This Week In Washington…

Posted on November 1, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

TOP 5 STORIES THIS WEEK

  • Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized for the glitch-ridden Affordable Care Act website in a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday, and took responsibility for fixing it.
    Look ahead:  Jeffrey Zients, who is leading HHS’s “tech surge” to repair HealthCare.gov, said Friday that the website will be running smoothly for most users by the end of November.
  • The leaders of France and Germany called for an agreement with the United States to cease the types of surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden, including the alleged monitoring of the calls of 35 world leaders.
    Look ahead: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that an E.U. summit in Brussels last week featured no discussion of halting trade negotiations with the United States.
  • House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Wednesday that the budget conference committee will not convene again until Nov. 13.
    Look ahead: With so much attention focused on what, if anything, can be accomplished by the budget conference, it would be easy to forget about the debt limit. But many of the budget conferees have not forgotten.
  • The House on Wednesday passed legislation that scales back a major provision of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, allowing large banks to continue to keep some forms of derivatives trading “in house.”
    Look ahead: While the legislation is unlikely to gain traction in the Senate, House members could net hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions as a result of the vote.
  • The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced that Syria “has completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing/filling plants, rendering them inoperable.”
    Look ahead: The Syrian government and the OPCW next must agree on a protocol for the destruction of remaining materials by Nov. 15.

WHITE HOUSE

  • In remarks Wednesday at Boston’s Faneuil Hall, the president defended the Affordable Care Act, vowing to resolve the problems with its rollout and citing the successes of Massachusetts’ law.
  • The president is facing fresh criticism over his previous claims that Americans would be able to retain their existing insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
  • Members of the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday expressed support for the president’s pivot toward Asia, but said that U.S. allies must increase their own military capabilities in support of the effort.
  • Headlining a fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the president said that the government shutdown highlighted “a contrast in visions” between the parties, and maintained that Democrats have “the better side” of that argument.

CONGRESS

  • Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a vote on the nomination of Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
  • Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, unveiled a proposal Tuesday that would require members of Congress to vote to stop the debt ceiling from increasing—rather than vote to approve an increase.
  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced on Wednesday that he will place a hold on the nomination of Janet Yellen to be chairwoman of the Federal Reserve.
  • House and Senate farm bill conferees held a conciliatory first meeting Wednesday and vowed to wrap up the legislation that has been in the works for two years.
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he will “block every appointment in the United States Senate” until survivors of the Benghazi terrorist attack are “made available” to testify before Congress.
  • Alex Conant, a spokesman for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the senator does not support a conference committee on comprehensive immigration legislation, because he believes a proposal could not get enough votes.
  • The House on Wednesday passed legislation that scales back a major provision of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, allowing large banks to continue some types of derivatives trading.

POLITICS

  • In a boost to Democrats’ prospects of picking up Florida’s 13th Congressional District, former gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, a Democrat, says she will run for the seat.
  • FreedomWorks announced on Monday that it is backing state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican, in his primary challenge to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
  • Banker French Hill, a top recruit for the National Republican Congressional Committee, announced on Tuesday that he is seeking the Republican nomination for Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District.
  • The Republican National Committee is targeting Asian voters in Virginia’s gubernatorial election with a TV ad linking former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, the party’s nominee, to alleged wrongdoing by GreenTech Automotive, a company he founded.
  • The Senate Conservatives Fund is airing a television spot against Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for making a deal with Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.
  • First lady Michelle Obama cut a radio ad for McAuliffe’s campaign, emphasizing voter turnout.

BUDGET & ECONOMY

  • The private sector added 130,000 new jobs in October, according to the ADP National Employment Report. The October numbers mark a six-month low for growth.
  • The Treasury Department announced on Wednesday that the deficit for the 2013 fiscal year was $680 billion. The figure marks the first time it has been below $1 trillion for a fiscal year during the Obama administration.
  • The Federal Reserve announced on Wednesday—in a widely expected decision—that it would keep its bond-buying program at current levels.
  • Consumer sentiment fell in October, with the 73.2 figure coming in below economists’ predictions.
  • With manufacturing production growing by 0.1 percent in September, and the number of previously owned homes purchased last month hitting a three-and-a-half-year low, the data points to a slowing economy.
  • Financial reserves in more than half of the country’s 250 largest cities have yet to bounce back to their 2007 levels.

ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT

  • Former Vice President Al Gore compared climate-change deniers to substance abusers during a Thursday speech.
  • The American Petroleum Institute said that scaled-back corn ethanol targets from the Environmental protection Agency are still too high.
  • The Obama administration, after wielding its executive muscle to fight climate-change pollution from U.S. coal plants, is now using its influence to block new coal-fired power plants worldwide.
  • Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., introduced a discussion draft blocking federal regulations to limit carbon emissions from future power plants.
  • According to Brazil’s National Petroleum Agency, vast reserves of recoverable oil have been discovered near Sergipe, a state on the country’s northern Atlantic coast.
  • The State Department is analyzing rail shipments of crude — a finding that could impact a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said attempts to speed up permitting of cross-border permits are equivalent to an attempt to “mandate approval” of the Keystone XL pipeline.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

  • The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced that Syria “has completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing/filling plants, rendering them inoperable.”
  • In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Gen. Keith Alexander denied reports that the National Security Agency amassed millions of phone records of European citizens, saying instead that the material was shared by NATO allies.
  • Egyptian authorities on Wednesday apprehended Essam el-Erian, deputy leader of the Freedom and Justice party, who had been in hiding since the July ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi, but has continued to release messages to Islamists.
  • The Chinese government announced plans to increase its own security following new revelations on National Security Agency surveillance of world leaders.
  • U.S. commandos were preparing a raid to capture Ahmed Abu Khattalah, an Ansar Al-Sharia militia leader suspected in the Benghazi attack, following the apprehension in Tripoli of Abu Anas al-Libi earlier this month, according to CNN, but the orders never came.
  • The leaders of France and Germany called for an agreement with the United States to cease the types of surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden, including the alleged monitoring of the calls of 35 world leaders.
  • The White House maintains that President Obama, while briefed on broad intelligence “priorities,” was unaware of U.S. surveillance of world leaders until an internal review this summer. Meanwhile, a Spanish newspaper reports that the NSA monitored over 60 million calls in Spain during a one-month period.
  • German media reported that the NSA began monitoring the phones of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as early as 2002, and that Obama was informed in 2010. The NSA issued a statement Sunday denying the latter claim.
  • Several E.U. nations are moving to restore sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and its subsidiaries, in defiance of an order from the European General Court.
  • The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is weighing a reduced role in Afghanistan following the end of combat operations at the close of 2014, with NATO troops tasked with monitoring the distribution of more than $4 billion in military aid from the United States and Europe.
  • European leaders, who recently have denounced U.S. surveillance abroad, are taking a deliberative approach to crafting new privacy protections for their own citizens.

HEALTH CARE

  • Contractors for HealthCare.gov pointed fingers at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Thursday on the botched launch of the Affordable Care Act’s online federal marketplace, but questions remain.
  • The Food and Drug Administration recommended tighter controls on certain prescription painkillers that would reduce the number of refills patients could receive before returning to their doctors.
  • CMS said 700,000 people applied for coverage, but declined to give a breakdown of how many applications came from state- versus federally run exchanges.
  • The Congressional Budget Office estimated that raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 would save $19 billion over 10 years, dramatically lower than its 2012 estimate of $113 billion.
  • The IRS has received over 330,000 requests for subsidy calculations from exchanges, an indicator of the number of people who have gotten past submitting applications for coverage on the site, to find out through the data hub how much financial help they will receive from the government.
  • CMS said the ACA is leading to zero growth in Medicare Part B premiums, and billions of dollars have been saved in the prescription-drug “doughnut hole.”
  • The White House announced Monday that it is giving individuals an extra six weeks to buy health insurance under the ACA exchanges. The new deadline is March 31.
  • A federal judge ruled that new Texas abortion limits are unconstitutional.
  • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, though the focus was not on the Affordable Care Act website problems.
  • Since Oct. 1, health insurance companies have started to cancel plans that don’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s coverage requirements, leaving Obama on the defensive and giving Republicans more ammunition against the ACA.
  • HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized for the problem-riddled Affordable Care Act website at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday, and took responsibility for fixing it. She also said that the much sought-after enrollment numbers haven’t been released because problems with HealthCare.gov render the data unreliable.
  • Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.,obtained a memo issued days before HealthCare.gov‘s launch that reveals knowledge of security concerns.

TECHNOLOGY

  • The National Security Agency has secretly accessed data centers at Google and Yahoo, collecting millions of records—including metadata, audio, video and texts from user accounts—according to sources and documents provided by Edward Snowden.
  • Lauri Love, a British national described by prosecutors as a “sophisticated and prolific computer hacker,” has been charged in connection with cyberattacks on government agencies including the Health and Human Services Department, the Energy Department, and the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
  • Blackberry executives met last week with Facebook to discuss a potential bid for the troubled smartphone company.
  • Google is building structures on two massive barges in San Francisco Bay that are believed to be floating data centers.
  • Twitter has been sued for $124 million by two financial firms in advance of its initial public offering. The firms claim that the company engineered a doomed private sale in order to boost investor interest.
  • The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Tom Wheeler to lead the Federal Communications Commission.
  • Some investors and entrepreneurs are working to move bitcoin into the mainstream, convinced that the digital currency could lower the fees associated with processing payments and improve the security of transactions.
  • Absent federal action to improve privacy protections, a number of states are crafting their own laws, covering questions such as the collection of student data and the ability of the police to track cell-phone locations.

OTHER NEWS

QUOTES

  • “You deserve better. I apologize. I’m accountable to you for fixing this problem, and I’m committed to earning your confidence back by fixing the site.” — Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, on problems with the HealthCare.Gov rollout. (National Journal)
  • “I was in third grade there and I thought I saw on you a tricycle there one day.” — Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, to Sebelius on repeated references to Kansas during the hearing. (National Journal)
  • “Whatever.” — Sebelius, on whether the flawed rollout was Obama’s responsibility. (Washington Post)
  • “My words weren’t appropriate, but my frustrations are real.” — Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., on using an impolite word for derriere to describe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. (Roll Call)
  • “This should have been a slam dunk. Virginia almost always votes against the president’s party…. All we needed was a mammal up there.” — Former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., on the campaign of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. (National Journal)
  • “You can’t turn every one of these regulatory reviews into a circus. Or else we’ll get nothing done in this country.” — TransCanada CEO Russ Girling, on the still-stalled approval process for the Keystone XL pipeline. (Politico)
  • “I’m the first Republican. I expect more to come on board.” — Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., announcing his support for an immigration bill that includes citizenship opportunities for some illegal immigrants. (Washington Post)

CHARTS AND GRAPHICS

  • The Washington Post maps the average median income in congressional districts represented by the Republicans who most frequently voted to push the country toward a fiscal cliff.
  • Pew charts state abortion laws.
  • Gallup charts falling support for the death penalty.
  • Wonkblog charts high unemployment in deep-red congressional districts.
  • Pew charts the economic recovery using a variety of factors.
  • Wonkblog charts next month’s food-stamp cuts.

Future events

  • Friday, Nov. 1 — The Harvard Divinity School, Harvard Kennedy School, and the Religious Freedom Center will hold a discussion, “Religion and Politics in a World of Conflict,” at 7:30 p.m. at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
  • Friday, Nov. 1 — Former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, will speak at the 2013 Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium lecture series at 8 p.m. at 3400 North Charles Street in Baltimore.
  • Monday, Nov. 4 — The Brookings Institution will hold a discussion, “2014 Midterm Election Preview: One Year Out,” at 10 a.m. at 1775 Massachusetts Avenue NW.
  • Monday, Nov. 4 — National Review will hold a “2014 election preview” event at noon at 101 Constitution Avenue NW.
  • Monday, Nov. 4 — The Woodrow Wilson Center and the National History Center of the American Historical Association will hold a seminar, “The Other Welfare: Supplemental Security Income and U.S. Social Policy” at 4 p.m. at 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
  • Monday, Nov. 4 — The White House will hold a ceremony to honor the Chicago Blackhawks to celebrate their 2013 Stanley Cup victory at 2 p.m.
  • Monday, Nov. 4 – Thursday, Nov. 7 — The United States Energy Association will hold the fifth Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum on the future of carbon-capture and storage technologies at 2800 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
  • Monday, Nov. 4 — The Federation of American Scientists will hold a briefing, “Future Nuclear Risks and Deterrence,” on the use of Quantitative Risk Analysis to reduce nuclear threats at noon in 121 Cannon.
  • Monday, Nov. 4 — The Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies will hold a discussion, “The Energy Revolution: Key Geopolitical Impacts,” at 5:30 p.m. at 1740 Massachusetts Avenue NW.
  • Monday, Nov. 4 — The Chamber of Commerce will hold a discussion on “the ongoing and strategic bilateral economic relationship between the United States and Egypt” at noon at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
  • Monday, Nov. 4 — The East-West Center in Washington will hold a seminar, “Responding to the Rebalance: ASEAN between China and the U.S.,” at noon at 1819 L Street NW.
  • Monday, Nov. 4 — The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research will hold a discussion, “Obamacare, month one: Monitoring the vital signs,” at 1150 17th Street NW.
  • Monday, Nov. 4 — The Institute of Medicine will hold the 2013 National Cancer Policy Summit “New Opportunities and Challenges in Cancer Research and Care” at 8:15 a.m. at 500 Fifth Street NW.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 5 — Bloomberg Government will hold a summit, “Mind the Gap: Connecting Health Care Policy With Next Century Innovation,” at 8 a.m. at 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 5 — The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing, “The Online Federal Health Insurance Marketplace: Enrollment Challenges and the Path Forward,” at 10 a.m. in 430 Dirksen.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 5 — The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold the Global Security Forum 2013 at 8 a.m. at 1616 Rhode Island Avenue NW.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 5 — The Commerce Department will hold an “Innovative Spectrum-Sharing Technology Day,” to showcase “advances in spectrum sharing and other innovations and initiatives aimed at satisfying the nation’s surging demand for wireless services, devices, and applications” at 10 a.m. at 1401 Constitution Avenue NW.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 5 — The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing, “Housing-Finance Reform: Protecting Small-Lender Access to the Secondary Mortgage Market,” at 10 a.m. in 538 Dirksen.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 5 — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at 2:30 p.m. in 419 Dirksen.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 6 –The Farm Foundation Forum will hold a discussion on how work is progressing on the farm bill and how the outcome may affect the nation’s food and agriculture system at 9 a.m. at 529 14th Street NW.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 6 — The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the nominations of Sloan Gibson to be deputy VA secretary, Linda Schwartz to be assistant VA secretary for policy and planning, and Constance Tobias to be chairman of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals at 10 a.m. in 418 Russell.
  • Thursday, Nov. 7 — The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing, “The Impact of Sequestration on the National Defense,” at 9:30 a.m. in G-50 Dirksen.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 5 — The Peterson Institute for International Economics will hold a discussion, “Keeping Cyclical Unemployment from Becoming Structural Inequality,” at 12:30 p.m. at 1750 Massachusetts Avenue NW.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 6 — The Peterson Institute for International Economics will hold a conference, “Abenomics: From Macroeconomic to Structural Reform” at 9:45 a.m. at 1750 Massachusetts Avenue NW.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 6 — The New America Foundation and United Nations Relief and Works Agency will hold a discussion, “The Socio-Economic Consequences of Armed Conflict in Syria,” at 9:30 a.m. at 1800 L Street NW.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 6 — The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing, “Health Insurance Exchanges: An Update from the Administration,” at 10 a.m. in 215 Dirksen.
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