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EARLYBIRD

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Obama to hold bipartisan meetings on Afghanistan, and Dems see hope on health care reform even as Senate Finance Committee delays vote. Plus: North Korea starts restoring nuclear facilities.

White House: Obama To Meet With Congressional Leaders On Afghanistan

• "President Obama will meet with top congressional leaders from both parties" today "to discuss a war in Afghanistan that now appears to be at a potential tipping point," CNN reports. "The meeting comes amid the Obama administration's comprehensive review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan."

• "Republicans are criticizing" Obama "for his decision not to meet with the Dalai Lama this week," The Hill reports. "They say the decision not to meet with the spiritual leader of Tibet during his visit to Washington sends the wrong message to Tibet, China and the world on human rights."

 

• "President Obama will speak to a gathering of gay rights activists this weekend" at the annual Human Rights Campaign dinner, "a day before thousands of people are expected to march on Washington in a demonstration calling for greater legal protections for gays, lesbians and transgendered Americans," the New York Times reports. "Many prominent gay and lesbian activists have been questioning the president's commitment to their issues."

Health Care: Senate Finance Vote Delayed, But Dems See Hope

• "Senators learned Monday that a committee vote on health-care reform will be pushed back to later this week, and perhaps into next week, as they await an estimate on how much the overhaul would cost," the Washington Post reports. "But if the news of the delayed vote disappointed them, Democratic leaders in the Senate took heart from pro-reform statements from some high-profile Republicans, including former Senate majority leader Bill Frist and former health and human services secretary Tommy G. Thompson."

• Obama's "remarks on health care reform Monday had the imprimatur of so many Rose Garden events that have come before it -- only this time, the president and the 150 white-coated physicians who sat before him were actually engaged in a very local grass-roots marketing pitch," Politico reports. "Obama sought to associate his health care plan with some of the most trusted figures in the debate, who, in turn, agreed to speak favorably of the president's plan and picked up media coverage in markets across the country by appearing at the White House."

 

• Obama "this week is set to become the central player in Senate Democratic leaders' push to enact health care reform by the end of the year, a role the administration has been preparing for over the past several weeks," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Senior White House officials are scheduled to be in the room throughout negotiations to merge competing Senate health care bills from the Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees, with the expectation that they will make key decisions to mediate disagreements."

• "The health insurance industry is battling back against a move by the Senate Finance Committee last week that it argues will shrink the number of people who will have insurance coverage under healthcare overhaul legislation," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "America's Health Insurance Plans is pushing the argument with senators merging the chamber's two overhaul bills, as well as moderate members, that a weak individual mandate will lead to unintended consequences, including higher premiums."

Congress: Appropriations Debates Continue On Quicker Schedule

• "The Senate Monday began consideration of the $64.9 billion, FY10 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill, which is $7.27 billion above the FY09 level, excluding funding provided in the $787 billion economic stimulus package enacted in February," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "said he hopes the Senate can finish the bill 'as quickly as possible.' Votes on amendments to the measure could come as early as today."

• "Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill said it appears unlikely that Congress will block a bill to be introduced" today "that would allow same-sex marriages in" the District of Columbia, the Washington Post reports. "D.C. Council leaders have vowed to expedite the bill and said they hope to put it to a final vote before Christmas."

 

• "The Justice Department has expanded its case against former Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), adding five new corruption charges," The Hill reports. "Prosecutors added insurance fraud and racketeering accusations in a second superseding indictment filed in late September. It is the second time the government has added charges to the original indictment, first filed in February 2008."

Politics: Supreme Court Begins New Term With Sotomayor

• "The Supreme Court began its new term Monday with an inquisitive new justice and a case from Maryland about how long police must honor a suspect's request for an attorney," the Washington Post reports. "Justice Sonia Sotomayor displayed no reticence on the first day of her first term on the court; in the two cases on the docket, she asked as many questions and made as many comments as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr."

• "Republican campaign efforts are 'far ahead' of where they were the year before the party took back the House in 1994, the leader of the GOP's midterm campaign efforts said Monday," The Hill reports. "Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas) said that in such areas as fundraising and candidate recruitment, the House GOP's 2010 election campaign is ahead of where the party was at the same point in the 1994 cycle."

• "New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, who has trailed his Republican challenger all year, has caught Christopher Christie in his bid for a second term, according to a poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind," Bloomberg reports. "The survey of 667 likely voters shows Corzine leading Christie by 1 percentage point, 44 percent to 43 percent."

National Security: White House Walks Narrow Line On Terror Policies

• "The White House has been charting a delicate course as it attempts to turn the page on Bush-era anti-terrorism policies," the Washington Post reports. "Even as Obama wages a war in Afghanistan that he has called critical to curbing terrorism, his administration is trying to defend itself from criticism by former vice president Richard B. Cheney and other Republicans for casting aside what they say are critical tools for protecting the United States."

• "A string of successful operations recently killing or capturing high-level figures from Al Qaeda, particularly in the tribal areas of Pakistan, has fueled the argument inside the Obama administration about the necessity of a substantial troop buildup in Afghanistan, officials said," the New York Times reports. "Administration officials said the United States had eliminated more than half of its top targets over the last year, severely constricted Al Qaeda's capacity to operate and choked off a lot of its financing."

• "Greg Craig, the top in-house lawyer for" Obama, "is getting the blame for botching the strategy to shut down Guantanamo Bay prison by January -- so much so that he's expected to leave the White House in short order," Politico reports. "But sources familiar with the process believe Craig is being set-up as the fall guy and say the blame for missing the deadline extends well beyond him."

World: North Korea Close To Restoring Nuclear Facilities

• "North Korea is in the final stage of restoring its nuclear facilities, a news report said" today, "as leader Kim Jong Il expressed a conditional willingness to end Pyongyang's boycott of international nuclear talks," AP reports. "South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities reached the conclusion after scrutinizing about 10 atomic facilities in North Korea since April when the communist regime vowed to restart its nuclear program in anger over a U.N. rebuke of its long-range rocket launch."

• "Pakistani Taliban militants claimed responsibility" today "for a suicide bomb attack on a U.N. office in which five people were killed, saying the United Nations was a U.S. slave," Reuters reports. "A suicide bomber dressed as a paramilitary soldier blew himself up in an office of the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) in the capital, Islamabad, Monday killing five members of staff including an Iraqi."

• "Greece's new socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou was sworn into office" today "and was to name a slimmed down cabinet to back up his promise to rescue the country's economy," Agence France-Presse reports. "Papandreou, whose party won a landslide victory in an election on Sunday, was to radically cut the current 16 ministries in line with pledges to focus on development and environment-friendly policies and citizens' rights, reports said."

Energy & Environment: Obama Requires Emissions Cut In Federal Agencies

• "The federal government will require each agency to measure its greenhouse-gas emissions for the first time and set targets to reduce them by 2020, under an executive order signed by President Obama Monday," the Washington Post reports. "The measure affects such things as the electricity federal buildings consume and the carbon output of federal workers' commutes.... Each agency must report its 2020 emission targets to the Council on Environmental Quality within 90 days."

• "Apple announced Monday it would leave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of the group's stance against climate change as the nation's premier business lobby continued to hemorrhage members," The Hill reports. "Apple is the fourth company to leave the Chamber over global warming. A fifth, Nike, withdrew from the Chamber's board but remains a member of the group."

• "The economic crisis has made it easier to halt the growth in greenhouse gases released by power plants, factories and cars, the International Energy Agency said in a report that revised its forecasts from November," Bloomberg reports. "Yearly emissions from energy use may peak at 30.9 billion tons 'just before' 2020, the Paris-based agency said today in a report presented to United Nations climate negotiators in Bangkok. That's 4.9 percent less than the IEA's previous estimate of a 32.5 billion-ton peak in 2020. Both scenarios assume nations will adopt climate-protection measures."

Technology: FTC Rules Bloggers Must Disclose Payments

• "Bloggers who offer endorsements must disclose any payments they have received from the subjects of their reviews or face penalties of up to $11,000 per violation, the Federal Trade Commission said Monday," the Washington Post reports. "The agency, charged with protecting consumer interests, had not updated its policy on endorsements in nearly three decades, well before the Internet became a force in shaping consumer tastes. The new rules attempt to make more transparent corporate payments to bloggers, research firms and celebrities that help promote a product."

• "A group of U.S. House of Representatives Republicans urged the Federal Communications Commission to conduct a market analysis before proposing a new rule to maintain an open Internet," Reuters reports. "In a letter Monday to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, 20 Republicans asked the FCC if the agency will be examining networks, services, consumer electronics equipment, applications, as well as cable, wireline, wireless, satellite and broadband to determine if a rule to govern Net neutrality is necessary."

Lobbying: Kirk Defends White House Ban Of Lobbyists On Advisory Boards

• U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk on "Monday defended a new White House policy that would trim federally registered lobbyists from the ranks of agency advisory boards and commissions, a move that has drawn a rebuke from the trade community," CongressDaily AM (subscription) reports. "The Obama administration policy, first announced Sept. 23 by Norm Eisen, special counsel for ethics and government reform, on the White House blog, is part of the administration's efforts to clamp down on lobbyists' influence in Washington."

• SEIU "is coming under fire from conservatives because of its long-standing financial and leadership ties to ACORN, a liberal organizing group recently embarrassed by videos filmed covertly," the Washington Post reports. "Some Republicans say federal agencies that recently cut ties with ACORN -- the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- should also consider severing their relationship with the Service Employees International Union. The SEIU and ACORN have long worked closely together, with the union paying the association more than $3.6 million in the past three years and sharing some office locations and leaders with the group."

• "A mining company owned by Goldman Sachs and two private equity funds is in line to get a $3 million earmark for work at a rare earth elements mine in Mountain Pass, Calif. -- raising questions as to why Congress would take on some of the risk for a bailed-out investment giant that's already making a profit," Politico reports. "Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) inserted the earmark for the mine into the House Defense appropriations bill, and backers say it's a legitimate national security concern. The military needs rare earth elements, and China -- which is rich in them -- has threatened to cut off exports. But some government watchdogs question whether taxpayers should be asked to prop up a project that is already funded by wealthy investors who expect to make a profit."

• "The political committees of Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) have been accused of scheming to conceal a contribution from Pickering to Vitter in violation of federal campaign finance laws," Politico reports. "The Louisiana Democratic Party plans to file a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission today, charging that Barbour's PAC essentially filtered a $5,000 campaign donation from Pickering's PAC to Louisiana Vitter's 2010 reelection committee to make it look like the contribution didn't come directly from Pickering."

Economy: Obama Says New Jobs Programs Are Not Second Stimulus

• "With unemployment expected to rise well into next year even as the economy slowly recovers, the Obama administration and Democratic leaders in Congress are discussing extending several safety net programs as well as proposing new tax incentives for businesses to renew hiring," the New York Times reports. "But officials emphasized that a decision was still far off and that in any event the effort would not add up to a second economic stimulus package, only an extension of the first."

• "Venture capitalists breathed a collective sigh of relief Thursday when a proposal from the House Financial Services Capital Markets Subcommittee did not seek to treat them like private equity firms or hedge funds," The Hill reports. "Venture capital investors had been lobbying against such a measure, saying that being required to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission like hedge funds and other private pools of money was unnecessary and expensive."

• "The Federal Reserve announced steps that could loosen the grip of the biggest credit-rating firms on the structured-finance industry, as the central bank looks to take a more-active role assessing the risk of a key lending program," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "The Fed on Monday said it plans to allow others besides the three largest rating firms... to participate in its Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, or TALF, which was launched earlier this year to kick-start the market for consumer and business lending."

• "The Obama administration's pay czar is planning to clamp down on compensation at firms receiving large sums of government aid by cutting annual cash salaries for many of the top employees under his authority, according to people familiar with the matter," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "Instead of awarding large cash salaries, Kenneth Feinberg is planning to shift a chunk of an employee's annual salary into stock that cannot be accessed for several years, these people said. Such a move, the most intrusive yet into corporate compensation, would mark the government's first effort to curb the take-home pay of everyone from auto executives to financial traders."

• "U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Tuesday called on the International Monetary Fund to provide rigorous surveillance to spot new investment bubbles and keep country foreign exchange policies in line with goals to rebalance the global economy," Reuters reports. "In remarks prepared for delivery to the IMF and World Bank annual meetings" in Istanbul, "Geithner said the IMF needed to help police economic and currency policies among the Group of 20 developed and emerging countries."

Transportation: FAA Helps Airports Buy Safety Equipment

• "The Federal Aviation Administration is taking steps toward helping airports buy equipment that will spot dangerous debris on their runways," the New York Times reports. "The agency published an advisory circular on Sept. 30 that lays out the specifications the equipment must meet. The systems can use cameras or radars, and be fixed or mobile. Airports can apply for federal grants to buy systems that meet the specifications, setting the stage for the first systems to be in place next year."

Commentary: Obama Takes It On The Chin

• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, Bob Herbert worries Obama doesn't understand the severity of joblessness in America, while George F. Will blasts the first couple's "vain" Olympic pitch in Copenhagen.

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