Washington Extra – Same page

March 16, 2011

Alarm over Japan’s nuclear crisis prompted a slumping stock market to slump some more in a third day of selling.

The United States and Japan weren’t quite on the same page in terms of advice to the public. The State Department recommended that Americans living within 50 miles of the Fukushima nuclear plant evacuate or stay indoors, while Japan asked residents within 18 miles to do the same.

USA-BUDGET/Republicans and Democrats are still not on the same page as far as spending cuts go, which means back to the drawing board with a three-week reprieve from the sixth stopgap spending bill expected to pass Congress by Friday. Talks will get an added kick when the latest temporary funding bill is passed, but in a divided Congress bipartisan deals become a fairly lofty goal.

“I understand the world we live in right now,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas told us in an interview. “I’m going to attempt to work in a very bipartisan way” to slow down the implementation of Dodd-Frank, the Republican said about the financial reform measure named after two Democrats.

House Speaker John Boehner knows it won’t be easy, but he’s confident a bipartisan deal will be found to fund the government for the rest of this fiscal year — somehow, some way — congressional correspondent Thomas Ferraro blogs.

Some wise words from Lucas on trying to reach agreements in Washington when you don’t quite see eye-to-eye: “It’s a town where it’s always a challenge to draw the distinction of speaking with each other and to each other.”

Be sure to look at congressional correspondent Andy Sullivan’s special report — On borrowed time: budget delays start to hurt.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

On borrowed time: U.S. budget delays start to hurt

When they finally completed their new control tower last November, officials at University Park Airport hoped it would provide a needed safety upgrade. But several months after the $7 million tower passed inspection, it remains empty. Money to hire the federal air traffic controllers is hostage to the months-long budget standoff in Congress. The budget battle and its underlying threat of a government shutdown have grabbed headlines, but the real-world impact has largely gone unnoticed as nervous federal agencies sit on billions of dollars that should be circulating through an economy that is still recovering from recession.

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

U.S. shows growing alarm over Japan nuclear “crisis”

The United States showed increasing alarm about how Japan was handling its nuclear crisis, urging Americans to leave the area near an earthquake-crippled power plant and relying on U.S. experts for updates. Without criticizing the Japanese government, which has shown signs of being overwhelmed by the crisis, U.S. officials admitted their call for American citizens to evacuate the area near the Fukushima nuclear plant went further than Japanese advice.

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

Obama to refocus on Latin America amid Chinese push

President Obama travels to Latin America this week seeking to reassert economic leadership in a region Washington once dominated but where it now faces growing competition from China. On his first trip south of the border in nearly two years, Obama will visit countries where many are skeptical a president preoccupied with Middle East unrest, Japan‘s nuclear crisis and domestic problems can offer much to an increasingly independent-minded Latin America. Obama’s challenge will be to convince Latin Americans of his commitment to making the region a priority for trade and investment at a time when China is seizing the initiative there.

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

U.S. House agriculture chair working to slow CFTC rulemaking

The futures regulator needs to tap the brakes on its rush to implement financial reform, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee told the Reuters Global Food and Agriculture Summit. The CFTC is engaged in the arduous task of writing dozens of regulations to implement the Dodd-Frank law, which gives the CFTC oversight of the global swaps market. Most of the regulations still need to be finalized.

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

For more global stories from the summit, click here.

CFTC to miss swaps regulatory deadlines-chairman

The futures regulator will begin finalizing rules for the over-the-counter swaps markets in spring but will miss July deadlines for many regulations set by financial law reforms, its chairman said. Gary Gensler sought to appease critics in the industry and Washington who have said the CFTC unveiled its rules in a hurried jumble, making it hard to assess the impact on swaps trade, worth about $600 trillion globally.

For more of this story by Roberta Rampton, read here.

Inflation pressures bubbling, home building dives

Producer prices surged in February at their fastest pace in 1-1/2 years, data showed a day after the Federal Reserve said it had a watchful eye on inflation pressures it expects to subside. In another reminder of the headwinds facing the economy, the government said groundbreaking for new homes posted the biggest drop in 27 years, and permits for future building hit a record low. Economists said the jump in food and energy costs that drove the producer price index higher would likely steal from other spending and slow growth.

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

Budget cuts could jeopardize Afghan mission -Petraeus

The top military commander in Afghanistan warned congressional budget-cutters that failure to adequately fund civilians working alongside his forces could jeopardize President Obama’s war aims. Republicans are in a budget-slashing mood and have proposed some $2.2 billion in cuts to State Department and USAID economic support funds for 2011, much of which is intended to support programs in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, a congressional aide said.

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

Consumer watchdog badgered by House Republicans

Congressional Republicans hammered away at a consumer watchdog agency they have opposed since its creation last year, criticizing its budget autonomy and scope of authority. Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law School professor who is leading the formation of the new agency, defended its mission to protect consumers from predatory financial practices as mandated under the Dodd-Frank reforms.

For more of this story by Kevin Drawbaugh, read here.

FBI chief defends mortgage fraud efforts

FBI Director Robert Mueller defended the Obama administration’s efforts to prosecute Wall Street executives responsible for the mortgage meltdown amid criticism from some lawmakers that not enough has been done. The agency has more than 3,000 open investigations into mortgage fraud alone, with 94 task forces and some 340 agents assigned, Mueller told the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee.

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

U.S. proposes air rules that may hit coal-fired power

Environmental regulators proposed rules that would force aging coal-fired power plants to choose between installing costly anti-pollution technology or shutting, which could ensure reliance on nuclear power and natural gas. The EPA said the proposed rules, once fully implemented, will prevent 91 percent of mercury in coal from being released into the air. Power plants would have four years to meet the standards.

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

Obama administration seeks Internet privacy bill

The Obama administration is backing legislation to protect the personal data of Internet users, toughening its stance from a call last year for voluntary codes of conduct for data companies and advertisers. Lawrence Strickling, an assistant secretary at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said he backed creation of a bill of rights for Internet users with legally enforceable standards for the collection and sale of personal data gathered from Internet use.

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

What we are blogging…

Obama Bracketology — he picks Kansas, again!

They failed him once, but President Obama is sure Kansas won’t fail him twice in a row in the NCAA Basketball Championship. In what has become a much-anticipated annual ritual, Obama joined in on the March Madness and filled out his bracket on ESPN’s SportsCenter. He picked Kansas to go all the way, beating Ohio State in the final game. “I’m giving them a chance at redemption,” Obama told Andy Katz as he stood in the White House Library to complete his bracket. “I picked Kansas last year to win it and I got hurt.”

For Deborah Charles’s full post, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (Republican lawmakers look at President Obama’s 2012 budget)

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