White House: Administration To Scale Back In Afghanistan
• "Senior White House officials have begun to make the case for a policy shift in Afghanistan that would send few, if any, new combat troops to the country," the Washington Post reports. Instead, the focus would be on "faster military training of Afghan forces, continued assassinations of al-Qaeda leaders and support for the government of neighboring Pakistan in its fight against the Taliban."
• "In the aftermath of what appears to be the worst natural disaster on American soil since Hurricane Katrina, President Barack Obama called American Samoan Del. Eni Faleomavaega (D) on Thursday to ask for an on-the-ground assessment of U.S. recovery efforts," The Hill reports.
• "Vice President Joe Biden is pushing cabinet members to hit one more stimulus target before the year is over. And for the first time, he's set a specific spending goal," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Biden wants about $299 billion -- 60% of the $499 billion for spending on projects and aid -- out the door by the end of the year."
Congress: House Dems Have Been Waiving Transparency Rules
• On at least two dozen occasions, "House Democratic leaders this year have... waived transparency rules aimed at providing members with enough time to read bills before they vote on them," The Hill reports. The votes have included measures on "wage discrimination, climate change and children's health insurance, according to statistics culled by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit group."
• "Democrats abruptly postponed agreement on an estimated $42.8 billion Homeland Security budget Thursday after a House vote betrayed continued nervousness among rank-and-file lawmakers over the transfer of any Guantanamo detainees into the U.S., even for the purpose of prosecution," Politico reports. "A June war funding bill already bars the administration from relocating prisoners permanently into the U.S. but the White House and Justice Department have sought to retain the discretion to bring detainees in and out of the U.S. and hold them in American prison facilities during" trials.
• "The House agreed Thursday to essentially freeze spending on energy and water projects next year after pouring tens of billions of dollars into them as part of last winter's economic stimulus plan," AP reports. "Lawmakers voted 308-114 to provide $33.5 billion in the budget year that started Thursday for programs including renewable energy research, Army Corps of Engineers water projects, nuclear weapons safety and security and environmental cleanup."
• "Appropriators, late again in passing a federal budget by the start of the fiscal year, are now eyeing an end-of-October deadline," The Hill reports. "Whether the appropriation bills move as quickly as Democrats hope depends on the Senate. While the House has passed all 12 spending bills, the Senate has passed just six."
Health Care: Senate Finance Committee Clears Affordability Hurdle
• "The Senate Finance Committee leaped over a considerable hurdle to passing its sweeping healthcare reform legislation late Thursday night via a bipartisan amendment designed to make health insurance more affordable for people with moderate incomes," The Hill reports. "Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) -- a key liberal vote -- and Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) -- the panel's only GOP swing vote -- joined forces on an amendment that would significantly lessen the burden on people who cannot afford health insurance."
• "As the Senate Finance Committee finalizes its healthcare overhaul plan," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "and aides are working to merge the Finance plan with the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's version, fueling Democratic hopes that a fused bill can quickly reach the Senate floor, CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.
• The Finance Committee on Thursday "engaged in a spirited debate about whether the measure is 'riddled' with tax increases that would violate President Obama's campaign pledge not to raise taxes on middle-class Americans," the Washington Post reports. "Republicans cited that vow in attempting to strip billions of dollars in fees and taxes from the package."
• "More than 660,000 seniors next year will lose the private Medicare plans they now have because some insurers are dropping coverage in response to tougher federal requirements," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Most of those beneficiaries are enrolled in a type of Medicare Advantage plan called Private Fee for Service, where enrollment has surged from about 820,000 three years ago to more than 2.44 million today."
Politics: Democratic Strategists Newly Optimistic In Gubernatorial Races
• "For the first time in months, Democratic strategists are voicing optimism about their chances in the New Jersey and Virginia governors' races -- and some believe the path to victory will come from vilifying the Republican opposition," The Hill reports. "In New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has spent months attacking former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R), taking shots at everything from his policies to his record to his personal behavior and weight."
• "The contest between Sen. Arlen Specter [D] and former Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., remains tight, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Toomey garners 43 percent of the vote, compared to 42 percent of the vote for Specter. In a face-off against Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak, Toomey takes 38 percent to 35 percent for Sestak."
• The GOP wanted U.S. Airways Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, famous for his successful emergency landing on the Hudson River this year, to run against Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) in the district that includes his hometown of Danville, Calif. But Sullenberger was not interested, The Hill reports.
• "President Obama will travel to Connecticut Oct. 23 to participate in a fundraiser for Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Dodd faces a competitive election race next year. Five Republicans including former Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn., are vying for the right to face Dodd next November."
World: Iran Agrees To Have Nuclear Fuel Enriched In Other Countries
• "Iran agreed to transfer the bulk of its known nuclear fuel to other countries to enrich it, Western officials said" on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reports. "The officials said the surprise move could temporarily reduce Tehran's potential to make bombs, but analysts cautioned that the Iranians merely may be seeking to defuse pressure for sanctions while continuing their nuclear program."
• "In a startling shift, the Palestinian delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council dropped its efforts to forward a report accusing Israel of possible war crimes to the Security Council, under pressure from the United States, diplomats said Thursday," the New York Times reports. "The Americans argued that pushing the report now would derail the Middle East peace process that they are trying to revive, diplomats said."
• "A court in military-ruled Myanmar rejected opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's latest bid for freedom" today, "turning down the Nobel Peace laureate's appeal of her most recent sentence of house arrest, her lawyer said," AP reports. "Suu Kyi was convicted and sentenced in August for briefly sheltering an uninvited American at her home earlier this year, in a verdict that drew international condemnation and ensured that she would not be able to participate in elections scheduled for next year."
Economy: Fed Should Have More Regulatory Power, Bernanke Says
• "The chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben S. Bernanke, told skeptical lawmakers on Thursday that the Fed should be put in charge of regulating the nation's biggest financial institutions," the New York Times reports. "But in a nod to critics who have expressed alarm about the Fed's immense power during the financial crisis, Mr. Bernanke said responsibility for monitoring broader risks in the financial system should go to a council of regulators."
• "A court-appointed examiner investigating Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.'s bankruptcy has been exploring whether the Federal Reserve improperly cut in front of other creditors owed money in the $613 billion bankruptcy case, records show," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "The examiner is investigating... how the Federal Reserve and the New York Fed -- which lent Lehman $46 billion in cash and securities before its bankruptcy filing last September -- were paid promptly and in full, while tens of billions of dollars in other debts were left to be sorted out."
Energy & Environment: Senate Climate Bill Will Ease Customers' Energy Costs, Boxer Says
• "Senate Democrats will initially devote 70 percent of the pollution allowances in their new climate measure to making it easier for people to pay their energy bills, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer said in an interview to be aired Sunday on C-SPAN," the Washington Post reports. "Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced legislation this week with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) aimed at limiting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions nationwide."
• "Efforts to convince rich nations to toughen emissions cuts have failed to make much headway at climate talks in the Thai capital, the U.N. said" today, Reuters reports. "Delegates from about 180 nations are meeting in Bangkok to try to narrow differences on ways to broaden and deepen the fight against climate change."
Lobbying: Ensign May Have Broken Ethics Rules For Mistress' Husband
• Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., arranged for Douglas Hampton, husband of his mistress, "to join a political consulting firm and lined up several donors as his lobbying clients, according to interviews, e-mail messages and other records. Mr. Ensign and his staff then repeatedly intervened on the companies' behalf with federal agencies, often after urging from Mr. Hampton," the New York Times reports. "Several experts say those activities may have violated an ethics law that bars senior aides from lobbying the Senate for a year after leaving their posts."
• "Organized labor is turning to House Democrats to oppose a tax on high-cost insurance plans that is under consideration to help pay for healthcare reform," The Hill reports. "Unions are blasting the idea in the Senate Finance Committee bill, as many union members would be affected because they either have expensive insurance to cover dangerous professions or negotiated for better benefits instead of higher wages."
• "Still jittery that lawmakers might revive a proposal to tax sugary beverages to help offset costs of a healthcare overhaul, a coalition of beverage and food makers vows to continue a multimillion-dollar anti-tax advertising campaign until the bitter end," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.
• "Leaders at smaller trade groups worry they could be particularly hurt by a new White House ban on lobbyists serving on advisory committees," The Hill reports. "They argue that their organizations do not have the staff or the money to hire more employees to get around the new rule. Executives at these associations often do double duty, managing the trade group and lobbying on their industry's behalf."
Technology: Private Sector May Foot Bill For National Broadband Network
• The Federal Communications Commission "wants the private sector to pick up a large chunk of the tab for a sweeping national broadband plan that could reach $350 billion -- a strategy that could prove risky if companies balk at regulatory mandates, experts warned," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "'Without investment from the private sector to build the 21st century network for all Americans, we won't be able to achieve our goal,' FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski emphasized during an agency hearing Thursday."
• "Commerce Secretary Gary Locke on Thursday proposed changes to Cold War-era export controls on U.S. high-technology goods that manufacturers complain hurt their efforts to boost overseas sales," Reuters reports. "He proposed eliminating licensing requirements to export certain 'dual-use' high-tech goods that have both civilian and military applications to 'allies and partner nations.'"
Transportation: No More Texting While Driving For Federal Employees
• Obama "on Thursday signed an order banning federal workers from text messaging while driving on official business or using government vehicles," Reuters reports. "'With nearly three million civilian employees, the federal government can and should demonstrate leadership in reducing the dangers of text messaging while driving,' said the executive order."
Commentary: Geneva Review
• Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section has mixed reaction to how successful the meeting with Iran and other world leaders was Thursday.