Washington Extra – Star power

January 13, 2011

It was a bit of a shock to learn on the Internet that a wobbly Earth has put the old Zodiac out of whack, and even added a 13th astrological sign – Ophiuchus (I’m changing my birthday if I end up landing in that one).

USA-SHOOTING/Speaking of star power… President Barack Obama showed his last night at the memorial service for the Arizona shooting victims. He connected. The more somber and emotional his speech, the more the audience reacted with approval.

“It’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds,” Obama said.

Can Washington actually change the polarized discourse that Obama talked about? Well, next week will be a good test. The House of Representatives will resume debate on legislation to repeal Obama’s landmark healthcare overhaul.

The House had intended to act this week on the repeal bill, but the vote was postponed following the Arizona shooting spree. The tragedy led to a national debate on whether political rhetoric has gone too far.

One star from Texas, Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the only woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate from the “Lone Star” state, has decided not to seek another term.

The stars will probably still be aligned in favor of a Republican for that seat.

Here are our top stories from Washington today…

Obama on human rights in China: agree to disagree?

When President Obama hosts Chinese President Hu Jintao next week, the only real suspense will be over how forcefully and publicly he takes his counterpart to task for China’s human rights record before they turn to other priorities like currency, trade and North Korea. The consensus: Obama will be more assertive in addressing rights concerns. But mindful of China’s growing economic and diplomatic clout, he will stick to a quieter, more nuanced approach than predecessors like Bill Clinton, who bluntly told the country’s rulers they were on the “wrong side of history.”

For more of this analysis by Matt Spetalnick, read here.

U.S. currency legislation less of a threat for China

U.S. legislation pressing for a rise in the yuan currency looms as less of a threat for China on the eve of President Hu Jintao’s visit now that Republicans control one house of Congress. But the issue is far from dead on Capitol Hill and could reignite, especially if the economy fails to improve as expected and the Chinese are seen to drag their feet on letting their currency appreciate.

For more of this story by Susan Cornwell and Thomas Ferraro, read here.

For a factbox on key issues in U.S.-China trade ties, click here.

For a factbox on details of President Hu’s visit, click here.

For a factbox on protocol during the visit, click here.

Jobless claims jump, wholesale food costs surge

Jobless claims jumped to their highest level since October last week while food and energy costs lifted producer prices in December, pointing to headwinds for an economy that has shown fresh vigor. However, a surge in exports to their highest level in two years, including record sales to China, helped narrow the trade deficit in November, an encouraging sign for fourth-quarter economic growth.

For more of this story by Pedro Nicolaci da Costa, read here.

Bernanke says joblessness to linger despite growth

The outlook for the U.S. economy has brightened, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said, though he warned that growth this year won’t be strong enough to bring down the jobless rate as speedily as policymakers would like. “We see the economy strengthening. It has looked better in the last few months. We think a 3 to 4 percent-type of growth number for 2011 seems reasonable,” Bernanke said at an event sponsored by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

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

CFTC advances position plan, reignites debate

Speculators could face curbs on wheeling and dealing in commodity markets after the futures regulator advanced a plan to prevent the biggest traders from taking market-distorting bets. The plan would attempt to curb positions investors can hold in commodity markets. But the future of the plan was thrown into question after Democratic Commissioner Michael Dunn, whose support is vital for the plan to be finalized, said he wasn’t convinced the plan was needed.

For more of this story by Roberta Rampton and Sarah N. Lynch, read here.

U.S. criticized over Chrysler Financial pact

The Treasury may not have fully vetted the settlement of its interest in Chrysler Financial and not gotten a strong enough return, a bailout watchdog said. The Treasury settled its interest in the former financial arm of the automaker for a loss in May last year. Private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management became the sole owner and agreed in December to sell the the financing business for $6.3 billion, raising eyebrows over Treasury’s handling of the settlement. Treasury may have “left money on the table, said former Senator Ted Kaufman, who headed the Congressional Oversight Panel’s final report on the auto sector.

For more of this story by John Crawley, read here.

Citi still too big after “ad hoc” bailout-audit

Citigroup’s 2008 bailout was “strikingly ad hoc” and the bank is arguably still too big and interconnected to be allowed to fail, a new government watchdog audit showed. The Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program said it was concerned about the lack of objective criteria applied by government officials in their decision to save Citigroup from collapse.

For more of this story, read here.

New deepwater permits expected before Q3

The offshore drilling chief said he would be “stunned” if no new deepwater drilling permits were approved during the first half of year, as he pledged to push forward with reforms. Michael Bromwich, head of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, pushed back at critics who say new agency regulations will block deepwater exploration for much of the year. He called predictions that no new deepwater exploratory permits would be issued before the third quarter “unduly pessimistic.”

For more of this story by Tom Doggett and Ayesha Rascoe, read here.

House to resume healthcare repeal debate

The House of Representatives will resume debate next week on legislation to repeal President Obama’s landmark healthcare overhaul, a House Republican spokesman said. The House had been expected to act this week on the repeal bill, but the vote was postponed after a shooting spree in Arizona killed six people and critically wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

For more of this story by Donna Smith and Thomas Ferraro, read here.

U.S. may challenge Google’s ITA deal – sources

Regulators are putting together a possible antitrust challenge to Google Inc’s planned $700 million acquisition of airline ticketing software company ITA Software, sources said. The proposed deal has sparked worries in the tech world that travel websites such as Orbitz Worldwide Inc, Kayak and TripAdvisor could be deprived of ITA’s critical software.

For more of this story by Diane Bartz, read here.

US axes permit for Arch’s giant mountain coalmine

The Obama administration revoked a permit for Arch Coal Inc’s proposed Spruce 1 mountaintop coal mine in West Virginia, effectively shutting one of the biggest in the United States. “The proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine would use destructive and unsustainable mining practices that jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and clean water on which they depend,” said EPA’s Peter Silvan.

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

More U.S. hurdles ahead for anemia drugs

Controversial anemia drugs used by kidney disease patients face another test from the government next week when Medicare’s outside advisers weigh their use in transplant patients. The widely-used drugs, made by Amgen Inc and Johnson & Johnson, have already faced a barrage of scrutiny in recent years over safety concerns and payment restrictions. Such issues have tempered sales, although they still are expected to generate $7 billion in 2011 revenue.

For more of this story by Susan Heavey, read here.

What we are blogging…

“Through the eyes of a child”

President Obama faced two tests when he spoke at a memorial service for the six people killed in the Arizona shooting — make an emotional connection and comfort a grieving community. Obama honored heroes and victims, but his tribute to the youngest victim may have helped him connect with people who attended the service or watched on television.

For JoAnne Allen’s full post, click here.

With prison looming, DeLay looks to Citizens United and the Supremes

Tom DeLay stands eyeball-to-eyeball with the prospect of years in prison. But he figures he still has friends in high places. Like the Supreme Court, maybe. That would be the majority of justices who authored the 2010 campaign finance ruling known as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which has been decried by Democrats and reformers as a danger to electoral integrity.

For David Morgan’s full post, click here.

From elsewhere…

Climate a factor in Rome’s rise and fall: study

Climate change seems a factor in the rise and fall of the Roman empire, according to a study of ancient tree growth that urges greater awareness of the risks of global warming in the 21st century. Good growth by oak and pine trees in central Europe in the past 2,500 years signaled warm and wet summers and coincided with periods of wealth among farming societies, for instance around the height of the Roman empire or in medieval times.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Mike Segar (Obama wipes his eyes as he speaks at Arizona memorial service)

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