Washington Extra – Podium pieces

March 9, 2011

We learned a thing or two from briefings around town.

— White House spokesman Jay Carney has a sister, and today is her birthday. He announced it from the podium. “I spoke with her this morning, and we are very close.” LIBYA-USA/

— State Department spokesman Mark Toner is interested in the Georgetown basketball game. “Anybody got the latest score on Georgetown?” he asked, to break up some of the back-and-forth with reporters on questions about Libya.

— Republicans have noticed that Vice President Joe Biden hasn’t been around. House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy complained that Biden is supposed to be lead negotiator in government funding talks and no one will say who is filling in for him. “The vice president is out of the country. We’ll have to prepare for another two weeks but that’s not where we want to go.”

Apparently no fill-in needed when a telephone call will do. Biden spoke with House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell from Moscow. The vice president “will continue to stay in close contact with congressional leaders on the budget negotiations throughout the week,” an aide said, according to the pool report from his trip.

For a look at what the public thinks about spending cuts, see Donna Smith’s story on the Reuters/Ipsos poll finding that a majority of Americans prefer cutting defense spending to reduce the federal deficit rather than taking money from public retirement and health programs.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Americans see US on wrong track: Reuters/Ipsos poll

Americans’ confidence in the way the country is going has slumped to a two-year low in the last month, and one pollster blamed soaring gas prices. A Reuters/Ipsos poll showed the proportion of people who believe the United States is on the wrong track rose seven points to 64 percent from February, in a fresh challenge to President Obama. It was the highest number of people in an Ipsos poll who think the country is on the wrong track since he took office in January 2009. The survey comes as many indicators show an improving economy.

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

Public prefers cutting defense spending: Reuters/Ipsos poll

A majority of Americans prefer cutting defense spending to reduce the federal deficit rather than taking money from public retirement and health programs, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed. The poll found 51 percent of Americans support reducing defense spending, and only 28 percent want to cut Medicare and Medicaid health programs for the elderly and poor. Lawmakers are more focused on cutting so-called discretionary spending, but experts say Congress will eventually need to cut entitlements to make a major dent in the country’s $1.6 trillion deficit and $14 trillion debt.

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

Senate kills competing spending cut bills

The U.S. Senate defeated a pair of spending-cut bills — a Republican plan for nearly $60 billion in reductions and a far smaller Democratic alternative — increasing pressure on both sides to cut a bipartisan deal. The two votes were staged by congressional leaders as a way of demonstrating that both parties now need to compromise on spending and deficit-reduction for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. The two parties are at loggerheads over how to reduce the budget deficit, due to hit a record $1.65 trillion this year. Spurred on by Tea Party fiscal conservatives, Republicans want steep spending cuts for this year, but Obama has warned that too much belt tightening will hurt economic recovery.

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

White House defends Libya stance, debates options

The White House strongly defended its response to the turmoil in Libya, insisting it has taken “dramatic action” and rebutting criticism its consensus-based approach is too cautious. As President Obama’s top advisers met to debate what to do next, Muammar Gaddafi’s forces halted a rebel advance in the east of the oil-producing North African country and made gains against others in western areas. A range of options are on the table in the White House situation room, officials said, including a “no-fly” zone to ground Gaddafi’s warplanes. But White House spokesman Jay Carney cautioned that no decision on firm action was expected to emerge from the meeting.

For more of this story by Ross Colvin and Andrew Quinn, read here.

Obama chooses Locke as new US ambassador to China

President Obama has chosen Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to be the next ambassador to China, replacing Jon Huntsman, a Republican who is mulling a run for the presidency. Locke, a Chinese-American whose grandfather immigrated to the United States, has criticized China for not honoring promises to open its market.

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

House panel to examine Muslim radicalization

The House of Representatives will investigate radicalization in the American-Muslim community, sparking outrage that the probe is a witch hunt. With al Qaeda and its affiliates openly trying to recruit Americans and Muslims inside the United States for attacks, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King called congressional hearings on the subject “absolutely essential.”

For more of this story by Jeremy Pelofsky, read here.

Geithner says lending cuts could hurt US influence

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner urged lawmakers to approve capital increases for global lending institutions and warned that failure to do so could harm influence abroad. “We live in a dangerous world, the world isn’t standing still,” he told a House subcommittee. “Other countries like China are ready to fill any vacuum left by a receding America and we have to take a very careful look when we’re going to cut back things like this to make sure we’re not undermining our core interests.”

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

Republicans see power abuse in U.S. foreclosure probe

Republicans are pushing back against a proposed mortgage servicing settlement sent to large banks last week, calling it is an abuse of power that could harm markets. The 27-page settlement proposal backed by a group of federal regulators and state attorneys general includes a directive to step up efforts to keep borrowers in their homes, including reductions in loan principal. Leading U.S. House Republicans said they have “significant concerns” about such a settlement, putting their objections in a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

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

U.S. wholesale inventories, sales support growth

Wholesale inventories rose in January and sales set their fastest pace in 14 months, suggesting restocking and strong demand would give a lift to the economy in the first quarter. Total wholesale inventories increased 1.1 percent to $436.88 billion, the highest level since November 2008. At the same time, sales at the wholesale level jumped 3.4 percent, the largest gain since November 2009.

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

Lawmakers press Obama to bundle trade deals

A top Senate Democrat urged the Obama administration to bundle a valuable free trade deal with South Korea with pacts with Colombia and Panama to meet Republican demands and ensure approval. “It’s clear to me that none of these trade agreements are going to pass unless they’re all packaged,” either in a single piece of legislation or separate bills considered closely together, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus told Trade Representative Ron Kirk at a hearing.

For more of this story by Doug Palmer, read here.

SEC says its accounting problems stem from technology

A lack of investment in crucial technology systems is to blame for material weaknesses identified last year in the SEC’s financial statements, top officials said in testimony prepared for Thursday. “These material weaknesses are unacceptable,” the SEC’s top division directors said in prepared testimony that was viewed by Reuters. They said the “root causes” of the problems stemmed from “years of underinvesting in financial system technologies.”

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

American freight rails plan to spend $12 bln in 2011

Freight railroads plan to spend a record $12 billion on new employees, new track, and other capital projects in 2011, an industry group said. The Association of American Railroads said freight railroads intend to hire about 10,000 new employees this year. “Even during the worst recession in a generation, freight railroads have been plowing record amounts of private capital back into the rail network each and every year, achieving one of the highest capital investment rates of any U.S. industry,” CEO Edward Hamberger said.

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

What we are blogging…

Reuters/Ipsos poll: Potential Republican candidates not quite household names

At least they know his name. Separate from their view on Obama’s job performance, a majority of Americans — 55 percent — had a favorable opinion of the president personally, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. That number was unchanged from December, when the question was last asked. Potential Republican candidates who may seek to challenge Obama in the 2012 presidential race have their work cut out in the name recognition department.

For Tabassum Zakaria’s full post, click here.

From elsewhere…

Victims’ concerns put London 9/11 sculpture on hold

Plans to erect a sculpture in a London park using girders salvaged from New York’s World Trade Center, which was destroyed in attacks on September 11, 2001, have been put on hold after victims’ families complained. The memorial, designed by Japanese-Russian artist Miya Ando, was to be crafted from twisted shards of steel ranging between 5 and 8 meters (yards) in height, standing in a pool with lights. Hannah Ali, whose sister died in the World Trade Center’s north tower, told the Guardian she could not understand how anyone could even consider transforming girders which had “bodies strewn on them” into artwork.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Jay Carney briefing on Feb. 25)

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