Washington Extra – jumpSTART

December 14, 2010

There are 11 days to Christmas, time for Congress to do the end-of-session roll in which proposals that grew cobwebs for months and months are now heading through the chambers at breakneck speed.

Tax cuts are closing in on the finish line — House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer signaled that resistance was waning among Democrats when he said there were “compelling reasons” to back the measure.

USA/Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today is holding out the possibility that the START treaty will be ratified before lawmakers wrap up the lame duck session. Debate could start as early as Wednesday, and Reid says he’s got the votes.

Asked if he had 67 votes to ratify START and if he was committed to having the vote before this Congress ends, Reid said: “The answer is yes on both.”

When confronted with START, a top Republican says STOP until the bill to fund the government is done.

Republican Senator Jon Kyl says the spending bill is a more urgent priority “given the fact that the current funding runs out at the end of the week.”

The White House says the legislative pace means a replacement for economic adviser Larry Summers may not be named until next year.

That means potentially weeks of playing a favorite Washington parlor game — Name That Official.

Here are our top stories from Washington today…

Prospects for U.S. tax cut bill look brighter

President Obama’s tax plan got a boost when a top Democrat in the House of Representatives, where the plan faces its stiffest resistance, said there were “compelling reasons” to back it. The bullish comments from Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer signaled opposition is dissipating among Democrats who believe that Obama’s $858 billion tax deal is too generous to the wealthy. “The vote in the Senate indicates an urgency that is felt by a broad spectrum that the middle-income taxes not be increased come January 1,” Hoyer said in a briefing with reporters.

For more of this story by Kim Dixon and Thomas Ferraro, read here.


Democrats ready to push ahead with START treaty

Democrats were poised to push ahead with Senate debate on the new START nuclear arms treaty with Russia despite objections from some key Republicans about a lack of time to fully consider the issue before year’s end. The Senate could begin debate as early as Wednesday on the treaty, which commits the former Cold War foes to cut deployed nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550 within seven years.

For more of this story by David Alexander and Thomas Ferraro, read here.

Obama considers Levin, others for economic adviser

The White House has cast a wide net in its search for a replacement for outgoing economic adviser Larry Summers with a list that includes Yale University President Richard Levin. President Obama’s decision over who will lead the National Economic Council after Summers leaves is one of his most important moves in the coming weeks. Ahead of his 2012 re-election campaign, fixing the economy and bringing down nearly-double-digit unemployment are the president’s top priorities.

For more of this story by Jeff Mason and Caren Bohan, read here.

Senate Democratic spending bill includes earmarks

Senate Democrats unveiled a 2,000-page spending bill that would fund the government until October 2011 and includes thousands of the pet projects known as earmarks that have become a symbol of wasteful spending for many voters. Republicans have foresworn earmarks and the measure will not be able to pass the Senate without some Republican support. A spending bill passed by the House of Representatives last week does not include earmarks.

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

Holbrooke death leaves hole in U.S. “AfPak” team

The death of diplomat Richard Holbrooke leaves the Obama administration with a worrying gap as it grapples with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke’s deputy, Frank Ruggiero, will stand in as acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan as President Obama prepares to release a strategy review outlining the way forward. Ruggiero is an Afghanistan expert. But analysts say he has less experience with two other pieces of the puzzle: Pakistan, where Holbrooke’s forceful personal diplomacy helped push U.S. objectives, and Washington, where he was known as a bureaucratic black belt.

For more of this analysis by Andrew Quinn, read here.

Holbrooke, doctors talked Afghanistan before surgery

Richard Holbrooke told his doctors before surgery on Friday he was too worried about Afghanistan and Pakistan to settle down, leading one to offer to solve the problem while he was anesthetized.

For more of this story, read here.

Afghan review backs U.S. troop pullout from July

A review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan has determined that a troop increase led to important progress which may permit some soldiers to withdraw next July. President Obama met for nearly two hours with his national security team in a meeting overshadowed by the death of special envoy Richard Holbrooke.

For more of this story by Steve Holland, read here.

Retail sales boost 4th-qtr growth prospects

U.S. retail sales rose for a fifth straight month in November as consumers hit the malls in droves at the start of the holiday shopping season, evidence the recovery gathered steam in the fourth quarter. Sales rose a solid 0.8 percent as shoppers snapped up clothing, sporting goods and other items.

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

Fed keeps policy on hold, says recovery too slow

The Federal Reserve said the economic recovery was still too slow to bring down unemployment, reaffirming its commitment to purchase $600 billion in bonds to stimulate growth and create jobs.

For more of this story by Mark Felsenthal and Pedro da Costa, read here.

What’s a home worth? Pick a number, any number

There are problems in appraisal land that transcend weak housing markets and debt-ridden borrowers, and that are causing home buyers and would-be refinancers to miss out on low rates and dream houses. “There’s been a pendulum swing in appraisals comparable to the one we’ve seen in mortgage credit, from foolishly lax to overly restrictive,” said Walt Molony of the National Association of Realtors. He reported that as recently as October, one in 10 member agents said they’d had a contract canceled as a result of a low appraisal, 13 percent said they’d had a contract delayed, and 16 percent said they’d had a contract negotiated to a lower sales price as a result of a low appraisal.

For more of this special report by Linda Stern, read here.


US says financing core part of Cancun climate deal

Despite tough economic times, rich countries must make good on short-term pledges of billions of dollars in financing to help developing countries tackle global warming. The climate deal forged among more than 190 countries at the U.N. talks in Cancun included agreements on measuring emissions, technology transfer and $100 billion in financing for developing countries from 2020. A Green Climate Fund would help channel some of that aid.

For more of this story by Timothy Gardner, read here.

Senate panel OKs Obama housing regulator nominee

The Senate Banking Committee has backed President Obama’s nomination of North Carolina Banking Commissioner Joseph Smith to oversee ailing mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, paving the way for approval by the full Senate. Smith would replace Edward DeMarco, who has been FHFA’s acting director since September 2009.

For more of this story by Corbett Daly, read here.

Justice Dept set to appeal healthcare ruling

The Justice Department said it intends to appeal to a U.S. appeals court a ruling by a judge in Virginia declaring a key part of President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare law unconstitutional.

For more of this story, read here.

For a Q&A by Lisa Lambert on the future of the reforms after the suit, click here.

Bank regulators back new capital rule

Bank holding companies would no longer be able to raid their federally insured banking units for capital during times of crisis under a proposal issued by bank regulators. The holding companies would have to maintain the same minimum capital levels as their federally insured banking units under the FDIC proposal required by this year’s Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law.

For more of this story by Dave Clarke, read here.

What we are blogging…

Seneca Nation has message for Obama on taxes

Robert Porter, president of the Seneca Nation tribe of Native Americans in western New York state, has a message for President Obama. “I’d like to see the president not be so timid in his efforts to support and protect Indian country,” he says.  Porter is one of dozens of tribal leaders who is to meet Obama on Thursday.

For Steve Holland’s full post, read here. 

From elsewhere…

“Whatever” voted most irritating word in U.S. poll

Whatever you think about using grating words, at the end of the day it’s actually better not to say whatever, if you know what I mean. For the second consecutive year “whatever’ topped a Marist poll as the most annoying word or phrase in the English language. Nearly 39 percent of 1,020 Americans questioned in the survey deemed it the most irritating word, followed by “like” with 28 percent and the phrase “you know what I mean” at 15 percent.

 For more of this story, read here.

“Insensitive” East German border videogame a hit

A long-awaited German videogame pitting East German fugitives against border guards has proved immensely popular despite being condemned as “utterly inappropriate” and “insensitive” by a victims’ group. Demand for the game brought down servers following its release over the weekend, a spokesman for the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design, where the game was developed, said.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Capitol Hill, Nov. 16)

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