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EARLYBIRD

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Vice Presiden Biden goes to Israel while Israelis expand into West Bank. Plus: Graham offers Guantanamo deal.

White House: Bidens Travel To Israel

• "Vice President Joe Biden and his wife left Washington on Sunday evening to embark on a weeklong trip in the Middle East," The Hill reports. "Biden's mission is to 'discuss the full range of bilateral and regional issues' with Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority."

• "President Barack Obama plans to nominate retired Army Major Gen. Robert Harding to head the Transportation Security Administration after his first pick withdrew under political pressure, an administration official said Sunday," Reuters reports.

 

• "The Obama administration plans to crack down on civil-rights infractions in school districts and university systems, including alleged disparities in the disciplining of white and black students," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The campaign will essentially put an enforcement stick behind the carrot of the administration's $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, which holds out the promise of extra federal funding if states revamp their education policies."

Health Care: Battle Resumes In Congress

• "The battle over health care is set to reignite this week as Congressional Democrats eye an Easter recess deadline for moving a final reform package to" Obama's "desk and Republicans once again endeavor to erect a bicameral blockade," Roll Call reports.

• "Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) predicted dire consequences for the Senate if Democrats move forward with a tentative plan to try shut down GOP amendments during this month's expected debate on a health care reconciliation bill," Roll Call reports.

 

• House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's "leadership of the House Democratic Caucus might not be in 'chaos' -- as" Minority Leader John Boehner "buoyantly sought to describe it last week -- but she certainly has hit a rough patch just as she is trying to scrape together votes for healthcare reform," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

• "Abortion continued to loom Sunday as the thorny issue that could paralyze the momentum of healthcare reform efforts in the home stretch," The Hill reports. "Across the Sunday morning shows, lawmakers took sides over whether the final healthcare bill contains language that would allow people receiving government subsidized healthcare to obtain an abortion, and a White House official accused abortion opponent Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) of being "misinformed" about the Senate bill."

Energy & Environment: Kerry Cleaves To Climate Bill

• "In an already challenging election year for the majority, Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) rush to pass a climate change bill has many Democrats scratching their heads and charging that their 2004 presidential nominee could further imperil vulnerable Members this fall," Roll Call reports.

• The plan by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) to reclaim the Everglades "is instead on track to rescue the fortunes of United States Sugar," the New York Times reports.

 

Economy: Frank Says Consumer Protection A Must-Have

• "House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank," D-Mass., "said he might scrap the regulatory overhaul legislation and start over if the Senate fails to approve a strong consumer-protection authority," Bloomberg News reports.

• "White House adviser Paul Volcker said it's too soon for U.S. policy makers to withdraw the stimulus measures and interest-rate cuts used to fight the worst slump since the Great Depression," Bloomberg News reports.

Congress: Pelosi Considering Earmark Ban

• "As they try to reclaim the ethical high ground during a difficult stretch, House Democratic leaders are considering a dramatic move: declaring a party-wide ban on earmarks this year," Roll Call reports. "The idea, floated by" Pelosi "in a leadership huddle Tuesday, is for House Democrats to outflank their Republican counterparts, who have mulled and rejected such a moratorium in recent years."

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• "Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) is raising the bar on freezing lawmaker salaries this week as she continues her push to garner support for her bill that would cut congressional pay by $8,700 next year on top of denying members their automatic cost-of-living increase," The Hill reports.

Politics: Massa Criticizes Ethics Probe

• "Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) says the House ethics committee is investigating him for inappropriate comments he made to a male staffer on New Year's Eve -- and that he's the victim of a power play by Democratic leaders who want him out of Congress because he's a 'no' vote on health care reform," Politico reports.

National Security: Graham Floats Guantanamo Deal

• Graham "says that if the president agrees to try alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four accused henchmen in military tribunals, he will press fellow Republicans to vote to close the Guantanamo Bay prison," AP reports.

• "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived on an unannounced visit to Afghanistan" this morning "to meet with President Hamid Karzai and NATO commanders, and to review plans for a major American-led offensive into the Taliban heartland of Kandahar," the New York Times reports.

• "Iraqi authorities counted votes" today, "a day after a parliamentary election that Islamic militants tried to disrupt with attacks that killed 38 people," Reuters reports. "Preliminary results were not expected for another day or two in a poll that Iraqis sickened by years of violence hope will help bring stability and better governance as U.S. troops leave."

World: Israel Expands West Bank Construction

• "U.S.-mediated indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians will be a last chance to keep the Middle East peace process alive, the Palestinian chief negotiator said" today, Reuters reports. "In news that coincided with the fresh push for peace, Israel said it approved building 112 new Jewish homes in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Ilit."

• "Some 500 people, including many women and children, are now reported to have died in a weekend religious clash near Nigeria's city of Jos, officials say," BBC News reports. "They said three mainly Christian villages near Jos were attacked from nearby hills by people with machetes."

Technology: Obama Will Attend NASA Forum

• Obama "will join space experts at a conference in Florida next month to discuss the administration's 'new vision' for NASA, the White House announced Sunday," The Hill reports.

• "Seeking to exploit the Internet's potential for prying open closed societies, the Obama administration will permit technology companies to export online services like instant messaging, chat and photo sharing to Iran, Cuba and Sudan, a senior administration official said Sunday," the New York Times reports.

Lobbying: Industry Finding It Hard To Affect Reconciliation Process

• "Industry stakeholders that have spent the past year working overtime to influence almost every aspect of the massive health care reform bill are now struggling to put their imprint on a final product that likely will be shaped by the arcane budget reconciliation process," Roll Call reports.

• "A trade association for foreign-owned U.S. subsidiaries has hired a former Democratic Party lawyer to lobby on campaign finance reform legislation working its way through Congress," The Hill reports.

Commentary: Reconciliation's Real Purpose Questioned

• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, the Wall Street Journal wonders if reconciliation is actually a shell game intended to convince the House to pass the Senate's bill.

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