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EARLYBIRD

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Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize, and the House votes to expand the hate-crimes law. Plus: A man in Iran may become the first election protester to be sentenced to death.

White House: Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

• "President Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize" today "for his work to improve international diplomacy and rid the world of nuclear weapons -- a stunning decision to celebrate a figure virtually unknown in the world before he launched his presidential campaign nearly three years ago," the Washington Post reports. "The announcement, which drew gasps of surprise from the audience in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, praised Obama for his 'extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples' during his nine months in office."

• "The Obama administration is in the early stages of a major shift in government powers that may boost the authority of state and local officials on a wide range of policies," The Hill reports. "In executive memos, proposed legislation and public statements, it has struck a markedly different tone on the issue of 'pre-emption' from that of the Bush administration, which" favored "federal regulators."

 

• "Obama continues to extend olive branches to the gay community, but he has yet to take up the big issues that many activists are waiting for," The Hill reports. "Many gay activists say they welcome Obama's gesture of speaking at this weekend's dinner for the Human Rights Commission (HRC), the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization in the country."

• "The White House is racking up hefty bills as President Obama and his aides travel the country on Air Force One to help Democratic candidates raise money, but it's been very slow in ensuring that taxpayers are reimbursed," the Washington Times reports. "Between Jan. 20 and Aug. 31, the White House has recovered $24,000 of the more than $200,000 the Democratic National Committee and party candidates owe the government."

Health Care: Senate Finance Committee To Vote Tuesday

• "The Senate Finance Committee will vote next Tuesday on legislation to revamp the health care system, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, said on Thursday," the New York Times reports.

 

• "Moderate Senate Democrats cast a skeptical eye Thursday on promising" Congressional Budget Office "numbers released regarding the healthcare overhaul proposal from Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus," D-Mont., CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. The CBO score "helped build momentum for the Democrats' effort since scorekeepers have determined other versions of the overhaul bill in the House and Senate would not slow the growth of healthcare spending or reduce the deficit like Baucus' would."

• "House lawmakers are considering adding to their health overhaul bill a tax on insurance providers' windfall profits before the legislation comes to the House floor for a vote later this fall," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The tax would be similar to a proposal in legislation pending before the Senate Finance Committee, although lawmakers said specifics of the tax haven't yet been discussed."

• "The healthcare reform bill that hits the Senate floor will include a government-run public option insurance program, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) insisted Thursday," The Hill reports. "Though the toughest decisions about combining the HELP Committee's bill with a measure from the Finance Committee that lacks a public option lay in front of" Reid, "Harkin made clear that public option supporters have earned the right to insist their views prevail."

• "As the Senate gears up for the next phase of the health care debate, 30 Democratic Senators on Thursday sent a letter to" Reid "demanding that the final bill include a public insurance option," the Roll Call (subscription) reports.

 

Congress: House Votes To Expand Hate-Crimes Law

• "A House vote Thursday put Congress on the verge of significantly expanding hate-crimes law to make it a federal crime to assault people because of their sexual orientation. The legislation would bring major changes to law enacted in the days after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in 1968," AP reports.

• "The House voted Thursday to approve a final $680 billion, FY10 defense authorization bill, 281-146, with most of the 'no' votes cast by Republicans" over "a Senate provision that extends the definition of federal hate crimes to include those targeting sexual orientation and gender identity," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

• "The House ethics committee voted unanimously Thursday to expand the investigation into Rep. Charles Rangel's (D-N.Y.) alleged financial irregularities," The Hill reports. "The panel broadened the jurisdiction of its probe to include amendments he made in August to his financial disclosure records showing at least $600,000 in previously unreported assets, according to an ethics committee statement."

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• "Lawmakers in both chambers introduced legislation Thursday to require the executive branch to make sure other countries reduce trade barriers to United States exports before they are granted preferential access to the U.S. market," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

Politics: Grayson Takes Another Swing At GOP

• "Liberal firebrand Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) torched Republicans on the House floor Thursday afternoon and reiterated that he would not apologize for his remarks last week, when he said the Republican health care plan is for sick people to 'die quickly,'" Roll Call (subscription) reports. "'I'm telling you this, I will not apologize, I will not apologize, I will not apologize for a simple reason: America doesn't care about your feelings,' Grayson said."

Politico profiles the senators who could lose their seats in 2010.

• "Pledging to try to break 'the stranglehold that conservative Republicans' have had over Kansas, Democrat Charles Schollenberger Thursday kicked off his bid for the seat GOP Sen. Sam Brownback will vacate," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Schollenberger said he made the decision to run after touring the state for six months."

World: Iranian May Be First Protester Sentenced To Death

• "An Iranian man arrested in his country's postelection unrest has been sentenced to death, according to reports on a Web site aligned with the reformist movement," the New York Times reports. "If so, it is the first death sentence to be issued in cases involving the hundreds charged in the vast protests that followed the declaration of a landslide victory for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June 12 elections."

• "South Korea and Japan closed ranks on North Korea on Friday, vowing that they would not provide economic aid and would continue to enforce sanctions until they were convinced that the North would abandon its nuclear weapons program," the New York Times reports.

• "At least 49 people have been killed in a bombing in a crowded area of the north-western Pakistani city of Peshawar, officials say," BBC News reports. "More than 100 people have also been injured in the suspected suicide bombing, a regional minister said."

National Security: McChrystal Gives Obama Options In Afghanistan Request

• "The request for troops sent to" Obama "by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan includes three different options, with the largest alternative including a request for more than 60,000 troops, according to a U.S. official familiar with the document," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "Although the top option is more than the 40,000 soldiers previously understood to be the top troop total sought by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. officer in Kabul, 40,000 remains the primary choice of senior military brass, including Gen. McChrystal, the official said."

• "The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved legislation to reauthorize three sections of the so-called Patriot Act that are set to expire at the end of the year, after largely rejecting a series of proposed changes to surveillance laws sought by civil liberties and privacy advocates," the New York Times reports. "The bill would extend provisions that expanded the power of the F.B.I. to seize records and to eavesdrop on phone calls and e-mails in the course of counterterrorism investigations."

• "As it reviews its Afghanistan policy for the second time this year, the Obama administration has concluded that the Taliban cannot be eliminated as a political or military movement, regardless of how many combat forces are sent into battle," the Washington Post reports.

Transportation: FAA Rules Lead To Safer Runways

• "Serious near-collisions between planes on the nation's runways plummeted last year in the most significant drop in a decade, the government announced Thursday," USA Today reports. "The number of cases in which a crash was narrowly averted dropped by more than half in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, from 25 cases in fiscal 2008 to 12, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said." FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt "attributed the decline to an effort begun in 2007 to improve safety on runways."

• "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened an investigation into whether there is a dangerous rust problem with the frames on about 218,000 Toyota Tundra pickups from the 2000-1 model years," the New York Times reports. "The agency said the investigation was prompted by five complaints from consumers who say brake lines were broken as the result of a rust problem with the frame."

• "U.S. airlines and their unions have joined forces to push the" FAA "to let pilots do what was once unthinkable: sleep on the job," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "Though the practice of nodding off midflight in the cockpit is now strictly forbidden by the FAA, U.S. airlines and pilot unions say there is reputable research supporting the notion that so-called controlled napping can enhance safety by making crews more alert during critical, often hectic descents and landings."

Energy & Environment: Interior Department Halts Development Of Drilling Sites

• "The Department of the Interior has frozen oil and gas development on 60 of 77 contested drilling sites in Utah, saying the process of leasing the land was rushed and badly flawed," the New York Times reports.

• "The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday brushed off decisions by a string of high-profile companies to break with the nation's leading business organization over what they considered its backward-looking position on global warming," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Chamber President Tom Donohue said he was 'not particularly worried' about the companies' departure, blaming their actions on an 'orchestrated pressure campaign' by environmental groups."

• "Legislation to expand loans in a Small Business Administration program to help low-income areas and to increase small-business investment in renewable energy won approval Thursday by the House Small Business Finance and Tax Subcommittee," CongressDaily AM (subscription) reports. "The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., would reauthorize funding for SBA's New Markets Venture Capital Program, which is designed to help venture capital firms provide seed money to small businesses in low-income areas."

• "A group of timber and paper supply companies and environmental organizations announced Thursday a pilot project to allow landowners who selectively log their forests to earn carbon credits they can trade on the open market. Such a trading system is part of legislation before Congress that would cap greenhouse gases nationwide," the Washington Post reports.

• "The group of Cabinet secretaries and White House advisers who meet regularly to craft the president's energy and environmental agenda now numbers 13, double what it was during the administration's early days," AP reports. "It's just one of the signs that the administration is stepping up its push to pass energy and climate legislation this year, as the Senate continues to wrangle with Obama's other top domestic priority, health care reform. The House has already passed a bill."

Technology: Telecom Companies Expect More Antitrust Oversight From Obama

• "After eight years of light antitrust scrutiny under a Republican White House, the technology and telecommunications industries are bracing for stepped up oversight by the Obama administration's Justice Department," AP reports.

• "House lawmakers want the Federal Communications Commission to help bring down the volume of television commercials," The Hill reports. "The House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet on Thursday approved a bill that would prohibit television commercials from being excessively loud.... Broadcasters, TV stations and cable and satellite providers would then have one year to purchase the necessary equipment to temper noisy ads."

• "The FCC is stepping up its review into whether incumbent telecommunications carriers such as AT&T and Verizon are overcharging competitors for access to their networks under deregulated rates," CongressDaily AM (subscription) reports. "In a letter this week to Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the agency would issue a public notice in 30 days to seek further comment on special access rates."

Lobbying: Several Agencies Ready To Carry Out Lobbyist Ban

• "Several of the biggest departments in the federal government plan to adhere to the White House prohibition on lobbyists serving on their advisory boards and committees," The Hill reports. "The Hill contacted all 20 Cabinet-level agencies to see if they intend to follow the guidance issued two weeks ago by the White House. Twelve agencies returned messages before press time and all said they would adhere to the guidelines."

• "A coalition of business groups is worried that Senate Democratic leaders will not hold a confirmation hearing on" Obama's "nominee for a key post at the Labor Department," The Hill reports. "Concerned that the nomination of David Michaels to head the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will go straight to the floor, industry groups are lobbying for a committee hearing. The business associations want senators to grill Michaels on how he would address 'ergonomic' workplace injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive-motion ailments."

• "In almost any other congressional debate," Thursday "would have been when powerful special interests open fire on a bill that violates the handshake deals they'd reached with lawmakers," Politico reports. "But as Democrats in both chambers advanced proposals... that conflict with agreements struck with the pharmaceutical and hospital industries, the business groups are calmly riding the wave of reform."

• "Nearly a year after former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested and accused of running state government as a criminal enterprise, legislators have reached a stalemate with a powerful reform-advocacy group regarding limits on political-campaign contributions," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports.

Economy: Senate Dems Agree On Bill To Extend Unemployment Benefits

• "After a week of talks, Senate Democrats agreed Thursday on a bill to extend unemployment benefits to all states, setting up possible Senate passage next week," CongressDaily AM (subscription) reports. "Paid for by continuing the federal unemployment tax through June 30, 2011, the bill extends jobless benefits in 50 states for 14 weeks, with another six weeks of checks in 27 states where unemployment levels averaged over 8.5 percent over the last three months."

• "Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has kept frequent contact with an exclusive group of Wall Street executives since taking the helm at the Treasury, speaking most often with top officials from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. and BlackRock Inc," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "It is to be expected that a Treasury secretary would talk to bankers frequently amid a financial crisis, and Mr. Geithner's contact may have played some role in calming the crisis."

• "The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is questioning the generally positive conclusions in a government-mandated review of Citigroup Inc.'s top management, according to people familiar with the situation," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "Some officials at the agency have expressed doubts about the rigor of the report, which was based partly on interviews of Citigroup executives who were asked to rate the effectiveness of their colleagues, these people said."

• "A year after Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac teetered, industry executives and Washington policy makers are worrying that another government mortgage giant could be the next housing domino," the New York Times reports. "Problems at the Federal Housing Administration, which guarantees mortgages with low down payments, are becoming so acute that some experts warn the agency might need a federal bailout."

Commentary: Pressure Over Rangel

• Democrats are facing increasing pressure to oust Rangel from his House Ways and Means chairmanship in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is called out for "protecting" her colleague.

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