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EARLYBIRD

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Obama is avoiding meetings that might upset the Chinese leadership, and Senate Dems push through a judicial nominee. Plus: The U.N. denies secret nuclear negotiations with Iran.

White House: Obama Avoids Politically Charged Meetings In China

• "Whether by White House design or Chinese insistence, President Obama has steered clear of public meetings with Chinese liberals, free press advocates and even average Chinese during his first visit to China, showing a deference to the Chinese leadership's aversions to such interactions that is unusual for a visiting American president," the New York Times reports.

• "Vice President Joe Biden has asked officials tasked with overseeing the stimulus-tracking website Recovery.gov to correct statistics suggesting Recovery Act funds had been sent to nonexistent congressional districts, according to a spokesman," Politico reports. Biden, who Obama asked "to perform an oversight role as 'sheriff' of the stimulus program, was briefed Tuesday on reports of flawed job-creation numbers."

 

• "In a rare public rebuke, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs issued a sharply worded statement from China" Tuesday "expressing dismay and objection to an Israeli" decision to build Jewish homes near "a Palestinian village with many residents fighting Israeli demolition orders," Politico reports.

Congress: Senate Democrats Quash GOP Filibuster Of Judicial Nominee

• "Senate Democrats beat back a GOP filibuster of the nomination of David Hamilton to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday, voting 70-29 to begin debate on the federal court appointee," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "The bipartisan vote came after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pleaded with Republicans to allow nominations to go forward without an extended debate."

• "Government officials on Tuesday briefed key lawmakers on the deadly shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, and are slated to provide more updates on Wednesday," The Hill reports. "The closed-door briefings provided by Army and FBI officials on Tuesday did little to quell a widening partisan chasm over Congress's role in the investigations."

 

• "Two days before his 92nd birthday, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) will be feted on the Senate floor today as the longest-serving Member of Congress," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Members will adopt a resolution honoring Byrd," who "surpassed the previous record on his 20,774th day of service in Congress," by delivering "floor speeches to honor their colleague."

Health Care: Reid To Share Bill Details With Dems

• "Senate Majority Leader Reid will share the details of his long-awaited healthcare overhaul bill with his Democratic Caucus today, according to his spokesman, Jim Manley," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Reid expects to receive final CBO scores before the 5 p.m. meeting, Manley said Tuesday."

• White House budget director Peter Orszag "pushed back against the notion that the health-care overhaul will add to the deficit and said next year's budget will provide a path to a more sustainable budget gap," the Wall Street Journal reports.

• "Faced with high health insurance costs, a North Carolina brokerage passed the buck on to its employees, a Texas public relations firm switched from group insurance to stipends, and a Missouri travel agency let its workers walk away instead paying for insurance," AP reports. "Across the country, businesses already strapped by the economy to turn a profit are sacrificing or scaling back employee health insurance plans because of their escalating costs."

 

• "As a nationwide shortage of swine flu vaccine stretched into its sixth week, federal health officials defended how they handled the program" in a congressional hearing Tuesday, "arguing that the roots of the shortage were beyond their control and that they had made the right decisions on matters they could affect," the New York Times reports.

Energy & Environment: U.S., China Inch Closer On Emissions Goals

• "Buried in the text of Tuesday's joint declaration between President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao was a hopeful clause about climate talks: The Obama administration is likely to offer emission-reduction targets at next month's climate summit, as long as the Chinese offer a proposal of their own," the Washington Post reports.

• However, "even as the two countries inched closer to taking action on climate change, they did not commit to specific targets for curbing greenhouse gases -- a failing that experts say effectively kills the chances for a binding international treaty in United Nations climate talks next month in Copenhagen," Politico reports.

• "Reid Tuesday said Democrats will try to move a climate and energy bill early next year as part of a larger effort to address the economy. 'We're going to try to do that sometime in the spring,' Reid said about the climate bill," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

Economy: Facing A Faltering Economy, Dems Promise Jobs Bill Before 2010

• "With Congressional Democrats in near-panic amid forecasts that unemployment will remain high through next November's midterm elections, a party leader said... that the House will pass a new 'jobs bill' before Dec. 18," the New York Times reports.

• "A growing number of global leaders are urging China to look to its long-term interests and allow its tightly controlled currency to rise. But they are encountering reluctance from a government still very much worried about the economy in the short term," the Wall Street Journal reports.

• "Congressional Democrats want struggling workers and homeowners to receive money from the $700 billion Wall Street bailout," which "conflicts with the Obama administration's idea of dedicating some of the money toward reducing the deficit," The Hill reports. "The calls from Capitol Hill" are coming "as voters hear Wall Street banks announcing record bonuses while the unemployment rate for October hit 10.2 percent."

• "Top Obama administration officials on Tuesday announced a new federal task force to combat financial fraud after deciding that the number and complexity of investigations linked to the economic crisis require a more coordinated response from government agencies," the Washington Post reports. "Created by executive order, the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force targets fraud related to mortgage lending and modification, securities law, stimulus spending and the government's bailout of the financial sector."

• The inability to save some banks with bailout money, puts "taxpayers at risk of losing as much as $5.1 billion invested in the banks since" the Troubled Asset Relief Program "was launched in October 2008," the Wall Street Journal reports.

Politics: Steele Tells GOP Candidates Not To Expect Free Money

• "Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, sensing momentum riding with his party for the first time since 2004, is looking to play a vital role in the 2010 midterm elections, but it might not be the role other Republicans hope to see," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "'Sorry, I'm not an ATM,' Steele said Tuesday, dashing the hopes of those who see shifting money to the GOP campaign committees as the best way the national committee can help in next year's races."

• "The Anti-Defamation League, in a report released this week, has asserted that 'a current of anti-government hostility has swept across the United States' since" Obama was elected, the New York Times reports. "The study cites the Tea Party movement and the at times rowdy health care town halls that occurred over the summer as examples of the increasingly anti-government climate. But it also takes aim at one prominent media figure: Glenn Beck."

• "Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison [R] may have won the backing of former Vice President Dick Cheney in her race for Texas governor," but "her drive to unseat Republican Gov. Rick Perry remains an uphill battle," the Wall Street Journal reports.

World: U.N. Denies Report Of Secret Meeting About A Nuclear Deal With Iran

• "The United Nations nuclear watchdog has rejected a newspaper report Tuesday that U.N. and Iranian officials held secret negotiations about a nuclear deal," Dow Jones reports. The Times of London "reported that secret negotiations had been held to try to seal a deal that would persuade world powers to lift sanctions and allow Iran to retain the bulk of its nuclear program in return for cooperation with the U.N. inspectors."

• "Two and a half years after it was started, the European Union's police training mission in Afghanistan is understaffed, lacks adequate security and transportation, and has yet to develop a uniform training program," the New York Times reports. "Training of the Afghan Army and police is considered crucial to the ability of foreign troops to eventually leave Afghanistan, where a resurgent Taliban is trying to topple the Western-backed government."

• "A United Nations summit has ended in Rome after making little headway toward reducing hunger in a world with enough resources to feed all," AP reports. "The three-day conference saw nearly 200 countries pledge to help farmers in poor nations grow enough to feed their people," but "in the first hours delegates at the Food and Agriculture Organization summit rebuffed U.N. calls to commit to billions of dollars of assistance annually."

National Security: Pakistani Offensive Illustrates Problems For Afghanistan Strategy

• A Pakistani military offensive that dispersed, but didn't eliminate, Taliban militants illustrates "the problems facing the Obama administration as it enters its final days of a decision on its strategy for Afghanistan, the New York Times reports. "Success in this region, in the remote mountains near the Afghan border, could have a direct bearing on how many more American troops are ultimately sent to Afghanistan, and how long they must stay."

• "Obama directly acknowledged for the first time" today "that the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay will not close by the January deadline he set," the Washington Post reports. "Obama refused, however, to set a new deadline."

• "Retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark urged members of Congress Tuesday to adopt an exit strategy for U.S. forces in Afghanistan," the Washington Times reports.

Transportation: Senate Leaders Push To Extend Law

• "Senate transportation leaders in both parties are pressing their caucus leaders to overcome objections from fiscal conservatives and find time for quick debate this year on a six-month extension of surface transportation law," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

• "Ford, Subaru and Volkswagen sit atop the insurance industry's annual list of the safest new vehicles, according to a closely watched assessment used by car companies to lure safety-conscious consumers to showrooms," AP reports. "The Virginia-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded its 'top safety pick'" today "to 19 passenger cars and eight sport utility vehicles for the 2010 model year."

• "Michael R. Bennett is not a doctor. But he played one when he signed off on thousands of drug tests for aviation and transportation companies, federal officials said Tuesday as they announced that his company had been banned from doing further tests for the industry for five years," the New York Times reports. "Mr. Bennett's company, Workplace Compliance Inc., based in North Carolina, was hired to provide a medical review of thousands of drug tests in recent years for employers who are regulated by the Department of Transportation."

Technology: Telecom Overhaul Faces Criticism

• Reps. Rick Boucher, D-Va., and Lee Terry, R-Neb., held a hearing Tuesday on legislation "aimed at overhauling the universal service fund, a multibillion-dollar federal program that subsidizes telecommunications service in low-income and rural areas," CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports. While their draft bill has "the backing of some key panel members and industry stakeholders, there are plenty of skeptics bemoaning its impact and demanding revisions."

• "Microsoft Corp has been ordered by a Chinese court to stop selling versions of its Windows operating systems that include fonts designed by a local company, citing a violation of licensing agreements," Reuters reports. "The ruling, issued by Beijing's No. 1 Intermediate People's Court on Monday, may signal a new challenge for international and domestic software makers struggling with piracy in China -- newly assertive local firms ready to take their own IP claims to court."

Lobbying: GOP Wants AARP to Rescind Its Endorsement Of Health Bill

• "House Republicans want the AARP to rescind its endorsement of comprehensive health reform legislation after a government report showed it could cause some providers to stop accepting Medicare patients," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio "and other Republican leaders wrote to Barry Rand, AARP's chief executive officer, to 'strongly urge you to reconsider your endorsement' of the health reform bill the House passed Nov. 7."

• "National Catholic leaders this week ratified the church's official position in the ongoing health care debate, reiterating their tough stance against abortion rights and on other hot-button issues as the legislation makes its way through the Senate," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "At the annual fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a group that has come under fire for lobbying heavily for anti-abortion measures in health care reform, church officials defended their positions and the pressure they have put on Capitol Hill leaders."

• "Native American advocates are vowing to keep up the fight after the Supreme Court this week opted against reviewing a nearly two-decade-long challenge to the Washington Redskins name. The court didn't comment on why it declined to reconsider a lower court's ruling that the plaintiffs took too long to file the case," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

Commentary: Obama's Sphere of Influence

• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, Rep. Bart Stupak defends his abortion amendment, the Harvard Medical School dean grades health care reform, and some columnists worry Obama's international star has begun to fade.

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