Washington Extra – A late start

November 18, 2010

obama_gmIt must be more than a little frustrating to win the Nobel Peace Prize for your best intentions — ridding the world of nuclear weapons – and then struggle to even get the START Treaty ratified this year. Not surprising, then, that President Barack Obama told his deputy to work “day and night” to get this thing through.

But whatever the temptation to throw a little egg on the president’s face, many security analysts still find it amazing to see Republicans blocking a treaty that the U.S. military so strongly backs. Welcome to bipartisan Washington, again, I guess.

Despite the uneven start to the week, Wednesday was not a bad day for Obama by any means.

The president was able to celebrate GM’s successful blockbuster initial public offering, by implication a victory for his controversial bailout of the automobile industry. The offering cut the government’s stake in the company to 26 percent from 61 percent and raised more than $20 billion, with investors betting on a positive future for the automaker which so nearly went out of business. Obama said taxpayers would end up recovering more from General Motors than his administration spent on the bailout, adding that a million jobs were saved and many more were now being created.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will travel to auto town Kokomo, Indiana next week to celebrate. The rescues of the banking and auto industries certainly didn’t make great politics in the midterm elections, but with much of the money coming back to the public purse, “bailout” might not be such a poisonous word in the 2012 campaign.

The other better news for the Democrats was the fact that they finally seemed to get their act together on taxes, after weeks of seeming to flounder without a clear strategy. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi will first present the middle class tax cuts to the Senate and House respectively for a vote, before a separate vote on the cuts for wealthier Americans. They may not win the Senate vote, but at least Dems reckon they will be able to pin any failure to get a deal squarely on their rivals.

Here are our top stories from Washington today…

Obama: Russia treaty is national security imperative

President Obama ramped up his push for the Senate to pass a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia, calling it a national security imperative that the pact be ratified this year. “The stakes for American national security are clear and they are high,” Obama told reporters, sitting with former Republican Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at his side.

For more of this story by Jeff Mason, read here

Jobless benefits extension fails in U.S. House

Millions of jobless Americans could see unemployment benefits run out in coming weeks after an effort to extend them failed in the House of Representatives. House Democratic leaders said they would take up the measure again, but Congress has little time before the benefits expire on Nov. 30. Lawmakers leave Washington next week for the Thanksgiving holiday, and the Senate has not scheduled a vote.

For more of this story by Andy Sullivan, read here.

Democrats plan vote on middle class tax cuts

Democrats said they would vote to extend Bush-era tax cuts for the lower and middle classes only, setting up a clash with Republicans over the issue. The moves end days of handwringing by Democrats as they struggled to find a common strategy ahead of a Dec. 31 deadline for expiration of tax cuts.

For more of this story by Kim Dixon and Richard Cowan, read here.

For more on Democrats’ and Obama’s negotiations on the tax cuts, click here.

Obama, Biden head to auto city in wake of GM IPO

President Obama and VP Biden will travel to Kokomo, Indiana, is home to several automobile plants next week, the White House said, in the wake of General Motors’ successful stock offering. Major employers include Chrysler LLC and the auto parts supplier Delphi Corp.

For more of this story by Patricia Zengerle, read here.

US factory, jobless data show some economic strength

A closely watched gauge of jobless benefits hit a two-year low last week, suggesting the economy’s recovery was gaining speed. The improving economic picture was further bolstered by a report showing a measure of future economic activity increased 0.5 percent in October.  While the data is the latest to show the economy shaking off a summer slowdown, it is unlikely to deter the Fed from buying $600 billion of government debt.

For more of this story by Lucia Mutikani, read here.

Republican leader slams Obama over terrorism case

Republicans criticized the Obama administration for pursuing terrorism cases in federal court after a jury acquitted a man once held at the Guantanamo Bay prison on almost all of the charges related to the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa.

For more of this story by Jeremy Pelofsky, read here.

For a Q&A on what happens next in the terrorism trials, click here.

For comments from the White House on Obama’s commitment to closing Guantanamo, click here.

Lawmakers hit banks, regulators on foreclosures

Lawmakers hauled top mortgage lenders and regulators to Capitol Hill to chastise them for widespread flaws in foreclosure documents, but failed to extract any promises of fines or fresh loan modification programs. Major banks admitted to sloppy documentation but said the basis of their foreclosures has been accurate.

For more of this story by Dave Clarke and Corbett B. Daly, read here.

House Republicans renew voluntary earmark ban

Republicans in the House of Representatives adopted a voluntary ban on pet projects known as earmarks when they take control of the chamber in January from President Obama’s Democrats. The action came two days after Senate Republicans announced a voluntary ban, prompting Harry Reid to say he would allow a vote on a binding moratorium..

For more of this story, read here.

Senate Republican leader opposes spending bill

Prospects for a comprehensive bill to fund the government appeared to dim after Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he would not support the bill, which would fund everything from national parks to the military through September 2011. That could force Democrats to fund government operations on a temporary basis, an approach that makes it difficult for government agencies to launch new programs or close out old ones.

For more of this story, read here.

Senators push bipartisan state healthcare waiver

A Democrat and a Republican have teamed up to offer legislation that would give states the flexibility to implement their own healthcare approaches when the federal overhaul goes into full effect in 2014. The proposal by Democrat Ron Wyden and Republican Scott Brown moves up the date when states can apply for waivers from the federal law in order to implement their own approaches. The law, which passed in March, currently allows states to apply for waivers in 2017.

For more of this story, read here.

Pentagon says 2014 Afghan deadline “aspirational”

President Hamid Karzai’s target to take the lead from NATO in securing Afghanistan by the end of 2014 is “aspirational” and may not be possible everywhere in the country, the Pentagon said. “I would emphasize two things here: Number one, it is the end of 2014, so effectively, it’s by 2015,” a spokesman told reporters. “Although the hope is, the goal is, to have Afghan security forces in the lead over the preponderance of the country by then, it does necessarily mean that … everywhere in the country they will necessarily be in the lead.”

For more of this story, read here.

Medicare overhaul studied by deficit commission

A proposal to overhaul the costly Medicare and Medicaid health programs met opposition in a closed-door meeting of a commission looking for ways to balance the budget. As private groups studying the problem of the federal deficit unleashed a wave of alternative plans, President Obama’s commission convened with just 12 days left before it must issue a final report. As he exited the session lasting less than two hours, commission member Andy Stern said the Medicare-Medicaid proposal seemed “unlikely.”

For more of this story by Kevin Drawbaugh, read here.

US urged to cut military edge to help plug deficit

The United States should trim its lopsided military edge over the rest of the world as part of efforts to cut its deficit, a nonpartisan group of national security experts. In a letter to the co-chairmen of a presidential debt-reduction commission, the 46-member group faulted President Obama for sparing the Defense Department from overall budget cuts.

For more of this story by Jim Wolf, read here.

US says Iraq pullout won’t cause dramatic violence

The planned withdrawal from Iraq by the end of next year is not expected to trigger a dramatic increase in violence, a senior defense official told Congress. “Despite the often exaggerated media narrative that depicts Iraq on the verge of unraveling, the underlying security situation remains strong,” Colin Kahl, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East.

For more of this story by Phil Stewart, read here.

Senate panel passes bill against piracy websites

Agencies and officials would get new powers to go after foreign websites that sell counterfeit goods and pirated music, movies and books under a bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill, which supporters hope will set the stage for action next year, targets “rogue websites” in countries such as China that are outside the reach of U.S. law.

For more of this story by Doug Palmer, read here.

What we are blogging…

For Biden, it’s START “day and night”

Instead of counting sheep to fall asleep at night, we imagine VP Biden may be counting votes. That’s because President Obama just announced that he has told Biden to focus “day and night” on getting the START treaty ratified by Congress. (That’s what happens when you let the boss “drop by” one of your meetings.) Obama said ratifying the nuclear arms treaty with Russia was the single most important national security issue for the lame duck Congress.

For Tabassum Zakaria’s full post, click here.

For more stories from our Washington correspondents visit www.reuters.com and stay informed.

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed (Obama delivers statement on General Motors)

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