WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FORTY-EIGHT

November 14, 2011     The Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the 2010 healthcare overhaul law, President Obama's signature legislative achievement, setting the stage for oral arguments by March and a decision in late June as the 2012 presidential campaign enters its crucial final months:

  • The range of issues the court agreed to address amounted to a menu of possible resolutions: the justices could uphold the law, strike down just its most controversial provision or some or all of the rest of it, or duck a definitive decision entirely as premature.

November 15, 2011

1.     Congress is fighting to keep pizza and french fries on school lunch lines, picking apart an Obama administration proposal to make school lunches healthier:

  • A spending bill released late November 14th would unravel school lunch standards proposed by the Agriculture Department earlier this year, forcing USDA to pull back an attempt to limit potatoes on the school lunch line, delay limits on sodium, and delaying a requirement to boost whole grains--the school lunch proposal was based on 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, and when the guidelines were proposed in January, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the effort was necessary to stem the tide of childhood obesity and reduce future healthcare costs.

2.     House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a bundle of spending measures for the ongoing budget year, blending cuts to NASA and community development programs while averting cuts to nutrition programs:

  • The approximately $182 billion measure announced late November 14th would fund day-to-day operations at the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the space program--it also contains stop-gap spending legislation to keep the government running until December 16th and buy lawmakers more time for a raft of other spending bills, but many of those measures are freighted with controversy;
  • Without the stop-gap measure, the government would partially shut down this weekend--lawmakers face a midnight deadline November 18th to act on the measure and House and Senate leaders promised votes this week.

November 16, 2011

1.     The House voted 272-154 to require states that issue concealed gun permits to recognize similar licenses from other states--Oregon votes: Blumenauer (D), no; DeFazio (D), yes; Schrader (D), yes; and Walden (R), yes:

  • The measure did not cover machine guns or other destructive devices, and permit-holders traveling with hidden guns would be required to carry documentation and photo identification--a similar measure has not been introduced in the Senate.

2.     President Obama will get a chance to sign into law a portion of his $447 billion jobs plan after the House agreed to extend tax credits to businesses that hire unemployed veterans and to repeal a tax provision seen as a potential burden to government contractors:

  • This is the first element of Obama's jobs package to get congressional approval--the measure, passed last week by the Senate, passed 422-0, and it now heads to Obama, who has indicated he will sign it--both parties cheered the vote as a rare example of legislative cooperation.

3.     The Service Employees International Union endorsed President Obama's re-election bid, saying it would deploy its formidable political machine earlier and on a wider scale than four years ago:

  • The politically powerful union is the latest labor organization to jump in with early endorsement of the president, following the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the National Education Association, and it could signal even broader campaign spending by labor groups, which poured in about $400 million to help elect Obama in 2008.

4.     President Obama and Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia announced plans for the first sustained U.S. military presence in Australia, a relatively small deployment that is still a major symbol of U.S. intentions to use regional alliances to counterbalance a rising China:

  • Obama said the basing agreement "allows us to meet the demands of a lot of partners in the region that want to feel that they are getting the exercises, and that we have the presence that is necessary to maintain the security architecture in the region"--the U.S. will not build new bases on the continent, but instead will use Australian facilites, and Obama said Marines will rotate through for joint training and exercises with Australia, and the USAF will have increased access to airfields in the nation's Northern Territory.

5.     Lobbyists for a day, a band of millionaires stormed Capitol Hill to urge Congress to tax them more:

  • They had a little trouble getting in, but once inside, their message was embraced by liberals and tolerated by some conservatives--"If you think the federal government can spend your money better than you can, then by all means," pay more taxes than you owe, said Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, a group that has gotten almost all congressional Republicans to pledge to vote against tax hikes.

November 17, 2011

1.     Congress has approved a big compromise spending bill that averts a weekend government shutdown that neither party wanted:

  • Passage of the bill came despite conservatives' complaints about excessive spending and liberals' objections to a provision letting the government continue classifying pizza sauces served to school children as a vegetable--the Senate approved the measure shortly after the House approved it.

2.     The White House threatened to veto the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act because a series of the bill's provisions would mandate military custody for some terrorism suspects and prevent the administration from transferring detainees out of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

3.     The Obama administration has begun its promised review of backlogged deportation cases, focusing on illegal immigrants who have committed crimes or are considered public safety or national security threats:

  • The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies announced the plan in August, and an agency menu outlining the new approach says government lawyers will start with a pilot program to look at all new deportation cases in immigration courts--other illegal immigrants, including those brought to the U.S. illegally as children, probably will have their cases delayed indefinitely.

4.     Detecting "flickers of progress" in the long-shunned nation of Myanmar, President Obama announced that he will send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the repressed country next month, making her the first official in her position to visit in more than 50 years:

  • The administration sees Clinton's visit as a sign of success for Obama's policy on Myanmar, which focused on punishments and incentives to get the country's former military rulers to improve dire human rights conditions--the U.S. imposed new sanctions on Myanmar but made it clear it was open to better relations.

5.     Signalling a determination to counter a rising China, President Obama vowed to expand U.S. influence in the Asia-Pacific region and "project power and deter threats to peace" in that part of the world, even as he rduced spending and winds down two wars:

  • Obama's bullish speech came several hours after announcing he would send military aircraft and up to 2,500 Marines to northern Australia for a training hub to help allies and protect American interests across Asia--China immediately questioned the U.S. move and said it deserved further scrutiny.

November 18, 2011     The House of Representatives voted down a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, failing to revive a long-held and persistently elusive goal for the GOP:

  • The vote came 16 years after an amendment failed to pass Congress by just one vote in the Senate, but the intervening years have put the amendment even further out of reach--the measure fell well short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass, with a vote of 261-165;
  • Oregon votes: Blumenauer (D), no; DeFazio (D), yes; Schrader (D), no; and Walden (r), yes--the White House has said it opposes the amendment, and the Senate, which is required to vote on it as part of the August debt deal, is not expected to pass it.
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