This Week in Washington…

Posted on February 21, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized |

TOP 5 STORIES THIS WEEK

  • The death toll is rising in Ukraine following the collapse of a fragile truce between Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders, as the European Union imposed sanctions on government officials and the United States placed 20 Ukrainian leaders on a visa blacklist.
    Look ahead: Fears are mounting that Yanukovych could declare a state of emergency, which would pave the way for military involvement in the conflict.
  • A Congressional Budget Office report released this week found that raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour would increase compensation for 16.5 million Americans, but could cost 500,000 jobs.
    Look ahead: Expect Democrats to emphasize the plan’s potential to lift 900,000 people out of poverty, while Republicans focus on the potential job losses.
  • The six world powers and Iran have agreed to a framework for talks on a long-term agreement on the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.
    Look ahead: The parties will reconvene in Vienna on March 17.
  • The White House announced today that the president’s 2015 budget will not revive his earlier offer to reduce cost-of-living increases in Social Security and veterans’ benefits.
    Look ahead: The move signals the administration’s acknowledgement that a “grand bargain” on the budget remains elusive.
  • President Obama joined Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the North American Leaders Summit in Toluca, Mexico, where the leaders made little headway on matters of trade, immigration and the Keystone XL pipeline.
    Look ahead: Obama is working to downplay reports of opposition within his own party over the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

WHITE HOUSE

  • President Obama, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made few gains on the major issues before them at the North American Leaders Summit: the Keystone XL pipeline, immigration reform, and international trade.
  • En route to Mexico, Obama signed an executive order directing federal agencies to finalize the International Trade Data System, which is designed to streamline the processing of imports and exports.
  • Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker is using her experience as a corporate executive to defuse tensions aroused during the president’s first term, and is working to boost trade and investment as well as to develop a highly skilled labor force.
  • The president reviewed drought damage in California on Friday, and promised millions of dollars in federal aid to farmers and others affected by the extreme conditions.
  • Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday before a meeting with student groups that the United States must “change the culture” in order to reduce the incidence of sexual assault.
  • President Obama met Friday with King Abdullah II of Jordan, telling the leader that he will seek additional humanitarian assistance for refugees from Syria.

CONGRESS

  • Republican Sens. Dan Coats of Indiana, Rob Portman of Ohio, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Susan Collins of Maine are crafting a jobless-benefits extension that could include reforms to the program.
  • More than a dozen U.S. House members and some of their spouses arrived in Cartagena, Colombia, on Tuesday for the start of a five-day series of seminars and other events on the changes in Latin America. The trip is sponsored by the Aspen Institute Congressional Program.
  • Sequestration was designed to attract Congress’s wrath, but now, with few other options available, it’s becoming legislators’ favorite tool.
  • The collapse of a prospective “grand bargain” in the summer of 2011 spared Democrats from what surely would have been a bitter internal reckoning over entitlements.
  • In a letter, 117 House Democrats urged the president to remove reductions to Social Security and veterans’ benefits from his proposed budget, due March 4.

POLITICS

  • The American Opportunity Alliance, a group of pro-business GOP mega-donors led by billionaire financier Paul Singer, will host a two-day retreat in Colorado later this month that has attracted the likes of House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
  • A coalition of women’s groups on Wednesday launched a plan to leverage the power of female voters to pressure House Republicans on immigration reform.
  • Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., will retire after eight terms, while freshman Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Calif., plans to return to local politics with a run for the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.
  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee reported raising $6.6 million in January, besting the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s monthly total of $4.6 million.
  • Democrats aim to minimize their liability over the Affordable Care Act by convincing voters that a Republican alternative would have proven more problematic.
  • Under growing political pressure, the National Republican Congressional Committee has overhauled a series of controversial campaign websites that are designed to, at first glance, appear as if they support Democrats.
  • U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen ruled that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the due-process and equal-protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, but stayed her ruling pending appeals.
  • Companies and political candidates are turning to a new technology that allows advertisers to target specific homes with television messaging.

BUDGET & ECONOMY

  • Democrats are on the defensive following the release of a Congressional Budget Office report finding that increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour would increase compensation for 16.5 million Americans, but could cost 500,000 jobs.
  • The administration marked the fifth anniversary of the 2009 economic stimulus by releasing a report detailing the law’s benefits, including jobs created or saved and increases to the nation’s gross domestic product; Republicans reiterated claims that the law has failed to improve the economic picture.
  • China and Japan, the largest holders of long-term U.S. securities, trimmed their investments in December, with Beijing cutting nearly $48 billion during the month, while private foreign creditors increased their holdings by $56 billion during the same period.
  • Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., expressed hopes that key tax credits and deductions can be “re-enacted promptly.”
  • The World Bank aims to increase its loan portfolio by 50 percent–$100 billion–over the next decade.

ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT

  • Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said ads targeting her for supporting the Keystone XL pipeline could help her win votes in an energy-rich state.
  • The White House directed federal agencies to complete the next round of carbon-emissions and fuel-efficiency standards for large and medium-sized trucks by March of 2016.
  • Chinese investment to spur energy efficiency exceeded U.S. investment for the first time.
  • Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., called for a temporary brake on propane exports to bring down the price of the fuel.
  • Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced final approval for a multibillion-dollar loan guarantee for the first nuclear reactors to be built in the U.S. in more than 30 years.
  • Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., asked the Federal Railroad Administration to take a closer look at track safety in North Dakota.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

HEALTH CARE

  • The U.S. launched a new global health initiative, joining over two dozen countries and international organizations to prevent and respond to threats of infectious diseases.
  • Party leaders are urging Democratic candidates to address the ACA’s problems and propose solutions, rather than ignore the unease surrounding the health care law.
  • California state Sen. Ricardo Lara proposed legislation that would extend coverage under the Affordable Care Act to immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.
  • California’s exchange boasts some of the highest Affordable Care Act enrollment numbers, but has had difficulty signing up Latinos.
  • The Arkansas House and Senate will vote today on whether to renew funding for the state’s “private option” for coverage for low-income individuals, following two failed votes in the House earlier this week. If the Legislature revokes the program, the almost 100,000 Arkansans who have enrolled so far will lose their coverage July 1.

TECHNOLOGY

  • Facebook has agreed to purchase WhatsApp for $4 billion in cash and $12 billion in shares, though the total cost of the deal could reach $19 billion through the issuing of restricted stock to WhatsApp founders and employees.
  • The theft of debit- and credit-card information from Target last year is estimated to have cost financial institutions more than $200 million, higher than previous guesses.
  • Target executives are determined to win back public support following its data breach, with CEO Gregg Steinhafel saying the company “won’t be defined by the breach, but how we handle the breach.”
  • AT&T received more than 300,000 government requests for users’ phone data in 2013, similar to numbers disclosed by Verizon, both of which showed that phone companies received more demands for data than Internet companies.
  • Netflix has been in a standoff with Verizon and other broadband providers over streaming fees for a month, and while Netflix has refused to pay extra fees, its speeds have dropped by 14 percent.
  • NASA and MIT are shooting “lasers full of Internet” to spaceships on the moon, with Internet speeds almost 10 times faster than anywhere on Earth.

OTHER NEWS

  • A Florida jury convicted Michael Dunn of three counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of firing into an unoccupied vehicle, but failed to reach a verdict on a single count of first-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis.
  • The Gap announced plans to raise its employees’ hourly minimum wage to $9 this year and $10 in 2015.
  • Swedish athletic apparel company Craft has scored a coup, outfitting the Dutch speed skating team that has won 20 medals in Sochi, while U.S. athletes have raised concerns that their Under Armour skinsuits could be impeding their efforts on the ice.
  • European Union regulations governing the export of drugs used in lethal injections have played a leading role in the shortage of those substances in the United States. A number of botched executions have been attributed to the use of untested cocktails to carry out death sentences, and some states are turning to alternative methods of execution.

QUOTES

  • “If you’re a whip in either party, you’ve got to corral your caucus and conference members, and you’ve got to provide the votes to get things done to move the legislation, to make Congress relevant to people’s lives, and so you use different techniques to get that done. I think this show is overly dramatic and pessimistic and dark in the portrayal of how that’s done.” — Former Rep. David Bonior, who served as Democratic whip in the House from 1991 to 2002, on Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of fictional Majority Whip Frank Underwood in House of Cards (National Journal)
  • “Why should he talk about climate change when we have got 130,000 people in Syria killed?” — Sen. John McCain, on Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments on the danger of climate change (National Journal)
  • “All we need is something bad to be in these 27,000 emails, and all attention will turn to Wisconsin.” — Mike Tate, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, on the national political implications of a now-closed investigation of Gov. Scott Walker (Washington Post)
  • “When the Council chooses a celebrity to deliver its public health messages, it gives that celebrity a ‘halo,’ to use the jargon of the public relations industry. The question is whether the Council is OK with Coca-Cola and other sugar-drink producers renting that halo for their purposes?” — The Center for Science in the Public Interest, in a letter criticizing retired figure skater Michelle Kwan for appearing in a Coca-Cola ad while serving on the President’s Council on Nutrition, Fitness and Sports (The Hill)
  • “Since the first minimum wage was enacted more than 75 years ago, opponents have argued that a wage floor would cause job loss. But this is a myth.” — Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, before release of a Congressional Budget Office report estimating that the economy would lose about 500,000 jobs if the federal minimum wage is raised to $10.10 (National Journal)

CHARTS AND GRAPHICS

  • Reddit user Alexander Trubetskoy maps the sources of America’s GDP.
  • Quartz charts the rise and fall of long-distance airfare.
  • Gallup tracksthe shift in public opinion on the U.S. role in Afghanistan.
  • Quartz graphshow Greece has turned around its current-account balance.
  • The Wall Street Journal illustrates who would be affected by an increase in the federal minimum wage.

Future events

  • Thursday, Feb. 20 – President Obama will address the Democratic Governors Association dinner at 5:35 p.m. at 923 16th Street NW.
  • Thursday, Feb. 20 – The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders will hold a Google+ Hangout, beginning at 3 p.m., to outline national priorities and launch a drive to engage the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
  • Tuesday, Feb. 25 – The Office of Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. will hold an event, “Honoring our Past and Celebrating Our Future: Discussing Personal Journeys and a Nation’s Progress With America’s Black Senators,” at 9:30 a.m. at 10 First Street SE.
  • Tuesday, Feb. 25 – The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing, “Reauthorizing TRIA (Terrorism Risk Insurance Act): The State of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Market, Part II,” at 10 a.m. in 538 Dirksen.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 26 – The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing, “Enforcing the President’s Constitutional Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws,” at 10 a.m. in 2141 Rayburn.
  • Friday, Feb. 21 to Monday, Feb. 24 – The National Governors Association will hold its2014 Winter Meeting at 1331 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
  • Monday, Feb. 24 – The Politics and Prose Bookstore will hold a book discussion on HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton at 7 p.m. at 5015 Connecticut Avenue NW.
  • Friday, Feb. 21 – The World Bank Group, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Kauffman Foundation will hold a research conference, “Doing Business: Past, Present and Future of Business Regulation,” Feb. 20-21 at Georgetown University’s Hariri Building, 37th and O Streets NW.
  • Monday, Feb. 24 and Tuesday, Feb. 25 – The National Association for Business Economics holds its 30th annual Economic Policy Conference, “Policy Choices: Immediate Needs, Enduring Challenges,” at 1700 Jefferson Davis Highway in Arlington.
  • Tuesday, Feb. 25 – The New America Foundation’s Asset Building Program and the Center for Social Development will hold a discussion, “The Tax-Man Giveth? Refunds, Savings, and Promoting Economic Security,” at 9 a.m. at 1899 L Street NW.
  • Monday, Feb. 24 – National Journal will hold the “State of the States Policy Summit,” focusing on disaster recovery after weather-related events, at 1:30 p.m. at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
  • Friday, Feb. 21 – The Henry L. Stimson Center will hold aforum on national security and international affairs, focusing on lessons learned and insights from the field of operations in Afghanistan, at noon at 1111 19th Street NW.
  • Monday, Feb. 24 – The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs will hold the Second Asia Security Workshop at 8:45 a.m. at 1957 E Street NW.
  • Monday, Feb. 24 – The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs, the United States Institute for Peace, and the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication will hold adiscussion, “Blogs & Bullets III: Twitter Evolutions: Understanding the Changing Role of Social Media in War and Protest,” at 9 a.m. at 2301 Constitution Avenue NW.
  • Monday, Feb. 24 – The Brookings Institution’s Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence will hold adiscussion, “The Future of Land Power and U.S. Ground Forces,” at 10 a.m. at 1775 Massachusetts Avenue NW.
  • Monday, Feb. 24 – Kaiser Health News and Health Affairs will hold a discussion on the experiences of Arkansas under the Affordable Care Act, including the Medicaid “private option,” at 8:30 a.m. at 1330 G Street NW. Gov. Mike Beebe is among the scheduled participants.
  • Friday, Feb. 21 – Politico and Microsoft will hold the fourth annual State Solutions Conference with governors from across the country, focusing on “innovative approaches that their states have taken to address complex problems,” at 8 a.m. at 901 K Street NW.
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