Washington Extra – Hunkered down

December 16, 2010

In all the words said over at the White House today about the Afghanistan review, one name was not mentioned — Osama bin Laden.

The al Qaeda leader, who former President George W. Bush once declared wanted dead or alive, has eluded a manhunt and grown nearly 10 years older since the Sept. 11 attacks.

USA-AFGHANISTAN/Bin Laden was last heard in an audio message aired on Al Jazeera television on Oct. 27 railing against France, and his freedom remains a symbol of how difficult it will be to declare victory against al Qaeda.

Security officials suspect he is in the border region of Afghanistan-Pakistan, but if they knew for sure where he was, they would have found him.

President Barack Obama said the reason why U.S. forces remain in Afghanistan is 9/11, and the core goal is “disrupting, dismantling and defeating” al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He saw “significant progress” in pursuit of that goal, and said: “In short, al Qaeda is hunkered down.”

On the domestic front, the battle over earmarks is wreaking havoc on Capitol Hill and led Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to use the H word.

“I’ll bet if you went to “H” in the dictionary and found hypocrite, under that would be people who ask for earmarks but vote against them,” Reid said.

He argued that Congress, under the Constitution, should decide where federal funds are directed, not the president. “I am convinced that I do not want to give up more power to the White House, whether it’s George Bush or Barack Obama,” Reid said.

“And I’m going to fight as hard as I can against President Obama on these earmarks, and my Republican colleagues who hate to vote for them but love to get them.”

Here are our top stories from Washington today…

Despite bloodshed, Obama touts Afghan war progress

President Obama told war-weary Americans that enough progress was being made in Afghanistan to begin withdrawing troops in July, even as he faces growing doubts about his war strategy. “I want to be clear, this continues to be a very difficult endeavor,” Obama said. But, he added, “We’re on track to achieve our goals.”

For more of this story by Missy Ryan and Ross Colvin, read here.

For a factbox on reactions to the Afghan war review, click here.

House wrangles over Obama tax cut bill

House Democrats demanding a chance to blast the tax cut deal President Obama struck with Republicans delayed a vote on the measure, but leaders said they still expected to pass the bill. They will now try to come up with a new formula for meeting liberals’ demands, while keeping Republicans satisfied and getting the Senate-passed legislation approved by the House. “Americans were held hostage to a ransom that the Republicans would only help these families if we gave tax cuts to the wealthiest people in this country,” Representative George Miller, a Democrat, said.

For more of this story by Donna Smith and Richard Cowan, read here.

Financial rescue cheap vs past crises-Geithner

The price of corporate bailouts in 2008 and 2009 looks cheap compared to past crises, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said, while urging more drastic action from housing finance giants to help homeowners. For the first time, Geithner said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should take part in Obama administration programs to write down principal on loans for those who owe more than their homes are worth.

For more of this story by David Lawder, read here.

IMF chief says Spain to avoid wider debt woes

Spain will ward off the worst of a European debt crisis without needing a rescue and there is no threat to the euro currency’s existence, the IMF head said. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, interviewed at a Thomson Reuters Newsmaker event, dismissed worry that Spain faced perils like those confronting debt-strapped Greece and Ireland, recipients of massive bailouts from the European Union and IMF.

For more of this story by Glenn Somerville, read here.

For highlights of the interview with Strauss-Kahn, click here.

U.S. and Europe seek limits on Roche’s Avastin

Roche’s top drug Avastin should no longer be approved for breast cancer, U.S. health officials said in an unusual move that could shave $1 billion from annual sales. European authorities, meanwhile, recommended restricting the drug so it is given only with one type of chemotherapy. “Given the number of serious and life-threatening side effects, the FDA does not believe there is a favorable risk-to-benefit ratio,” the FDAs head of cancer drugs, said.

For more of this story by Lisa Richwine and Ben Hirschler, read here.

For a Q&A on the status of Avastin in breast cancer, click here.

CFTC holds off on releasing commodity limits rule

The CFTC unexpectedly held off on moving forward with its most aggressive measures yet to prevent speculators from distorting commodity markets, with its chief saying the agency needed more time to develop the controversial proposals.

For more of this story by Christopher Doering and Ayesha Rascoe, read here.

CFTC takes another shot at swap trading plan

The chief derivatives regulator proposed a new plan to make trading in the most popular swaps as transparent as stock exchanges, while trying to ensure that requirements for less popular swaps don’t end up killing them.

For more of this story by Christopher Doering and Rachelle Younglai, read here.

Jobless claims fall, regional manufacturing up

New claims for jobless aid fell last week and factory activity in the country’s Mid-Atlantic region grew at its quickest pace in more than 5-1/2 years this month, indicating the economic recovery is gaining traction.

For more of this story, read here.

Washington subway police to begin random bag checks

Officers will start random bag inspections on the sprawling Washington subway system, the Washington Metro Transit Police said, a week after a man was arrested for making bomb threats to the rail system.

For more of this story, read here.

What we are blogging…


AfPak – It’s his baby now

On a day when the most powerful people in Washington were discussing Afghanistan and Pakistan, there was one man who might be excused for looking a little shell-shocked. Frank Ruggiero, who stepped in as acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) following the sudden death of his boss Richard Holbrooke on Monday, had little time to prepare for his first big outing as President Barack Obama’s pointman for the biggest foreign policy headache facing the administration.

For Andrew Quinn’s full post, click here.

Obama moves to bolster national security staff

On the same day he unveiled a review of his Afghanistan war strategy, President Obama moved to bolster the White House national security team, which has been short-staffed after a series of changes. Obama tapped Brooke Anderson, currently part of the U.S. mission to the United Nations, as chief of staff and counselor for the National Security Council. An expert on nuclear nonproliferation, Anderson is ambassador and alternate representative for special political affairs at the UN.

For Caren Bohan’s full post, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama making statement on Afghanistan-Pakistan review)

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