Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Chicken and ducks

USA-HEALTHCARE/The wrangling continues over the Bush-era tax cuts. President Barack Obama said he was confident Democrats and Republicans could break the deadlock and reach a deal soon. But with time running out, there is something of a game of chicken being played by the two sides. Each is watching to see who blinks first, and with the economy still struggling, both know the stakes are high.

 

Texas Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling warned of the risks of failure:  “In a lame duck session, a lame duck Congress should not turn our economy into a dead duck economy.”

 

Let’s just hope they don’t duck the issue.

 

Here are our top stories from Washington today…

 

White House memo outlines new anti-leak measures

The White House has set up a special anti-WikiLeaks panel after the embarrassing flood of State Department cables leaked by the website, and its proposals include teams of inspectors who would prowl government agencies looking for ways to tighten security. A four-page draft memo circulated by the White House says President Obama’s national security staff has created an “Interagency Policy Committee for WikiLeaks.”

 

For more of this story, read here.

 

Geithner, lawmakers debate Bush-era tax cuts

President Obama’s top economic advisers and key leaders in Congress haggled over how to extend low Bush-era tax rates on Wednesday, seeking to break a political deadlock and prevent taxes from rising next year. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who is leading negotiations for the White House with budget director Jack Lew, said participants had a “civil, constructive discussion” but he would not talk about where those talks were heading.

 

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

 

U.S. sees big costs for banks to fix foreclosures

Banks will have to cope with big costs to clean up their foreclosure practices, with some lenders also facing “significant exposure” to investor demands that they buy back faulty mortgages, a top official said. Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo was hesitant to put a number on the potential costs and told a Senate hearing regulators are trying to get a handle on the threat to the financial system.

Obama’s oil oratory — Katrina, drill baby drill, boom and shave

President Barack Obama, in his first formal press conference  in almost a year (since July), answered questions about his handling of the oil spill.

There was the one about Katrina comparisons. (Slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina turned into an albatross for former President George W. Bush). OIL-LEAK/OBAMA

“I’ll leave it to you guys to make those comparisons … and make judgments on it, because what I’m spending my time thinking about is how do we solve the problem?” Obama said.

from Environment Forum:

Oil-soaked sand along Gulf Coast raises memories of Exxon Valdez

Oil on BeachA handful of oily sand grabbed from a Louisiana wetland brought back some strong memories for Earl Kingik. As a traditional hunter and whaler in Alaska's Arctic, it reminded him of the Exxon Valdez spill. As he and other tribal leaders toured the U.S. Gulf Coast for signs of the BP oil spill, they worried that what's happening now in Louisiana could happen if offshore drilling proceeds off the Alaskan coast.

"There's no way to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic," said Kingik, an Inupiat tribal member from Point Hope, Alaska. Compared to Louisiana, where the waters are relatively calm and cleanup equipment and experts are nearby, the Arctic Ocean is a hostile place for oil and gas exploration. The Arctic leaders made their pilgrimage to the Gulf Coast as part of a campaign to block planned exploratory drilling by Shell Oil  in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

4 looking out windows"What I saw was devastating out there," Martha Falk, the tribal council treasurer of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope in Alaska, said after the Gulf Coast tour by seaplane, boat and on foot. If the same thing occurred off Alaska, she said, "We would have to wait days and days and days for (cleanup) equipment to reach our area."

from Environment Forum:

Washington math: oil spill + climate bill = new environmental polls

OIL-RIG/LEAKWith BP's spilled oil shimmering off the U.S. Gulf Coast, and a re-tooled bill to curb climate change expected to be unveiled this week in the U.S. Senate, what could be more appropriate than a bouquet of new environmental polls? Conducted on behalf of groups that want less fossil fuel use, the polls show hefty majorities favoring legislation to limit emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide.

In the kind of harmonic convergence that sometimes happens inside the Capital Beltway, a new poll released on Monday by the Clean Energy Works campaign showed "overwhelming public support for comprehensive clean energy legislation," with 61 percent of 2010 voters saying they want to limit pollution, invest in clean energy and make energy companies pay for emitting the carbon that contributes to climate change. A healthy majority -- 54 percent -- of respondents said they'd be more likely to re-elect a senator who votes for the bill.

Last Friday, the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been pushing for climate change legislation for years, released its own poll numbers. NRDC's pollsters found seven in 10 Americans want to see fast-tracked clean energy legislation in the wake of the BP oil spill, and two-thirds say they want to postpone new offshore drilling until the Gulf oil spill is investigated and new safeguards are put in place.

from Environment Forum:

Calling Dr. Strangelove!

Perhaps you've heard about the Russian submarines patrolling international waters off the U.S. East Coast (if you haven't, take a look at a Reuters story about it) in what feels like an echo of the old Cold War. The Pentagon's not worried about this particular venture, but there are concerns from the U.S. energy industry about another Russian foray -- this one in concert with Cuba. In rhetoric that may ring a bell with anyone who saw the 1964 satirical nuclear-fear movie "Dr. Strangelove,"
the Washington-based Institute for Energy Research is sounding the alarm about a Russian-Cuban deal to drill for offshore oil near Florida.

"Russia, Communist Cuba Advance Offshore Energy Production Miles Off Florida's Coast," is the title on the institute's news release. Below that is the prescription for action: "Efforts Should Send Strong Message to Interior Dept. to Open OCS in Five-Year Plan." OCS stands for outer continental shelf, an area that was closed to oil drilling until the Bush administration opened it last year in a largely symbolic move aimed at driving down the sky-high gasoline prices of the Summer of 2008.

Environmentalists hate the idea. So does Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who has made opposition to offshore drilling one of his signature issues. But as it turns out, it's unlikely that anybody -- from Russia, Cuba, the United States or anywhere else -- is going to get petroleum out of the OCS in the immediate future.