Washington Extra – Go figure
It seems slightly surreal to see a concerted attempt to rally support behind a radical plan to bring the U.S. budget deficit down to a manageable level, while at the same time Republicans and Democrats haggle over the extent of tax cuts which will achieve exactly the opposite.
But deficit hawks will be pleased to see support growing for the final draft Simpson-Bowles deficit-cutting plan, a plan all but written off a few weeks ago. Two more votes were pledged today, bringing the number of commission members in favor to 9. The hurdle of 14 votes that would trigger congressional consideration still looks elusive, but many of the proposals that form the plan may have legs.
The atmosphere around the Bush-era tax cut talks was altogether less bipartisan today, with Democrats forcing a vote through the House to extend the cuts for the middle class only. Incoming House Speaker John Boehner dismissed the vote as a “political maneuver” and then used a bit of verbal maneuvering to call it “chicken crap,” without quite calling it that.
“I’m trying to catch my breath so I don’t refer to this maneuver going on today as chicken crap, alright?” he said. “But this is nonsense. alright? The election was one month ago. We’re 23 months from the next election and the political games have already started trying to set up the next election. We had an honest conversation at the White House about the challenges that we face to get out of here and to take care of what the American people expect of us. And to roll this vote out today really is just, it’s what you think I was going to say anyway.”
Elsewhere, the net is closing in on WikiLeaks controversial founder Julian Assange as Sweden tries to tie up a valid European arrest warrant in connection with alleged sex crimes. Nice blog from our correspondent Mark Hosenball today on the man brought in to plug future Wikileaks-style dumps of government secrets. Russell Travers is a veteran intelligence officer who ironically spent years trying to figure out how government agencies could more widely share sensitive information.
Here are our top stories from Washington today…
Deficit-cutting plan advances in uphill climb
Two more lawmakers pledged to support a plan to slash the budget deficit, but the plan still faced long odds of moving to Congress. With anxiety over government debt roiling markets in Europe and driving global capital into Treasury bonds, Republican Senators Tom Coburn and Mike Crapo said they will vote for the bold proposal at a decisive commission meeting. But Representative Paul Ryan said he will vote against the plan, saying it does too little to tackle health care costs and relies too much on tax increases.
For more of this story by Donna Smith and Kevin Drawbaugh, read here.
Who will blink first in US tax-cut debate?
As President Obama and newly emboldened Republicans try to stare each other down in a year-end battle over expiring tax cuts, the question they face is: Who is going to blink first? Many experts believe that in the end Obama will be forced to accept a temporary extension of all the Bush-era tax cuts for a year or two, even those for the wealthy, as Republicans want. But there’s a long way to go before lawmakers get to that point with much podium-pounding and political posturing to come as a year-end deadline edges closer.
For more of this analysis by Steve Holland, read here.
US oil spill panel urges increased safety steps
The White House oil spill commission challenged offshore drillers to boost safety standards, detailing proposals for the creation of an independent, self-regulating industry group and reformed government oversight. The commission said the entire offshore oil industry needed to increase its focus on safety and such an industry group could hold firms accountable. “The oil and gas industry needs to embrace a new safety culture,” co-chair Bill Reilly said at the start of a two-day meeting to help prepare the panel’s final report.
For more of this story by Ayesha Rascoe, read here.
SEC mulls 3-month extension of old flash crash plan
Regulators are considering a three-month extension to their pilot program that gives stocks a reprieve when they are in freefall. The SEC’s circuit breaker program expires Dec. 10 and the regulator is under pressure to find permanent solutions to bolster market integrity after the May “flash crash.”
For more of this story by Rachelle Younglai and Jonathan Spicer, read here.
U.S. Fed officials: QE2 will be regularly reviewed
The Federal Reserve’s controversial $600 billion bond buying program is subject to regular review and can be adjusted if needed. Philadelphia Fed Bank President Charles Plosser said he remained skeptical the asset purchases would do much to lift the economy, but the central bank may need to stop short of buying the full $600 billion if economic growth exceeds expectations. His counterpart at the St. Louis Fed, James Bullard, was more optimistic that it would be effective, but also said he had not supported setting the $600 billion figure in advance.
For more of this story by Emily Flitter and David Lawder, read here.
McCain says too soon to end US military ban on gays
A top Republican warned it might be too soon to end the military’s ban on gays as the party geared up to block President Obama’s bid to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year. “I am not saying this law should never change. I am simply saying that it may be premature to make such a change at this time, and in this manner,” said John McCain. He and fellow Republicans also cast doubt on the conclusions and methodology of a Pentagon study released two days ago that predicted little impact if the 17-year-old policy were ended.
For more of this story by Phil Stewart and Thomas Ferraro, read here.
U.S. data shows fresh signs of improving economy
Fresh signs the economy has broken out of its summer soft patch emerged as data showed a gauge of jobless benefits hit a new two-year low last week and pending home sales unexpectedly rose in October. The picture also was brightened by news retailers saw stronger-than-expected sales for November as shoppers flocked to stores and spent more during the annual discount bonanza known as Black Friday. The reports were the latest to suggest a pick-up in activity in the fourth quarter.
For more of this story by Lucia Mutikani, read here.
US recovery risked if jobless lose aid -W.House
President Obama said failing to extend unemployment aid would be a tragedy for millions of Americans and could hurt the economy, stepping up pressure on Congress to act. “If we don’t do something, seven million people could lose their unemployment insurance,” he told a meeting of newly elected state governors. “That’s not just a potential tragedy for those individual families. It could have a huge impact on your local economies.”
For more of this story by Alister Bull, read here.
What we are blogging…
United States 0-2 in world sports arena
The United States has now lost out on two huge world sporting events in the past two years, both to first-time winners. It may be an unintended consequence of the fight against terrorism. The very security policies aimed at protecting the United States from attack, might be working to bench it in contests to host world sporting events due to some concerns that foreign fans, players, even officials may have trouble entering the United States for the games. FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, the smallest country ever to host the soccer finals, over competitors Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States.
For Tabassum Zakaria’s full post, click here.
Information Sharing Guru Becomes Chief Leak Plugger
The government’s man in charge of efforts to plug future WikiLeaks-style mega-dumps of government secrets is a veteran intelligence officer who previously spent years trying to figure out how government agencies could more widely share sensitive information.
For Mark Hosenball’s full post, click here.
Ugandan politician urges men to sex strike for votes
A Ugandan opposition politician on Thursday urged his male supporters to go on sex strike until their wives promise not to vote for the ruling party in upcoming national elections. Most analysts believe the February poll will return long-running President Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) party to power.
For more of this story, read here.
For more stories from our Washington correspondents visit www.reuters.com and stay informed.