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EARLYBIRD

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Dalai Lama visits White House, while conservative conference begins in Washington. Plus: Eight American missionaries freed in Haiti.

White House: Obama Meets with Dalai Lama

• "President Barack Obama will host the Dalai Lama at the White House" today "despite China's warning that the meeting with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader could further damage strained ties," Reuters reports. "Obama will not appear in public with the Dalai Lama and -- like his White House predecessors -- will deny him the symbolism of meeting in the Oval Office. Such distinctions will signal to Beijing that the Tibetan monk is not being received as a political leader."

• Obama "will push through his bipartisan debt commission by executive order" today, "but it remains to be seen whether the panel will actually have Republican members," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

 

Economy: Obama Admits Stimulus Has Not Created Jobs

• "The Obama administration is acknowledging that its program of spending cuts and tax breaks has yet to ease joblessness, and White House officials are increasingly engaged in shaping the details of new legislation to boost job creation," the Washington Post reports.

• "Senate Republicans led by" Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., "are drafting an alternative to financial-regulation legislation that" Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., "is developing after bipartisan talks collapsed this month, two Shelby aides said," Bloomberg News reports. "Shelby's plan will likely aim to create a consumer protection unit within a new bank regulator instead of the standalone agency sought by Dodd and" Obama, "said the aides, who requested anonymity because the talks are private."

• "The U.S. Treasury said its foreclosure-prevention program has cut mortgage payments for about 947,000 households, at least temporarily," the Wall Street Journal reports. "That was the number of households benefiting from easier loan terms at the end of January through the Obama administration's Home Affordable Modification Program, known as HAMP."

 

Congress: House Republicans Challenge Democrats to Jobs Debate

• "House Republicans are taking a page from the president's playbook by challenging Democrats to a televised debate about job creation," Politico reports. "The top two Republicans in the House sent a letter Wednesday daring their counterparts," Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., "to engage in a public discussion over ways Congress can provide a boost to the economy."

• "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., lacks the votes to begin debating his targeted jobs bill, according to sources monitoring the legislation," The Hill reports. "Reid needs 60 votes to open debate on the $15 billion jobs bill. The vote is scheduled for Monday, when lawmakers return from the Presidents Day recess."

Health Care: More Dems Pushing Reconciliation

• "Four more Democratic Senators and one Independent have added their signatures to a letter urging Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to pursue reconciliation as a means to passing comprehensive health care reform," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

• "Although the White House is challenging congressional Republicans to put forward their own healthcare reform plan before next week's summit, a group of House Democrats stopped short" on Wednesday "of predicting House and Senate Democrats will themselves be able to reach a unified approach by then," CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports.

 

• "Congressional Republicans see a chance for political gain in" Obama's "televised health care summit next week, even though the president will be running the show," AP reports.

• "A proposed tax on high-cost health insurance plans, an element of Democratic health-care legislation that has been strongly opposed by organized labor, would actually fall equally on nonunion plans, according to a new analysis," the Washington Post reports.

Politics: Conservative Political Action Conference Begins

• "The American Conservative Union" today "will kick off the 37th annual Conservative Political Action Conference -- an event long known for red-meat rhetoric and patriotic fervor," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

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• On the eve of the conference, "several well-known Republicans, including Edwin Meese III, the former attorney general, have signed a new document called the Mount Vernon Statement," the New York Times reports.

• "Since Richard Nixon was president," CPAC "has provided the American Right with an annual occasion for self-evaluation," Politico reports. Today, "when some 10,000 activists gather in Washington for this year's conference, they will find themselves part of a conservative movement significantly different than it was during the Bush administration, or even in 2009."

• "The special election to replace Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., will be May 18 -- the same day as Pennsylvania's primary election," The Hill reports. "Gov. Ed Rendell (D) announced the special election date Wednesday, saying it will save money to hold the two elections concurrently."

World: Eight Americans Freed In Haiti

• "Eight of 10 U.S. missionaries jailed in Haiti on charges of child abduction were released on their own recognizance Wednesday pending a continuing criminal investigation and a possible trial in Haitian courts," the Washington Post reports. "The eight, looking sweaty after three weeks in prison, were driven to the airport in a U.S. Embassy van."

• "Taliban militants battling coalition troops in Marjah, in Afghanistan, are running out of ammunition, NATO officials say," BBC News reports. "A BBC correspondent in Kandahar says that from eavesdropping on Taliban communications, NATO understands militants have called for support."

Energy & Environment: U.N. Climate Chief Resigns

• "The U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer has resigned to join a consultancy group as an adviser, the U.N. climate secretariat said" today, "two months after a disappointing Copenhagen summit," Reuters reports.

• "Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has been floating a draft plan to boost 'clean energy' production, including going further to help nuclear energy than the renewable electricity production mandates passed by the House and a key Senate panel last year," CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports.

• The New York Times reports on how environmental groups are becoming more disenchanted with Obama in light of his recent vocal support of nuclear energy and offshore drilling.

• "A new type of nuclear reactor -- smaller than a rail car and one tenth the cost of a big plant -- is emerging as a contender to reshape the nation's resurgent nuclear power industry," the Wall Street Journal reports.

Transportation: TSA Begins Swabbing Air Travelers' Hands

• "The Transportation Security Administration will begin randomly swabbing U.S. travelers' hands and baggage for explosives beyond security checkpoints at airports starting" today, "the latest increase in aviation security measures after the failed bombing attempt of a jetliner on Christmas, the agency announced Wednesday," the Washington Post reports.

• "Fewer airline crashes occurred around the world in 2009 than during the previous year, but deaths were up, an industry group said" today, AP reports.

• "A subpoena from Congress could be next for Toyota's top executive after he declined a committee appearance Wednesday," The Hill reports. "The office of the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said that Issa and committee Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) would take further steps to get testimony from Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda on his company's recent safety recalls."

• "Toyota Motor Corp. and U.S. regulators are looking into possible steering problems in the company's popular Corolla compact, the latest quality issue to surface in the wake of two recalls that covered millions of vehicles and forced Toyota to halt U.S. sales of eight models," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports.

Technology: Census Software Is Full Of Defects, Watchdog Says

• "A key software system for the 2010 Census is behind schedule and full of defects, and it will have to be scaled back to ensure an accurate count of the U.S. population, according to a government watchdog report," USA Today reports.

• "A prominent consumer advocate warned" on Wednesday "that an FCC proposal to bring ultrafast broadband service to 100 million households over the next decade -- at the sizzling speed of 100 megabits per second -- would leave up to 30 million households without access to the technology," CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports.

• "More than 75,000 computer systems at nearly 2,500 companies in the United States and around the world have been hacked in what appears to be one of the largest and most sophisticated attacks by cyber criminals discovered to date, according to a northern Virginia security firm," the Washington Post reports.

• "Democrats and Republicans have tapped into the Google-Apple fight to debate whether the $787B stimulus is a success or flop," The Hill reports. "The parties released Web ads on Wednesday parodying commercials that have become staples of the two competing tech giants' marketing."

National Security: Pentagon Signals Fewer Contract Cancellations

• "The Pentagon's top weapons buyer, Ashton Carter, indicated on Wednesday that defense officials aren't planning another slew of high-profile contract cancellations over the next five years," The Hill reports. "Instead, Carter said that he works on a daily basis to protect the programs that are performing well, because even for a successful weapons contract there is 'no shortage of people that are out to get it.'"

• "A former U.S. Army sergeant became the latest person to plead guilty in a sprawling bribes-for-contracts scheme in Iraq in 2005 and 2006 that has ended the careers of five military officers," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Terry Hall, 44 years old, of Snellville, Ga., pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Birmingham, Ala., to multiple counts of bribery, conspiracy, money-laundering and wire fraud."

Commentary: Charting The Future Of The Tea Party

• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, Karl Rove advises members of the Tea Party to "keep their distance" from both major parties.

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