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EARLYBIRD

Top News

Sotomayor dodges questions, and the White House takes aim at critics. Plus: Freshman Democrats fret over deficit.

Sotomayor: Nominee Parries Senators' Questions

• "Before nominating Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, President Obama did not ask her about abortion rights or any other 'specific legal issue, she testified" Wednesday "as she sidestepped senators' efforts to plumb her views on matters from campaign finance law to the workload of the court she is likely to join," the Washington Post reports.

• "If repetition were the qualification for a Supreme Court justice," Sotomayor "would already be on the high court," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Her mission Tuesday was to tell senators as many times as possible, with a minimum of variation, that Congress, not judges, makes the law."

 

AP compares Sotomayor's comments on divisive legal issues to those made by John Roberts and Samuel Alito during their confirmation hearings.

• "As the two parties skirmish over" Sotomayor's nomination, "some of their rhetorical fire is aimed not at her but at the next justice President Obama may get to pick," the New York Times reports.

• "The new senator from Minnesota, Al Franken, asked a decidedly unfunny question" Wednesday "when it was his turn to quiz" Sotomayor, the Wall Street Journal reports. "Franken turned to the contentious issue of net neutrality, or rules that would require cable and phone companies to treat legal Internet traffic equally and would prevent the creation of a two-tiered system that would allow speedier deliver of premium services."

 

• "The National Rifle Association (NRA) has questioned" Sotomayor's "fitness to serve on the Supreme Court, a troubling sign for the nominee in what has so far been a smooth confirmation hearing," The Hill reports. "Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, blasted Sotomayor for ruling that the Second Amendment's protection of gun rights does not apply to state and local governments and for being 'evasive' when asked about whether gun ownership is a fundamental right."

• Follow the latest news from Hart 216 at NationalJournal.com's blog The Ninth Justice.

White House: Administration Digs In On Stimulus, Health Care Reform

• "On the defensive over the economy and health care, the White House is shooting back with a double-barreled message for its critics and skeptics. To Republicans who say the stimulus isn't working: Back off. To moderate Democrats wary of health care reform: We're watching you," Politico reports.

• "The Obama administration is attempting to build a 'multi-partner world' in which governments and private groups work collectively on common global problems and in which the United States does not shun dialogue with its adversaries, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said" Wednesday, the Washington Post reports. "Clinton's half-hour speech, billed by the State Department as a 'major foreign policy address,' was intended to provide the intellectual framework for the administration's nascent foreign policy."

 

Congress: Freshman Dems Call For 'Credible' Deficit Plan

• "Freshman Democrats, worried that the ballooning budget deficit is stoking voter anxiety, are urging House leaders to put forward a 'credible' plan this year to cut it," The Hill reports. "They say the need is urgent and a serious deficit-reduction measure must be added by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other leaders to an already jam-packed legislative agenda."

• "More than 250 prominent economists warned that critics of the Federal Reserve are putting 'the independence of U.S. monetary policy... at risk,' and they urged Congress to back off lest it undermine the Fed's ability to manage the economy and thwart inflation," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. Their "petition reflects growing unease among professors, former Fed officials and some investors."

• "Obama's plan to dramatically increase college student aid took its first step Wednesday on what could be a rocky path through Congress," AP reports. House Education Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., "proposed a bill to boost Pell Grant scholarships for low-income students by linking them to inflation for the first time since the program began." Miller's bill would eliminate "a massive program of subsidies for private college loans -- an idea opposed by lenders and their many supporters on Capitol Hill."

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• "The House Ways and Means Committee might have a window this fall to tackle an overhaul of U.S. trade preference programs, a senior panel member said Wednesday," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash, said, "I think we'll see a lull in September and October while health care is worked out in a conference committee, and climate change hopefully will be worked out in a conference committee, so there'll be some room to have hearings and move it forward."

Politics: Cuomo Crushing Paterson In Fundraising

• In New York, "the governor traditionally reigns as the capital's fund-raiser in chief. But that appears to have changed," the New York Times reports. "In the first half of the year, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo trounced Gov. David A. Paterson on the fund-raising trail, taking in $5.1 million -- more than twice what Mr. Paterson got, newly released campaign filings show. The totals reinforced the growing sense of inevitability in Democratic circles that Mr. Cuomo will run for governor next year, and underscored the governor's weakening support."

• "Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), who is the subject of multiple investigations by the House ethics committee, has emptied his re-election coffers of nearly $723,000 to pay legal expenses in 2009, according to Federal Election Commission reports," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

Economy: Commercial Lender's Survival In Doubt

• "The survival of one of the nation's largest commercial lenders, the CIT Group, was thrown into doubt late Wednesday after federal officials rebuffed pleas to rescue the struggling company a second time," the New York Times reports. "Unless a buyer emerges for CIT -- a prospect that seems unlikely -- the century-old lender could founder, even after it received a $2.33 billion taxpayer-financed bailout in December"

• "China's government has turned around its economy far faster than most thought possible, as officials said" today "that growth accelerated to 7.9% in the second quarter," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "Even if the surge moderates in coming quarters, many analysts say China will very nearly meet its target of an 8% expansion for all of 2009. In the first quarter, gross domestic product grew 6.1% from a year earlier."

• "In a bid to revive support for free trade within the U.S., the Obama administration plans to press foreign nations to increase imports of U.S. agriculture and manufacturing -- but not to push so hard as to ignite a protectionist backlash," the Journal also reports. Today, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk "plans to travel to Mon Valley Works, a steelmaking complex in Braddock, Pa., to tell steelworkers that the U.S. will begin regular reviews of countries whose regulations and other practices limit American exports of agriculture and manufactured goods."

Health Care: Taxing Insurers Gets Support In Senate Finance Committee

• "A proposal to tax health insurance companies to raise $100 billion for a healthcare overhaul gained two key supporters Wednesday as the Senate Finance Committee struggled to come up with offsets for the $1 trillion effort," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad," D-N.D., "said he did not think it was unreasonable to ask insurers to contribute, just as other industries that will gain paying customers from health system improvement have done."

• Obama "did his best to personally jolt the process" on health care reform "Wednesday -- delivering Rose Garden marching orders, sitting for interviews with three TV networks and unleashing his political organization to run ads pressing moderate Democrats and Republicans to get on board," Politico reports. "But the president is still waiting on" Senate "Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to coax a bipartisan agreement out of his committee."

• "A party-line Senate committee vote on legislation to remake the nation's health care system underscored the absence of political consensus on what would be the biggest changes in social policy in more than 40 years," the New York Times reports.

• "After weeks of talk, the White House began circulating draft legislation Wednesday spelling out" Obama's "proposal that Congress surrender much of its authority over payment rates for Medicare to a new executive agency," Politico reports. "The proposed five-member Independent Medicare Advisory Council would be charged with making two annual reports dictating updated rates for Medicare providers including physicians, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, home health and durable medical equipment. Congress could block the recommendations only if lawmakers agreed within 30 days on a resolution, and the greater veto power would lie with the White House itself."

World: U.S., Colombia Near Pact On Anti-Drug Flights

• "The United States and Colombia are poised to sign an agreement to transfer anti-drug flight operations from Ecuador to at least three Colombian air bases, a move that has drawn criticism here that it will leave the country even more dependent on Washington," the Los Angeles Times reports.

• "A South Korean court has for the first time accepted a lawsuit brought by North Korean citizens trying to establish their rights to property in the South," the New York Times reports. "Legal experts say it is a harbinger of what reunification might bring and are urging a study of what policies and legislation should govern North-South civil disputes."

• "A senior leader of India's governing Congress party has been arrested after attacking Uttar Pradesh state's policy of compensating low-caste rape victims," BBC News reports. "Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who heads Congress in the state, said the amount of money was so low it was demeaning."

National Security: WH Objects To Ban On Contractors In Interrogation

• "The Obama administration has objected to a provision in the 2010 defense funding bill currently before the Senate that would bar the military's use of contractors to interrogate detainees," the Washington Post reports. "The provision, strongly backed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), describes interrogations as an 'inherently governmental function' that 'cannot be transferred to contractor personnel.' It would give the Defense Department one year from the bill's enactment to ensure that the military had the resources to comply with it."

• "A leading authority on cyberwarfare says the Independence Day attack that knocked some U.S. government Web sites offline was so primitive it could be compared to a modern air force using hot-air balloons instead of planes to attack a foe," the Washington Times reports. "'We should have been able to shrug it off,' James Lewis, project director of the independent blue-ribbon Commission on Cyber Security for the 44th Presidency," said.

• "Five years ago next week, the 9/11 Commission... made 41 recommendations on topics like improving airport screening and creating a national intelligence director. Since then, somewhere between 80 percent and 90 percent of its suggestions have been enacted, according to the commission," Politico reports. "The recommendation that Congress 'create a single, principal point of oversight and review for homeland security' is a notable exception."

Energy & Environment: American Officials Ask China To Do More On Climate Change

• "The top American energy and commerce officials called in speeches" in Beijing "on Wednesday for China to do more to address global warming, contending that the country was particularly vulnerable to a changing climate," the New York Times reports. "Energy Secretary Steven Chu warned in a speech at Tsinghua University, China's top science university, that if humans did not reverse the rising pace of their emissions of greenhouse gases, more people would be displaced by rising sea levels in China than in any other country, even Bangladesh."

• "Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world's biggest retailer, will announce" today "the development of an index that will be used to measure the social and environmental impact of the products it sells in its discount stores," Reuters reports. "The information could be used to one day provide consumers a label assessing how 'green' or 'sustainable' a product is."

• "The European Union called" today "on member nations to ramp up natural gas storage and build more pipelines to cope with any future cutoff in energy supplies from Russia," AP reports. "In January, thousands of homes went without heating and some power plants shut down when gas stopped flowing through pipelines from Russia due to a payment dispute with its neighbor Ukraine."

Lobbying: Shark Attack Victims Push To Protect Predators

• "Nearly a dozen shark-attack victims -- many of them badly scarred or missing limbs -- pressed Congress on Wednesday to protect a sea creature they'd rather not run into again," AP reports. "The group wants to strengthen laws protecting sharks from 'finning,' in which fins are sliced from sharks for their meat, leaving the fish for dead. The growing market for fin meat, a popular soup delicacy in Asia, threatens many shark species around the world, they say."

Technology: GSA Awards Cybersecurity Contracts

• "The General Services Administration's SmartBuy program has awarded five contracts for agencies to use to purchase cybersecurity software," Federal Computer Week reports. "Four of the awards are to resell BigFix's Platform 7 software. The companies winning those awards were Autonomic Resources, Intelligent Decisions Inc., Merlin International and Patriot Technologies. The fifth award went to Winvale Group to resell Gideon's Secure Fusion software."

Transportation: Senate Committee Votes To Extend Transportation Law

• "A key U.S. Senate committee approved on Wednesday part of" Obama's "plan to keep road and highway programs operating as the fund for construction and repairs comes close to zero. The Environment and Public Works Committee voted to extend the current transportation law, which expires on September 30, by 18 months," Reuters reports. "The measure will be combined with one currently under consideration by the Senate Finance Committee to transfer $20 billion into the fund that provides money for highway projects, and then sent to the full chamber for a vote."

• "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday set off a lobbying blitz on Capitol Hill to build support for the stalled highway bill," The Hill reports. "The trade association says the transportation reauthorization would jumpstart the struggling economy by creating jobs to rebuild the nation's crumbling highways, railroads and transit systems. A $500 billion, six-year proposal by Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has the Chamber's backing but has suffered from a lack of momentum among lawmakers concerned about the cost of the bill."

Commentary: Who Gets The Bill For Health Care Reform?

• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, the New York Times says it "seems proper" for the wealthy to pay for health care reform. But the Los Angeles Times says everyone benefits, so everyone should pay.

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