Washington Extra – People’s choice

January 31, 2011

The United States has decided — it is up to Egyptians to decide.

CANADA/Anyone looking for a clear sign that the United States does or doesn’t back its ally of 30 years, President Hosni Mubarak, won’t find it in the official words out of Washington today.

Instead, Washington took the firm stance to perch on the tightrope — call for Democratic reforms, stay away from public opinions about Mubarak.

“We’re not picking between those on the street and those in the government,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

What about the perception among Egyptian protesters that the U.S. government still appears to be backing Mubarak? “I do not think that those protesters would be assuaged by the notion that somebody in a series of buildings several thousand miles away have determined the extent to what that means for them. That is for the people of Egypt to decide and determine.”

What does the United States mean by an “orderly transition” then?

“I do believe orderly transition means change, and what we’ve advocated from the very beginning is that the way Egypt looks and operates must change,” Gibbs said.

So does that mean Mubarak should be changed or removed from office?

“No,” Gibbs said. “That is not for our country or our government to determine. I don’t think that people that seek greater freedom are looking for somebody else to pick what and how that change looks like.”

Here are our top stories from Washington today…

US increases pressure on Mubarak to act quickly

The White House increased pressure on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to act swiftly to respond to mass protests and said appointing a new government was not enough. Still walking a diplomatic tightrope, however, officials insisted President Obama was not calling on Mubarak to step down and said it was up to the Egyptian people to decide the way forward in Egypt. After a weekend in which Mubarak named a new vice president but clung to power in Cairo, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs declared, “This is not about appointments, it’s about actions.”

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

Egypt crisis a fresh dilemma for Obama policy team

Egypt’s explosion of political unrest poses a policy dilemma for the Obama administration, which is struggling to balance U.S. strategic interests against calls for a more assertive stance in a crisis that Washington cannot control. Call it the peril of high expectations. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both been criticized for being slow to grasp the scale of Egypt’s unrest, which has seen tens of thousands of people protesting to demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, a long-time U.S. ally.

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

U.S. to borrow less due to debt-limit maneuver

The Treasury Department expects to borrow a net $237 billion during the first quarter, less than previously estimated as it maneuvers to avoid hitting a legally set debt limit. The Treasury said first-quarter borrowing will be $194 billion lower than it estimated last November. The reduced borrowing is primarily because Treasury is keeping less money in a special account at the Federal Reserve — a step announced last week to free up more money for financing the government’s day-to-day operations.

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

Factory, spending data support strong growth tone

Factory activity in the Midwest hit a 22-1/2 year high in January as orders surged and employment prospects brightened.  Another report showed consumer spending ended 2010 on a firmer footing, a trend that economists expected to continue as the labor market recovery gains traction. The upbeat data suggested the economy started the year with strong momentum. Stocks rose as investors set aside jitters over the unrest in Egypt and prices for government debt fell.

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

Government probe finds firms broke rules to get natgas

Several energy companies may have violated environmental rules by injecting diesel into the ground without permits as part of a controversial natural gas drilling technique, according to findings from a Congressional probe. The probe of diesel use in hydraulic fracturing found that firms such as Halliburton and BJ Services injected millions of gallons of fluids containing the fuel into wells between 2005 and 2009. A total of 12 companies were cited in the probe for using diesel without proper permits. Critics say that the chemicals used in the process, called “fracking,” can contaminate drinking water.

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

Bingaman backs nuclear in US clean energy standard

The chairman of the Senate’s energy panel said he could support including nuclear power in the White House’s clean energy standard for generating electricity as long as renewable energy benefited. “If we can develop a workable clean energy standard that actually continues to provide an incentive for renewable energy projects to move forward, and provide an additional incentive for some of the other clean energy technologies, nuclear being one, I would like to see that happen,” Senator Jeff Bingaman told reporters.

For more of this story, read here.

Muni board looking into pension funds disclosure

Prompted by huge state and local government pension liabilities, the group that oversees the municipal bond market has begun looking into greater disclosure of the problem to protect investors. The billions of dollars owed to public employees’ pensions is one of the largest problems looming over financially troubled states. Underfunded pensions have caught the attention of regulators and members of Congress, and have led to questions about the credit-worthiness of the states with the largest liabilities.

For more of this story by Lisa Lambert, read here.

New diet guidelines say eat more fruit, less salt

Americans need to cut salt and fat and eat more fruits and vegetables, the Obama administration said in its latest set of dietary guidelines. The new dietary guidelines also advise cutting out sugary drinks and drinking water instead, and eating less overall. More than one-third of children and two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese. “The bottom line is that most Americans need to trim our waistlines to reduce the risk of developing diet-related chronic disease,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

For more of this story by Emily Stephenson, read here.

From elsewhere…

US judge rules healthcare reform unconstitutional

A judge in Florida became the second to declare President Obama’s healthcare reform law unconstitutional, in the biggest legal challenge yet to federal authority to enact the law. District Judge Roger Vinson, appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, ruled that the reform law’s so-called “individual mandate” went too far in requiring that Americans start buying health insurance in 2014 or pay a penalty.

For more of this story, read here.

What we are blogging…

Americans want Tea Party ideas in Republican brew – poll

Americans think Republicans should listen to their Tea Party colleagues, not ignore them.

In the aftermath of November elections, a Gallup poll finds that most Americans believe that Republicans should take into account Tea Party ideas when they tackle the problems facing the country. The poll found that 71 percent of adults, and 88 percent of Republicans, say it is important that Republican leaders in Congress consider Tea Party movement ideas.

For the full post, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Mathieu Belanger (tightrope walker at summer festival in Quebec City, July 13, 2009)

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