Washington Extra – Playing ball

March 31, 2011

The White House was clearly relieved to announce that at 6 a.m. GMT NATO took over the ball for running the military operation on Libya. BASEBALL/

Not a minute too soon for members of Congress concerned that the United States could get bogged down in another war. “I sincerely hope that this is not the start of a third elongated conflict,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon said.

Republicans and Democrats say they want to play ball to prevent a government shutdown, but so far have not reached agreement on spending cuts.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said congressional leaders do not want a government shutdown and the public does not want to see spitball fights (we’d like to see polling on that).

Perhaps the two teams on Capitol Hill need to work it out on the ball field, like the “cricket diplomacy” being exercised by India and Pakistan.

No presidential first ceremonial pitch on this opening day of baseball season. Although that Bronx Zoo escapee which charmed 200,000 followers on Twitter with its cobra chit-chat made it to Yankee Stadium.

The real misssssing snake has been found (was it curled up in a ball?). Will it continue tweeting from captivity?

Here are our top stories from Washington…


Libya’s Gaddafi not close to breaking point-US

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is not close to a military breaking point despite nearly two weeks of coalition strikes that have degraded his fighting power, Admiral Mike Mullen told Congress amid concerns that the United States might deepen its involvement in Libya. Fears of mission creep have been heightened by revelations that President Obama has signed an order authorizing covert support for rebel forces.

For more of this story by Phil Stewart and Missy Ryan, read here.

For a factbox on lawmakers who are skeptical of US involvement in Libya, click here.


In U.S. budget battle, focus shifts on what to cut

Lawmakers have tentatively agreed to the largest domestic spending reduction in history, but they now must delve into the details to decide what to cut to meet their $33 billion target. One day after agreeing on the outlines of a deal that could avert a government shutdown, they jockeyed to protect areas where they fear cuts will do the most harm.

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


US tax head warns against Republican IRS cuts

The chief tax collector said budget cuts proposed by Republicans would have “potentially devastating” impact on the nation’s tax system, including a drop in enforcement revenue by $4 billion for the rest of this year.

For more of this story by Kim Dixon, read here.


European banks big Fed borrowers in 2008 crisis

A European bank that was later exposed to the Madoff scandal and an Arab company now majority-owned by the Libyan central bank were among an odd assortment of firms that dug deep into the U.S. Federal Reserve’s coffers as the financial crisis exploded in 2008.

For more of this story by Mark Felsenthal and Rachelle Younglai, read here.


Six US nuclear plants undergo intensive review-NRC

The NRC is conducting a “more intensive review” of several plants as part of its “very conservative” safety review system, its chairman told lawmakers. “Right now there are approximately six plants that are in one of the areas of more intensive review from a safety perspective, and those are the plants that right now we are most concerned about,” Gregory Jaczko said at a House Appropriations Committee hearing.

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


Republicans in new push to drill in Alaska reserve

Not yet a year after the worst offshore oil spill in history, Republicans are renewing efforts to drill for oil and gas in a fiercely contested Alaskan wildlife refuge. A bill to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would also force the Interior Department to hold lease sales for offshore areas. The Republican bill faces an uphill battle for passage.

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


US farmers going all out, but grain bins thinner

Farmers say they will plant some of the biggest corn and soybean crops ever this spring, racing to keep pace with unrelenting global demand that’s rapidly depleting stockpiles and driving up food costs. But traders focused on a companion report that showed unexpectedly small stockpiles, sending corn prices up by 5 percent. Wheat and soybeans surged more than 3 percent. “We are not going to run out of (corn and soybeans) but we are in a very tight situation,” said Joe Glauber, Agriculture Department chief economist.

For more of this story by Charles Abbott, read here.

For a graphic on 2011 plantings, click here.


Businesses, lawmakers urge CFTC to tap the brakes

The U.S. futures regulator must swallow its pride and ask Congress for a delay in implementing derivatives regulations, some lawmakers and businesses said as they criticized the agency for moving too fast. “The CFTC can’t possibly comprehend the cumulative impact over 40 proposed regulations will have on the markets or the economy,” said Chairman Frank Lucas of the House Agriculture Committee. “We simply cannot impose a wave of new regulations that are rushed and poorly vetted.”

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


US jobless claims fall, Midwest hiring jumps

The number of Americans claiming unemployment aid fell last week and factory employment in the Midwest hit a 27-year high in March, more signs that an improvement in the labor market is under way. The decline in layoffs and pick-up in hiring should take the sting out of the slowdown in economic growth early in the year and underscore that the moderation in activity is temporary. Bad weather and rising energy prices held back growth in the early months 2011 after a brisk fourth quarter.

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


Foreclosures slow but housing market still hurting

Home foreclosures slowed in the fourth quarter, but that is likely to be a brief reprieve once banks move more aggressively back into this area following a review of their mortgage servicing practices. A group of 50 state attorneys general and about a dozen federal agencies are probing mortgage servicing problems that came to light last year, including the use of “robo-signers” to sign hundreds of unread foreclosure documents a day.

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


From elsewhere…

Young voters have not abandoned Obama: poll

Young voters, who were crucial to President Obama’s election in 2008, have not soured on him and now support the Democrat in greater numbers than in the fall, according to a Harvard University poll. The survey also showed that young voters worry most about the economy, and still turn to traditional news outlets for political coverage.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Matt Sullivan (Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers managers before opening day baseball game)

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