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EARLYBIRD

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Debate grows over the White House Hannukah party, and the government's foreclosure relief program is sputtering. Plus: Blackwater is tied to some of the CIA's most sensitive activities.

White House: Debate Grows Over Hanukkah Party Guest List

• "To the dismay of some administration officials, the plans for next week's" Hanukkah "party -- one of the hottest holiday events for the nation's Jewish elite -- have been overtaken by feverish debate over the size of the guest list, the language on the invitations and what this says (or does not say) about" President Obama's "relationship with Jews," the New York Times reports.

• Obama "accepted the Nobel Peace Prize Thursday with an embrace of armed might in the service of a 'just war,' a sharp change in emphasis from his past rhetoric criticizing the foreign policy of the Bush years," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The address set a new tone for his young administration, which been accused by foreign-policy hawks of being too accommodating to overseas powers and too quick to seek favor abroad."

 

Congress: House Expected To Pass Financial Overhaul Bill

• "The House is slated" today "to pass wide-ranging financial overhaul legislation as Democratic leaders look to overcome an effort to scuttle a new federal consumer protection agency," The Hill reports. "One of the most closely watched votes in the debate will come on an amendment sponsored by Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) that would replace the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) with a council of existing regulators. The agency would have power to regulate home loans, credit cards and other financial products and has been fiercely opposed by the financial industry."

• "Taking advantage of a lull in the healthcare debate, the Senate Thursday began considering a nearly $450 billion FY10 spending omnibus package in an effort to complete most of the fiscal year's appropriations business in the next few days." Defense would be all that remains, CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The House passed the package 221-202 earlier Thursday."

• "The House approved legislation on Thursday that would grant Chrysler and General Motors dealerships the right to challenge the companies' decisions to close them in third-party arbitration," the New York Times reports. The provision was part of" the House spending bill. "No Republicans in the House voted for the bill."

 

• "The House ethics committee issued a stern reminder Thursday afternoon to the chamber's aides who have yet to complete their annual ethics training, including the threat of dismissal for staff who fail to comply," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

Energy & Environment: Senators Release Emissions Reduction Framework

• "Three senators crafting a compromise climate bill have endorsed a national greenhouse gas emissions cut of 17 percent by 2020," The Hill reports. "The emissions target was included in a proposed framework on Thursday from Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). It mirrors House-passed legislation and represents the target" Obama "will offer on behalf of the U.S. at the international climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark."

• "The world should at least halve world greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 with rich nations taking the lead, according to a first draft text" today "seeking to break deadlock on a new climate pact at U.N. talks," Reuters reports. "The text offered a range for global cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, of either at least 50, 85 or 95 percent by 2050."

• "EU leaders say they have agreed to commit euro2.4 billion ($3.6 billion) a year until 2012 to help poorer countries combat global warming," AP reports. "French President Nicolas Sarkozy says the offer 'puts Europe in a leadership role in Copenhagen.' All 27 members of the European Union agreed on the figure after two days of difficult talks at a summit in Brussels."

 

• "Interior Secretary Ken Salazar joined the Obama administration's charm offensive in Copenhagen on Thursday -- and took some shots at the Bush administration in the process," Politico reports. "'As much as the world awoke to the dangers of climate change, the political leadership of the United States simply slept,' Salazar said in a briefing at the U.S. center."

Health Care: Bill Stalls While CBO Analyzes Plan

• "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) race to pass a health care bill by Christmas is on hold while the Congressional Budget Office analyzes a compromise proposal that could break an impasse among Democrats over the public insurance option," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Private discussions on additional unresolved aspects of Reid's $848 billion reform package continued Thursday."

• "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed a proposal Thursday that would allow people in late middle age to buy insurance through Medicare, helping to sustain an idea that sprang unexpectedly from the Senate this week," the Washington Post reports. "But the California Democrat reiterated that she would prefer to create government-sponsored coverage for Americans of all ages, and questions linger in the Senate about the politics and policy of expanding Medicare by allowing people ages 55 to 64 to buy into the federal insurance program for the elderly."

• "An amendment to permit the reimportation of cheaper prescription drugs has proved vexing for Senate Democrats and could keep the healthcare debate at a standstill when the Senate returns to the overhaul bill," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who offered the reimportation measure, retaliated Thursday against objections to a vote on his amendment, essentially claiming to hold up the overhaul debate until his amendment gets a vote."

• "Approximately 47 million Americans, or about one in six people in the U.S., were sickened with swine flu from April to mid-November and 9,820 of them died, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday, indicating the new virus spread widely before cresting last month," the Wall Street Journal reports.

Politics: Reid Denounces Senate Republicans' Attacks

• Reid "on Thursday angrily denounced what he called GOP efforts to use the chamber floor to 'embarrass or denigrate' with accusations that he was trying to cancel weekend votes to attend a fundraiser," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

• "Rep. Brian Baird's retirement announcement Wednesday afternoon has undoubtedly made the Washington Democrat's 3rd district seat competitive for Republican strategists looking for House takeover opportunities in 2010," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Within hours of Baird's announcement, one Democratic state legislator joined the race with at least one viable Republican -- a sure sign that a top-tier open-seat race will unfold."

World: Iraqi Prime Minister Criticized In Wake Of Bombings

• "Iraqi lawmakers on Thursday chastised Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for his government's failure to prevent the massive bombings that rocked the capital this week, even as Maliki accused parliament of impeding his ability to improve security," the Washington Post reports.

• "Obama's envoy to North Korea said Thursday that his journey to Pyongyang produced no commitment that the North would return to international talks aimed at ridding the country of nuclear weapons," the Washington Post reports. "But Stephen W. Bosworth, after a three-day visit that marked the first high-level contact between the Obama administration and the government of Kim Jong Il, said his conversations had established a 'common understanding' of the need for negotiations."

• "Afghanistan's Western backers increasingly favor postponing the nation's parliamentary election, scheduled for May, fearing that another traumatic -- and potentially fraud-marred -- campaign will undermine the coalition's counterinsurgency strategy and create a new round of political turmoil," the Wall Street Journal reports.

National Security: Blackwater Tied To CIA Raids

• "Private security guards from Blackwater Worldwide participated in some of the C.I.A.'s most sensitive activities -- clandestine raids with agency officers against people suspected of being insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and the transporting of detainees, according to former company employees and intelligence officials," the New York Times reports. "The raids against suspects occurred on an almost nightly basis during the height of the Iraqi insurgency from 2004 to 2006, with Blackwater personnel playing central roles in what company insiders called 'snatch and grab' operations, the former employees and current and former intelligence officers said."

• "A federal judge has found the Defense Department in contempt of court for failing to videotape the testimony of a prisoner held at Guantanamo Bay," AP reports. "U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler is demanding a detailed explanation of why the Pentagon failed to conduct the taping as she had directed."

Economy: Government Foreclosure Relief Program Faltering

• "The government's foreclosure relief program is sputtering, according to government data released Thursday showing that the pace of help being offered to struggling homeowners slowed last month and many borrowers are at risk of losing the aid they have already received," the Washington Post reports.

• "Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner defended his decision to extend the government's $700 billion financial-sector bailout, telling an oversight panel Thursday that the Obama administration remains committed to a stable financial system," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Geithner said an extension of the program is necessary to facilitate the government's successful exit from it."

• Pelosi "said Thursday that lawmakers will take up an increase in the debt ceiling before leaving Washington," The Hill reports. "Pelosi in a news conference said 'it is our intention' to add a debt ceiling increase to the Department of Defense spending bill. The House voted earlier this year to increase the debt ceiling from $12.1 trillion to $13 trillion, but Pelosi signaled Thursday that the House may increase the ceiling to an even higher level."

Technology: Congress Making Progress On Satellite TV Extension

• "With a Dec. 31 deadline looming, Congress appears to be making progress on a five-year extension of a satellite television law governing the transmission of broadcast signals to customers of DirecTV and the Dish Network," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "According to congressional and industry sources, the Commerce and Judiciary committees in both chambers are trying to reach agreement on a consensus reauthorization measure that would be added to an appropriations bill next week."

• "Federal regulators receive tens of thousands of customer complaints about wireless services every year, but don't do enough to follow up or protect consumers who have problems with their mobile carriers, government auditors found," AP reports. "In a report released Thursday, the Government Accountability Office said the Federal Communications Commission needs to ramp up oversight of the wireless industry and do a better job of enforcing consumer protection rules."

Commentary: The President's Prize

• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, commentators offer congratulations on Obama's Nobel speech.

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