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EARLYBIRD

Top News

Obama threaded the needle in North Korea negotiations, and Hillary Clinton visits Kenya. Plus: Stimulus money flowing slower than expected.

White House: Obama Was Careful In Arranging Journalists' Release

• "President Barack Obama walked a careful line in arranging the release of two American journalists imprisoned in North Korea, sending former President Bill Clinton but keeping his distance to deflect GOP criticism," The Hill reports. "A congressional source briefed on Clinton's negotiations told The Hill that the Obama administration asked Clinton to meet with Kim Jong-il after the North Korean leader rejected the administration's offer to send former Vice President Al Gore."

• "Obama's latest mission in Indiana is to show that the costly stimulus plan he lobbied for is producing tangible help," AP reports. "His stop in Wakarusa, Ind.," today "is part of a concerted economic campaign that also will see Vice President Joe Biden and four Cabinet secretaries holding events in five states."

 

Health Care: Dems Preach Unity

• "Obama urged Democratic senators on Tuesday to persevere in trying to get a bipartisan deal on health care, but left open the possibility that they might have to pass a bill with only Democratic votes if Republicans stood in the way," the New York Times reports. "At lunch with Democrats at the White House, Mr. Obama vowed to respond to Republican attacks on his plan, which aims to guarantee insurance for all Americans while slowing the explosive growth of health costs."

• "Senators focused their comments Tuesday on bringing down healthcare costs and homed in on the insurance industry as the target for improvement," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The House has taken a similar tack against the private insurance industry in its recess talking points."

• "After days of negotiations and hours upon hours of committee votes, the House healthcare bill comes back to what is essentially a committee of one: Speaker Nancy Pelosi," The Hill reports. "It's up to her, working with fellow leaders and the House Rules Committee, to meld three drafts of the healthcare bill: the liberal version from the Education and Labor Committee, the centrist Blue Dog compromise from the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Ways and Means plan with a tax Pelosi (D-Calif.) already wants to change or maybe even scrap."

 

Lobbying: $52 Million Spent On Health Care Reform Ads

• "The increasingly heated fight over health-care legislation is saturating the summer airwaves, with groups on all sides of the debate pouring tens of millions of dollars into advertising campaigns designed to push the cause of reform forward, slow it down or stop it in its tracks," the Washington Post reports. "Nationwide, more than $52 million has been spent this year on health-care reform-related ads, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, setting the stage for what may be a record-breaking legislative battle."

• "The health insurance industry is fighting back against intensified Democratic attacks and vowing to 'correct the record' on its role in healthcare reform, its chief lobbyist said Tuesday," The Hill reports."The health insurance lobby, aware of its low public standing and the general antipathy of Democrats toward its industry, has put on a humble public face during the course of the healthcare reform debate. But strong anti-insurer rhetoric from Democrats struggling to win over a skeptical public could wake the sleeping giant."

• "For the insurance industry, long an opponent of health care reform, it was a striking change: with a new administration coming to Washington, insurers agreed to abandon some of their most controversial practices, like denying coverage to applicants with pre-existing medical conditions," the New York Times reports. "One of the main architects of the friendly approach, Karen M. Ignagni, the industry's chief lobbyist, personally pledged to President Obama that insurers would not stand in the way of a sweeping overhaul this time."

• "A coal and utility industry coalition has launched a major campaign pushing industrial and farm state Democratic senators to boost coal-friendly provisions in the Senate climate and energy bill," Politico reports.

 

Congress: Senate Approves Agriculture Appropriations Bill

• "The Senate Tuesday approved the FY10 Agriculture Appropriations bill after approving an amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to add $350 million to the legislation to increase dairy support prices," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The Senate bill includes $23.7 billion in discretionary funding. It will ultimately be reconciled in a conference with the House, which passed a $22.9 billion FY10 Agriculture Appropriations bill in early July."

• "The Senate on Tuesday began the final leg of Supreme Court hopeful Sonia Sotomayor's 10-week confirmation process with Democrats and Republicans laying down rhetorical markers for a two-day floor debate that will do nothing to change the outcome," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

Politics: Dems Seek Candidate For McHugh's Seat

• "Democratic leaders from 11 New York counties will meet Monday to pick their candidate to replace GOP Rep. John McHugh, who is on the verge of confirmation as Army secretary," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "With McHugh's confirmation -- and resignation from the House -- likely before the Senate leaves at the end of the week for the August recess," the pick "would fill the field for a special election likely to be held in conjunction with the state's primary in September or the November general election."

• "GOP Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Lynn Westmoreland... will climb into a rental car later this month for a series of trips to parts of the country where Republicans haven't been particularly welcome lately," Politico reports. Besides battleground districts, "the pair will also make stops in some Southern districts where the GOP rarely fields a serious contender -- places like eastern North Carolina and central Tennessee."

• "Former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz is mulling a run for Congress in Florida as a Republican, a GOP strategist said Tuesday," AP reports. "Holtz could decide in the next several weeks whether to seek the central Florida congressional seat held by Democrat U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, said the strategist who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to talk about the matter."

Economy: Stimulus Money Trickling In Slowly

• "Stimulus spending on infrastructure projects is moving slowly and many projects won't get started before the summer construction season ends, complicating the Obama administration's efforts to tout the impact of the $787 billion economic recovery act," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The General Services Administration has decided how to spend $1 billion on federal building upgrades, but only about 1% of that money has been spent."

Van Jones, the Obama administration's green jobs czar, "heartily embraces" the idea "that the environmental movement can be harnessed to boost economic prosperity and cure urban ills," Politico reports.

National Security: Republicans Blast Plans To Move Detainees

• "Two congressional Republicans on Tuesday pushed back against plans being considered by the Obama administration to transfer Guantanamo Bay detainees into facilities in Michigan and Kansas," The Hill reports. "On a conference call with reporters, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas and Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan said they were blindsided by multiple media reports over the weekend that detainees might be moved to facilities in Leavenworth, Kan., and Standish, Mich."

• "At the end of July, the House approved nearly $200 million for the Air Force to buy three elite Gulfstream jets for ferrying top government officials and Members of Congress," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "The House Appropriations Committee, at its own initiative, added to the 2010 Defense appropriations bill another $132 million for two more airplanes and specified that they be assigned to the D.C.-area units that carry Members of Congress, military brass and top government officials."

World: Clinton Opens African Trip In Kenya

• "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opened her African trip Tuesday in" Kenya, "where she is expected to reiterate the support for good governance and sustainable development that" Obama "expressed in his brief visit to Ghana, in West Africa last month," the Wall Street Journal reports.

• "With hundreds of protesters gathering and riot police out in force to meet them on the streets of Tehran, hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the oath of office Wednesday, beginning a second term in a bitterly divided Iran," CNN reports.

• "The global A/H1N1 swine flu pandemic has claimed 1,154 lives since the outbreak was identified in April, data published by the World Health Organization showed Wednesday," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "The Geneva-based health agency also said that the number of laboratory-confirmed cases stood at 162,380 worldwide as of July 31."

Energy & Environment: Reid Pledges 'Cash For Clunkers' Extension

• "While it appears stalwart GOP Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and John McCain (Ariz.) won't filibuster" a $2 billion extension for the "cash for clunkers" program, "Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed a fast-track procedural motion Tuesday and is negotiating with Republicans to bring the bill to the floor," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

• "Environmentalists and chemical manufacturers don't often agree. But on Tuesday, environmentalists and industry leaders called on Congress to change the way that the country protects children from toxic chemicals," USA Today reports.

• "With the fight over health care reform absorbing all the bandwidth on Capitol Hill, Democrats fear a major climate change bill may be left on the cutting-room floor this year," Politico reports. "A handful of key senators on climate change are almost guaranteed to be tied up well into the fall on health care. Democrats from the Midwest and the South are resistant to a cap-and-trade proposal. And few if any Republicans are jumping in to help push a global warming and energy initiative."

Technology: Bill Would Outlaw Circumvention Of Caller ID

• "Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has a warning for scam artists who circumvent caller ID technology with misleading and fraudulent information: Congress has your number," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Legislation sponsored by Nelson, which the Senate Commerce Committee plans to mark up today, would make it a crime to 'spoof' caller ID content, slapping fraudsters with fines of $10,000 per violation."

• "Marine Corps officials have banned using social-networking Web sites on the service's networks due to the security risks associated with the Web 2.0 tools, according to an order published on the Marine Corps Web site," Federal Computer Week reports.

Transportation: DOT Plans 'Distracted Driving Summit'

• Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood "on Tuesday announced a plan for a 'distracted driving summit,' an action that safety advocates say is a shift in the federal government's recognition of the dangers of behind-the-wheel multitasking," the New York Times reports. "The action by the executive branch on the issue comes a week after several senators proposed withholding federal highway money from states that fail to ban texting while driving."

• "The strange story of the sacking of Amtrak's inspector general is getting even stranger. When Fred Weiderhold Jr. suddenly retired this summer, POLITICO has learned, Amtrak agreed to pay him more than $310,000 in exchange for his signature on a separation agreement that drastically limited what he could say about the circumstances of his departure," Politico reports.

Commentary: Blame Game

• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., defends talk radio against charges of fear-mongering on health care, while Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas wants Reid to stop making excuses.

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