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EARLYBIRD

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Obama preaches cooperation in U.N. speech, and former Kennedy aide expected to be named successor. Plus: GOP seizes on Medicare cuts in health debate.

White House: Obama Asks World To Work With U.S.

• "President Obama challenged other nations to match his efforts to change the United States' relationship with the rest of the world on Wednesday, saying in an address to the United Nations that the task of solving global crises 'cannot be solely America's endeavor,'" the Washington Post reports. "Obama's speech came during a whirlwind week of international gatherings and diplomacy -- a climate-change summit and Middle East meetings on Tuesday; the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council on Wednesday and Thursday; and a Group of 20 meeting of world leaders to discuss the international economy on Friday."

• Obama, "in his first visit to the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, made progress Wednesday on two key issues, wringing a concession from Russia to consider tough new sanctions against Iran and securing support from Moscow and Beijing for a Security Council resolution to curb nuclear weapons," the New York Times reports.

 

Politics: Kirk Expected To Succeed Kennedy

• "Senior Democrats in Washington said Wednesday that they expected Gov. Deval Patrick to name Paul G. Kirk Jr., a former aide and longtime confidant of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, to Mr. Kennedy's seat" today, the New York Times reports. "Mr. Kirk, 71, is now chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation in Boston. Several friends and associates described him as low-key and laconic, a shrewd political strategist who could have run for office himself but decided he preferred a behind-the-scenes role."

• "The Massachusetts Legislature on Wednesday granted" Patrick "the power to appoint a temporary replacement," but "with one catch: when the appointment can be made," The Hill reports. "Lawmakers declined to allow the law to go into effect immediately, meaning Patrick (D) will either have to declare an emergency situation or wait 90 days to name Kennedy's (D) successor."

• "The White House asked New York Gov. David Paterson to step aside at least in part because the administration was asked to intervene by members of Congress and state legislators who raised serious alarms about a potential Paterson drag on the ticket in 2010," Politico reports. "The issue is no small matter in a state with an appointed senator running statewide for the first time in 2010 and more than a half-dozen vulnerable House Democrats -- including five freshmen."

 

• "Politically vulnerable Democrats say Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House leaders aren't offering them the protection from tough votes that they did in the last Congress," The Hill reports. "Conservative Democrats fear that dozens of members could be swept out of their districts in the midterm election next year, and that fear has been intensifying in recent weeks. Between a tough vote on a climate change bill that many don't expect to become law and a leftward push on healthcare legislation, Pelosi's (D-Calif.) critics within her caucus say she's left the so-called 'majority makers' exposed."

Health Care: Focus Shifts To Medicare Cuts

• "Republicans opened up a new front in the battle for the hearts and minds of the all-important senior-citizen voting bloc Wednesday during the Senate Finance Committee's markup of healthcare reform legislation," The Hill reports. "In an odd sort of role reversal, Republicans who traditionally have railed against out-of-control entitlement spending and sought to scale back Medicare are positioning themselves as champions of the program. The $900 billion bill, authored by committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), reduces Medicare spending by $300 billion by cutting payment rates to medical providers and subsidies to private insurance companies in the Medicare Advantage program."

• "Changes" Baucus "has made to his healthcare overhaul mark sparked 'serious concerns' from major health insurance lobbying groups that wrote Baucus Wednesday warning the modifications could 'undermine the shared goals of the broader reform effort,'" CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The joint letter from America's Health Insurance Plans and Blue Cross Blue Shield Association relayed some of the harshest language insurers have used to date as they have attempted to remain actively involved in negotiations around Baucus' mark."

• "Despite hints to the contrary by the drug industry's top executive, pharmaceutical lobbyists are warning that a health care amendment by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) threatens to unravel an $80 billion deal the industry struck with Senate Democrats and the White House," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "At a Wednesday health care panel, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America President Billy Tauzin suggested that his organization will continue negotiating with lawmakers on health care reform legislation and reserve judgment until a final bill emerges."

 

• Pelosi's "push for liberal priorities in a health care overhaul met stiff resistance from her moderate wing on Wednesday, with key centrists predicting the measure would face a difficult route to passage if leaders don't accommodate them," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "But with no solid whip count in hand on the most divisive issues -- the shape of a public insurance option and the inclusion of a millionaires' tax to help fund reform -- Democrats were struggling with a path forward even as leaders pursued an aggressive timetable for wrapping up work on the bill next week."

• "A top-ranking SEIU official says that the powerful union could support a health care bill that doesn't include a public option -- a striking contrast to the more hard-line stance on the issue taken by the new president of the AFL-CIO," Politico reports. "But pressed as to what Service Employees International Union will do if -- as some suggest is inevitable -- a public option is not included in the final version of the legislation, [Secretary-Treasurer Anna] Burger said even getting an imperfect bill is preferable to passing nothing at all. And, she said, this year's efforts may be just a first step."

National Security: Troop Request Expected This Week

• "Defense Secretary Robert Gates will have the U.S. commander in Afghanistan's request for additional troops by the end of the week, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters Wednesday," Politico reports. "The widely anticipated request from Gen. Stanley McChrystal will stay with Gates until" Obama "and his national security team -- busy this week at the U.N. General Assembly in New York and the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh -- are ready to consider it, Morrell said."

• "Away from the hoopla surrounding the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, U.S. officials have been engaged in a delicate dance over Iran," Politico reports. No "public meetings between U.S. and Iranian officials will take place in New York. And no Iranian officials were invited to join a high level meeting Wednesday night at which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her foreign minister counterparts from the U.N Security Council's permanent members... aimed to project their unity and resolve in dealing with the issue of Iran's nuclear threat."

• "The Homeland Security Department is expected to tell House lawmakers today that it has realigned its intelligence office, which came under heavy criticism this year for warning in a report that veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan could be recruited and radicalized by right-wing extremists to carry out violent acts," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Changes to the department's Office of Intelligence and Analysis will be the focus of a hearing called by House Homeland Security Intelligence Subcommittee Chairwoman Jane Harman, D-Calif., who also wants to know how the unit's broad goals outlined this year are being implemented.

World: Honduras Will Suspend Curfew

• "The interim government of Honduras says it will suspend the curfew it imposed on Monday when ousted President Manuel Zelaya made a dramatic return home," BBC News reports. "The authorities, under international pressure to reinstate Mr Zelaya, said the curfew would be lifted in the morning local time."

• "Eight members of a pro-government militia were killed" today "when Taliban militants attacked their convoy in the northwestern district of Bannu, government officials said," the New York Times reports. "Five others were injured in the attack, some of them critically, the officials said. The victims were members of the Jani Khel tribe and part of a 'peace committee,' one of the local self-defense militias that have sprung up over the past few months in some restive areas of northwest Pakistan."

• "Germany's election race has tightened in the final week with polls showing Chancellor Angela Merkel's preferred coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats losing support to her main challenger," Bloomberg News reports. "Merkel leaves Berlin for Pittsburgh today for a summit of global leaders as members of her Christian Democratic Union hit the telephones to maximize turnout in the last 72 hours of the campaign."

• U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown's "office denied the premier had been snubbed by Obama, amid reports that requests for bilateral talks at the United Nations and the G20 summit in Pittsburgh had been denied," Agence France-Presse reports. "Instead of a formal meeting, Brown and Obama held a 15-minute 'walk and chat' in a kitchen of the UN headquarters in New York as both men left the building on Tuesday night, the Daily Telegraph said, citing unnamed sources."

Economy: Dems Temper Financial Regulation Plan

• "Congressional Democrats and the White House are softening some elements of the Obama administration's proposal to overhaul financial-market supervision as they begin a push to win broader support for the bill," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D., Mass.) told lawmakers the plan would no longer require banks to offer customers "plain vanilla" versions of products such as mortgages and credit cards, one of the more populist components of the White House's proposal that had become a lightning rod of criticism from conservative Democrats, Republicans and business groups."

• "Senate Banking Chairman Christopher Dodd's idea for creation of a single national bank regulator with broad powers continues to run into opposition, even though he has yet to publicly define how such an agency would operate," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. Frank "on Wednesday spoke out against the proposal to consolidate federal banking regulators beyond what the Obama administration has proposed by merging the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency with the Office of Thrift Supervision."

• "The government is failing to disclose the full details of how the $700 billion bailout of the financial sector has been implemented, the program's top government watchdog will say on Thursday," The Hill reports. "Neil Barofsky, the Special Inspector General over the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), will testify to Congress that the government's 'basic attitude' on the transparency and accountability of the program 'remains a significant frustration.'"

• "Stimulus money is helping states plug budget holes, but state officials are worried about how they will sustain programs after the federal funds run out, according to a new Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "Around $90 billion of the $787 billion stimulus package was dedicated to state Medicaid programs. The money, which goes out quarterly to the states and is known as FMAP funds, has moved faster than stimulus dollars allocated to many other spending categories."

Energy & Environment: Small Refiners Switch On Climate Bill

• "Executives at small oil refiners who broke with the industry to support the House climate bill now oppose it advancing in the Senate, illustrating the stiffening resistance to the sweeping legislation," The Hill reports. "What upsets oil refiners of all sizes is the amount of emissions allowances they receive under the bill."

• "Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) plans to introduce an amendment" this morning "banning the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide," Politico reports. "The proposal is fiercely opposed by the administration, which sees EPA action as a way to pressure the Senate into passing cap and trade legislation curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Prospects for the bill have dimmed in recent weeks, as the health care debate has taken center stage."

• "A coalition of animal rights and environmental groups is pressuring the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from some of the nation's largest poultry and livestock farms," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The group, which is led by the Humane Society of the United States and includes Friends of the Earth and the Clean Air Task Force, filed a legal petition this week urging the EPA to list concentrated animal feeding operations -- known as CAFOs or 'factory farms' -- as facilities subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act."

Transportation: House Extends Highway Law

• "Members of the House -- including dozens of Republicans -- Wednesday agreed to expedite approval of a three-month extension of surface transportation law and beat back a protest from GOP leaders who wanted a chance to go on record in opposing a possible gas tax increase in a pending six-year bill," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The 335-85 vote easily gave Democratic leaders the two-thirds support they needed to clear the bill under suspension of the rules and now puts the spotlight on Senate Democratic leaders -- who have sided with the Obama administration in wanting to do an 18-month extension before current law expires at the end of the month."

• "The House approved a three-month extension of FAA programs Wednesday, allowing more time for Congress to debate a permanent reauthorization bill for the air transportation agency. The Senate is expected to pass a similar extension," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The House measure, passed by voice vote on the suspension calendar, is the seventh extension bill in two years for the FAA, as differences between the House and Senate over passenger rights, inspections of overseas aircraft-repair stations and other issues have slowed progress on reauthorization."

• "Air-traffic controllers on Wednesday ratified a new labor agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration that will cost the government $700 million over the next three years. The pact marks a big win for one of the government's highest-profile employee unions, which has had a rocky relationship with successive administrations," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "Under the agreement, newly hired controllers would see their base pay increase by an average of roughly $45,000 over the three-year period."

Technology: Subcommittee OKs Cybersecurity Bill

• "The House Science Research Subcommittee unanimously approved legislation Wednesday intended to address the growing threats from hackers, electronic spies and other cyber-criminals," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The bill would require three federal agencies -- the Defense and Homeland Security departments and the National Science Foundation -- to develop a long-range research and development program that would authorize grants and scholarships for training in cybersecurity."

• "The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been inundated with ideas and suggestions for the national broadband plan it is putting together, with 10,000 pages of filings and notes from 25 workshops to sift through," The Hill reports. "But Blair Levin, coordinator of the agency's broadband task force, said he hopes to get still more ideas -- especially good ones -- before the report is due to Congress in about 150 days."

Lobbying: Amendment Could Threaten Dems Deal with PhRMA

• Barney Frank, "who has supported the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) on low-income housing issues, said he would have voted to strip federal funding for the group last week if he had been present. Frank was attending a White House Medal of Honor ceremony for a soldier from his state killed in action when the House approved the funding cuts," The Hill reports. "Frank in a lengthy memo said his support and Judiciary Chairman John Conyers's (D-Mich.) backing of an inquiry by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) into ACORN did not constitute support for the group, and may have been shortsighted."

Commentary: Obama's Health Care Push As 'Classic Mistake'

• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, Karl Rove claims the president's Sunday interview series was "a classic mistake of politicians on a downward-bending arc."

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