension of the current highway and transportation program, with no new policy initiatives," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

Commentary: Climate Of Skepticism

• The climate bill battle tops the agenda in today's Pundits & Editorials section. Plus: Noonan blames Obama's youth for an overstuffed priority list.

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