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Obama wrote a letter to Kim Jong Il, and House Dems hope to wrap up today. Plus: Thailand intercepts a weapons shipment from North Korea.

White House: Obama Wrote Personal Letter To North Korean Leader

• "President Obama has written a personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il that was delivered by the administration's special envoy for North Korea during a visit to Pyongyang last week," the Washington Post reports. "State Department and White House officials confirmed this week that envoy Stephen W. Bosworth delivered a letter from Obama for Kim, but they declined to describe its contents."

• "Obama used the backdrop of a suburban Virginia Home Depot Tuesday to press his plans for job creation, the third event in four days in which the president has tried to show his concern for economic woes on Main Street," the Wall Street Journal reports. "But political realities are clouding Mr. Obama's efforts. On Tuesday, House Democratic leaders unveiled a $75 billion job-creation package that doesn't include the two new ideas the president proposed last week: tax rebates for home energy-efficiency renovations -- dubbed 'cash for caulkers' -- and tax credits for small businesses that hire new employees."


• "The United States does not expect to conclude negotiations with Russia on a nuclear arms treaty in time for an accord to be signed later this week when President Obama is in Copenhagen, the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said Tuesday," Bloomberg News reports. "The 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expired Dec. 5, although both countries continue to abide by it."

Congress: House Dems In A Rush To Wrap Up Work Today

• "Democrats are set to do some hyper-legislating today," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "On tap is a $626 billion Defense spending bill loaded with scaled-down patches for unemployment and other benefits; a two-month debt limit increase totaling about $200 billion; a roughly $150 billion jobs package, half paid for with money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program; and a short-term continuing resolution to give the Senate until next week to approve the Defense measure."

• "Key House Democrats asserted Tuesday that their sweeping immigration reform legislation addresses both labor and business needs, but industry groups slammed the measure, saying several provisions could be counterproductive to their interests," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. One main concern: Industry groups wanted to see a targeted guest worker program instead of a lottery for work visas.


• "A key Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives said he believes the estate tax will be repealed as scheduled Jan. 1, as House and Senate negotiators tried to strike a deal on a two-month extension to block repeal of the tax," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D., N.D.) said plans to include a temporary extension of the estate tax in end-of-year defense-spending legislation have been dropped because of Senate opposition."

• Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "is set to try passing a FY10 Defense Appropriations bill, a continuing resolution, short-term debt limit increase and a healthcare overhaul bill before Dec. 25," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The marathon push would probably require the Senate to meet throughout the weekend; it's possible but is a tall order, according to one Republican leadership aide."

Health Care: Lieberman Assures Democrats He's On Board

• "Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) privately assured" Obama "and members of the Senate Democratic Conference on Tuesday that he would likely support the chamber's health care reform bill when it comes to a vote," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Speaking during a full Democratic caucus meeting with the president, Lieberman said he has not enjoyed being on the opposing side during the health care debate, but Senate Democratic leaders' decision to eliminate both a public insurance option and a Medicare expansion from the bill would probably be enough to secure his vote, according to a Senate Democratic source."

• "Some liberals who said they would back the legislation hinted they would do so with disappointment, while liberal activists and House members expressed deep displeasure with the Senate's move to the center," The Hill reports. "Most seemed to agree, however, that passage of the compromise legislation was inevitable."


• "After an intense lobbying effort by the White House and Democratic leaders, the Senate Tuesday evening voted down an amendment offered by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) that could have blown a hole in the financing of the health care reform bill," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Dorgan's amendment would have allowed for the re-importation of prescription drugs, and could have scuttled a deal the pharmaceutical industry made with" Obama "and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to lower prescription drug costs under health care reform."

• "A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds the public generally fearful that a revamped system would bring higher costs while worsening the quality of their care," the Washington Post reports. "A bare majority of Americans still believe government action is needed to control runaway health-care costs and expand coverage to the roughly 46 million people without insurance."

Energy & Environment: Plenty Of Issues Left To Discuss At Copenhagen

• "As world leaders begin gathering" in Copenhagen "to hammer out a climate deal in two days, some key decisions still haven't been made," the Washington Post reports. "It's unclear how to fund a deal that could involve the transfer of billions of dollars from industrialized countries to the developing world; delegates remain at loggerheads over which mechanisms should be employed to reduce emissions; and there is continuing debate about how to monitor compliance with a treaty."

• "Negotiators" at the U.N. climate talks "have all but completed a sweeping deal that would compensate countries for preserving forests, and in some cases, other natural landscapes like peat soils, swamps and fields that play a crucial role in curbing climate change," the New York Times reports.

• "The nation's green-building industry is awaiting billions of dollars in economic-stimulus funding earmarked to make government buildings more energy efficient. But based on the slow pace of allocations thus far, it could take months or years for spending to trickle down to contractors," the Wall Street Journal reports.

Politics: Dems Targeting Reps With New Ads On Financial Regulation

• "While House Democrats are facing their own political headwinds next year, they believe" that last Friday's vote on financial industry regulation "may leave many Republicans vulnerable to attack following the starkest U.S. economic decline since the Great Depression," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Today, the House Democratic campaign operation is unveiling a radio ad targeting five of those Republicans."

• "Democratic strategist Paul Begala, a veteran of the Clinton White House, is coaching House Democrats on how to message when it comes to the economy," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

• "Almost immediately after Rep. Bart Gordon became Tennessee's second House Democrat in two weeks to announce his retirement, state and national GOP operatives began raising the possibility that Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.) could be the next to head for the exit," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "In 2010, he said, 'Come hell or high water you can count me as a candidate' for Congress."

• "After a series of difficult votes this session, an oldie-but-goodie from the 110th Congress is looming over 2010: The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). And it's the quintessential anti-incumbent issue in what's shaping up to be an anti-incumbent year," The Hill reports.

World: Thailand Intercepts Weapons Shipment From North Korea

• "Thai investigators searching cargo seized from a plane from North Korea have found weaponry that includes missiles uncommon in Southeast Asia, adding to suspicions that the arms were destined for the Middle East or elsewhere," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said the cache -- taken from a plane from Pyongyang that stopped in Bangkok late Friday to refuel -- included shoulder missiles as well as large rockets, electronics and fire-control systems."

• "Iran said Wednesday it has successfully tested what it called an upgraded version of its longest-range, solid-fuel missile," AP reports. "State television broke the news in a one-sentence report that gave no details on the test of the Sajjil-2 missile, a high-speed, surface-to-surface missile with a range of about 1,200 miles."

• "Twenty-two people were killed in central Pakistan and eight people died in Afghanistan's capital Tuesday in separate car bombings, both of which were aimed at politicians and blamed on Islamist extremists," the Washington Post reports. "In each case, the politician who was targeted survived the attack. But the explosions showed the reach of insurgent groups in both countries."

National Security: Surge Focus Is On Infrastructure And Police Training

• "The troop surge in Afghanistan will focus on expanding and connecting safe areas of the country, and on revamping the troubled Afghan police, the U.S.-led coalition's day-to-day commander said in an interview," the Wall Street Journal reports. When "asked how he would measure success a year from now," Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez "said the crucial marker would be opening up insurgent-infested roads between Afghanistan's agricultural heartland in Helmand province and the Pakistan border."

• "Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has resisted a direct appeal from President Obama for a rapid expansion of Pakistani military operations in tribal areas and has called on the United States to speed up military assistance to Pakistani forces and to intervene more forcefully with India, its traditional adversary," the Washington Post reports.

Economy: Government Passed On Billions From Citibank

• "The federal government quietly agreed to forgo billions of dollars in potential tax payments from Citigroup as part of the deal announced this week to wean the company from the massive taxpayer bailout that helped it survive the financial crisis," the Washington Post reports. "While the Obama administration has said taxpayers are likely to profit from the sale of the Citigroup shares, accounting experts said the lost tax revenue could easily outstrip those profits."

• "The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, in a response to a lawmaker's questions made public Tuesday, said the United States economy was operating so far beneath its potential that inflation was unlikely to become a problem," Reuters reports.

• "Fourteen days after taking the helm as chief executive of General Motors, Edward E. Whitacre Jr. said the giant automaker, which went through a major bankruptcy restructuring earlier this year, plans to repay loans from the U.S. and Canadian governments by the end of June," the Washington Post reports.

Lobbying: Bank Executives Don't Lay Off Lobbying Tactics

• "When" Obama "emerged from a meeting with banking executives Monday, he seemed to think they'd agreed to change their lobbying ways," Politico reports. "But on Tuesday morning, there was little evidence that the major Wall Street firms planned any changes in their approach to lobbying on financial regulatory reform. "

• "Sources on and off Capitol Hill say the quick life and death of the Medicare buy-in reflects the complex politics and a brutal reality at this stage of the Senate's deliberations, in which there is little time to refine proposals that do not immediately attract the 60 votes needed for health-care legislation to pass," the Washington Post reports. "In the midst of this intricate dynamic, lobbyists for hospitals and doctors launched a broadside to try to kill the idea, focusing on two groups of Senate Democrats they viewed as most susceptible to their message."

Technology: House To Unveil New Technology Security Protocol

• "The House is planning to ramp up its information and technology security protocols next year based on recommendations made by the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) on Tuesday," The Hill reports. "All House staffers who travel outside the territorial United States will be 'required to have their House wireless devices and laptop computers checked by House officials before and after they travel,' according to the CAO."

• "With his industry's fate on the line, National Association of Broadcasters President and CEO Gordon Smith urged Congress Tuesday to preserve free, over-the-air television and not cave to pressure to reallocate the airwaves for broadband connectivity," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

Transportation: Weiner Wants To Open Up Traffic Data Bids

• "In the wake of an Inspector General audit slamming the handling of a nationwide traffic data program, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) is calling on the Transportation Department (DoT) to open up its federal contract for new bids," The Hill reports. "In a Dec. 11 letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood obtained by The Hill, Weiner says the department should sever its relationship with the contractor in charge, In addition, the lawmaker recommends that DoT repossess all government-funded equipment owned by the company and reopen the program's bidding process."

Commentary: Where Is Lieberman's Heart On Health Reform?

• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, Lieberman's motives for opposing an expansion of Medicare are questioned as commentators hash out the role played by campaign contributions.

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