This Week in Washington…

Posted on March 27, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized |


• President Obama and international leaders moved to further isolate Russia, with the G-7 members agreeing to suspend their participation in the G-8, and NATO countries committing to bolster the alliance’s security operations.
Look ahead: The leaders vowed to impose stricter economic sanctions against Russia in the event of further military incursions into Ukraine, but budget constraints here and in Europe could reduce NATO’s role as a deterrent.
• The administration is seeking an overhaul of the NSA’s bulk data-collection practices, which would leave records in the hands of phone companies and require the agency to obtain a court order for searches.
Look ahead: Administration officials and congressional leaders are nearing consensus on a plan to reform the NSA program—a proposal from House Intelligence Committee leaders would require retroactive, rather than prior, judicial consent.
• The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, which address the question of whether for-profit corporations may gain a religious exemption from the legal requirement to provide coverage for contraception.
Look ahead: A ruling in the case could have broad implications, including for laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
• The White House, which has previously declined to extend the March 31 open-enrollment deadline, will allow individuals to sign up for coverage until mid-April if they are able to demonstrate that they began the enrollment process before the deadline.
Look ahead: Individuals may seek an extension for a range of reasons, and the government will grant it on an honor system.
• The House passed a temporary “doc fix” bill on a voice vote, preventing a 24-percent reduction in physician reimbursements under Medicare.
Look ahead: The Senate is expected to take up and past the measure later today.

• In an apparent warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Obama vowed to defend NATO allies against any threat, but also said that military force will not be used to return Crimea to Ukrainian control.
• Closing out his European tour with a speech at Belgium’s Palais des Beaux-Arts, the president characterized the conflict as “a moment of testing” for global democracy and international law and urged NATO members to “step up” to meet the challenge of collective security.
• The administration is calling for an overhaul of the NSA’s bulk data collection, which would leave records in the hands of phone companies and require the agency to obtain a court order for searches.
• Obama spoke with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday, saying later that the two discussed foreign policy and income inequality and downplaying any disagreements over social issues.
• The president met Tuesday with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a key Putin ally, and the two leaders released a joint statement on their countries’ “shared commitment to nonproliferation and strengthening nuclear security.”
• The president launched an initiative on women’s issues at a Florida community college, drawing on his own family’s experiences while discussing his administration’s efforts to increase opportunities for women.
• The administration pushed back its deadline for review of 8,000 pages of Clinton administration records from March 26 to April 26, delaying the documents’ release by the National Archives.

• The House and Senate passed separate bills Thursday to authorize aid to Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia for its actions in Crimea.
• House Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced that Republicans will complete a budget, despite nagging questions about whether such a plan could pass in the House, and whether Republicans should—or even have to—produce a budget as they head toward November’s elections.
• House Democrats filed a discharge petition on comprehensive immigration reform Wednesday, in an effort to force Republicans’ hand on the issue.
• Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ordered a forensic analysis of Intelligence Committee computers in response to the CIA’s “absurd” allegations of hacking by committee staff.
• A referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics alleges that Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers used taxpayer funds to pay for her aides’ campaign-related travel, and combined campaign and congressional resources in her effort to win the chairmanship of the House Republican Conference, in violation of House rules.
• The House Ethics Committee is investigating Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., over a now-terminated contract with a former staffer now employed as a lobbyist.
• The ethics panel is reviewing an OCE referral contending that Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., earned $600,000 from a family plumbing business last year.

• Statistician Nate Silver’s latest Senate projection, which shows a slim edge for Republicans, drew a rebuttal from DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil, who wrote in a memo that Silver was wrong in 2012, and he’ll be wrong again in 2014.
• White House alumni are assuming consulting or advisory posts that lack the designation of registered lobbyist, allowing them to comply—at least nominally—with Obama’s 2009 directive barring former administration officials from lobbying the executive branch for the duration of his presidency.
• Americans for Prosperity used the special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District to test a broad, data-driven strategy ahead of Senate elections across the country.
• The DCCC posted its strongest February ever, raising $6.4 million and ending the period with $34.4 million on hand and zero debt, while the NRCC raised $5.1 million and closed the month with $24.8 million on hand.
• The DSCC outraised its Republican counterpart by more than $1 million, taking in $6.8 million to the NRSC’s $5.47 million in February. But the Democratic committee is carrying $1.2 million in debt, while the NRSC is debt-free.

• The Federal Reserve ruled Wednesday that Citigroup—which had planned to buy back $6.4 billion in shares and increase dividends—Zions Bancorp, and the U.S. subsidiaries of three European banks are inadequately prepared to withstand a potential crisis.
• The Fed approved capital plans from 25 other major banks following its annual “stress tests” of financial institutions.
• Twenty-nine of 30 major banks satisfied the Fed’s 5 percent minimum for top-tier capital, meeting the threshold for surviving another financial crisis.
• The Internal Revenue Service said in a notice issued Tuesday that bitcoin “does not have legal tender status in any jurisdiction,” and is thus taxable as property, not currency.
• A report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that more than 80 percent of payday loans are rolled over or renewed within 14 days, and 15 percent of new loans yield a loan sequence (including such rollovers or renewals) of 10 or more loans. Many borrowers end up owing more in fees than the loan amount.
• A federal jury convicted five former aides to Bernard Madoff on 31 counts related to the long-running Ponzi scheme.

• The Energy Department granted conditional approval to the Jordan Cove liquefied natural-gas export terminal in Oregon, authorizing it to ship natural gas to non-free-trade-agreement nations.
• Environmental groups need Sen. Mary Landrieu to win reelection to maintain a Democratic majority in the Senate, but they’re not going anywhere near her race.
• The Environmental Protection Agency released a draft rule to clarify which streams and waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act.
• The World Trade Organization determined that China’s restrictions on exports of rare metals violate international trade agreements.
• A three-judge panel of a state appellate court has found that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ran afoul of the law when he withdrew from a regional greenhouse-gas emissions program.
• A number of states have already begun working on compliance plans to meet upcoming Environmental Protection Agency regulations to rein in greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants.
• New technology is helping wind turbines become increasingly efficient and cost-effective.

• The International Monetary Fund announced a “standby arrangement,” which will make available up to $27 billion in international funds over two years, including $14 billion to $18 billion from the IMF.
• Obama and leaders from seven other countries suspended Russia’s involvement in the G-8.
• The U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution Thursday rejecting Russia’s annexation of Crimea as a violation of international law.
• Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair—who is at the center of a high-profile military sexual-assault case—will serve no jail time, but was ordered Thursday to forfeit $20,000 in pay.
• Al-Qaida’s leadership in Pakistan is hoping to build a stronghold in Syria, aimed at recruiting and training Westerners to carry out attacks in Europe and the United States.
• Iran is building a fake, nonworking U.S. aircraft carrier, with experts casting doubt on reports by the country’s media that the ship is a movie prop.
• Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, was found guilty Wednesday of conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support to terrorists.

• Gilead’s new Hepatitis C drug costs $1,000 a pill, which has raised concern among insurers, state Medicaid programs, and lawmakers that the cost will prohibit those who need it from accessing the drug.
• Hispanics make up about one-third of the uninsured population in the U.S., but are refraining from enrolling in health coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
• In arguments that were part culture war, part nitpicking, and part health policy seminar, the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc staunchly defended businesses’ religious rights in the contraception mandate case, while the three female justices led the charge from the left.
• The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals appeared divided while hearing oral arguments Tuesday in Halbig v. Sebelius, which turns on the contention that the ACA as written authorizes subsidies for low-income individuals only on the state exchanges, and not in the 36 states participating in the federal exchange.
• The White House, which has previously declined to extend the March 31 deadline, will allow individuals to sign up for coverage until mid-April if they are able to demonstrate that they began the enrollment process before that date. Individuals can apply for an extension for a range of reasons, and the government will grant it on an honor system.

• Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is branding himself as a consumer advocate on tech issues, likely to appeal to young voters, by criticizing government regulations such as ride-sharing limitations for stopping Uber from competing with taxis in Miami.
• AT&T executive Jim Cicconi is criticizing Netflix for advocating for net-neutrality rules, saying broadband companies have to invest in the capacity for Netflix users, passing the site’s cost on to all Internet users.
• Two men pleaded guilty in the Justice Department’s first prosecuted case of trafficking pirated smartphone apps, admitting to conspiring to distribute 1 million copies of counterfeit Android apps.
• Facebook has acquired Oculus VR, the company that makes the virtual-reality video-game headset Oculus Rift, for $2 billion.

• Surgeons at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh are preparing to test a new treatment technique placing gunshot victims in suspended animation by replacing their blood with a cooling saline solution to gain time to repair critical injuries.
• Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Patrick Cannon resigned following his arrest on charges of soliciting and receiving bribes.
• A powerful mudslide has claimed 16 lives in Washington state, while dozens remain missing.
• Two firefighters were killed and 13 others injured in a massive fire in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.
• A commuter train operator admits to falling asleep before his train derailed and climbed an escalator at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
• A project backed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute ranked the nation’s counties on the basis of health factors and outcomes.

• “Do I have the best credentials? Probably not. ‘Cause, you know, whatever. But I have long and strong ties to this state. People know.” — Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who is now running for a Senate seat in New Hampshire (AP)
• “This is a turning point, and it marks the beginning of a new effort to reclaim our rights from the NSA and restore the public’s seat at the table of government.” — Edward Snowden, on President Obama’s proposal to end the NSA’s collection of phone data (National Journal)
• “It may take a little time to get the legislation passed, but they can stop right now—right now.” — Sen. Ron Wyden, on President Obama’s proposal to end the NSA’s collection of phone data without waiting for congressional approval (National Journal)
• “They don’t pose the No. 1 national security threat to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.” — President Obama, on Russia, which Mitt Romney said in 2012 was the U.S.’s greatest geopolitical foe (Washington Post)
• “I regret that I didn’t do more. What I could have done is been a stronger advocate. The first and easiest thing to do would have been to use the bully pulpit to talk about the importance of reaching back and helping people at the lowest end.” — Shirley Franklin, mayor of Atlanta from 2002 to 2010, on the lack of social mobility in the city (National Journal)
• “We figured we had shot ourselves in the foot enough for one day, so we took the Web video down as soon as a fair use question popped up to avoid any misunderstandings.” — Jesse Benton, campaign spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, on taking down a Web video that featured Duke University basketball players, possibly an NCAA violation (Talking Points Memo)

• FiveThirtyEight graphs Senate candidates’ chances of winning in November.
• Gallup tracks President Obama’s relative popularity on environmental issues, compared with energy and economic issues.
• Quartz compares consumer spending on mobile games to spending on apps and online movies.
• Pew Research shows people’s divided views on whether the news coverage of missing Malaysian flight MH370 was overblown.
• The Washington Post maps how much pay it takes to afford a two-bedroom rental unit in each state.
Future events
• Thursday, March 27 – The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the nominations of Sherry Trafford and Steven Wellner to be associate judges of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia at 2:30 p.m. in 342 Dirksen.
• Thursday, March 27 – Progressive Democrats of America will hold a briefing, “The Equal Rights Amendment: Unfinished Business for the Constitution,” at 3 p.m. in G-11 Dirksen.
• Thursday, March 27 – Japan International Transport Institute, USA will hold a global logistics seminar, “Infrastructure for Future Competitiveness,” focusing on shipping and trade in the United States and Japan, at 3 p.m. at 1000 H St. NW.
• Thursday, March 27 – The Center for American Progress will hold a film screening and discussion of A Boom With No Boundaries and Backyard, about oil and gas drilling in North Dakota, Montana, Pennsylvania and Colorado, at 6:30 p.m. at 1333 H St. NW.
• Thursday, March 27 – The Woodrow Wilson Center Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies will hold a discussion, “Crisis in Ukraine: Political, Social, and Economic Dimensions,” at 3:30 p.m. at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
• Thursday, March 27 – The Woodrow Wilson Center Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies will hold a discussion, “Crisis in Ukraine: Political, Social, and Economic Dimensions,” at 3:30 p.m. at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
• Thursday, March 27 and Friday, March 28 – America’s Health Insurance Plans and the Office of Personnel Management will hold the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program Carrier Conference at 2800 South Potomac Ave. in Arlington, Va.
• Friday, March 28 – The Institute of World Politics will hold a lecture, “The Changing Face of American Intelligence: From OSS (Office of Strategic Services) Special Operations, to Analysis and High Tech Reconnaissance, Back to Special Operations,” at 6 p.m. at 1521 16th St. NW.
• Friday, March 28 – The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research will hold a discussion, “Fixing the Mental Health Care System: What Congress Can Do,” at 10 a.m. at 1150 17th St. NW.
• Friday, March 28 – The University of Michigan’s Manufacturing Leadership and Energy Institute will hold a public-private stakeholder symposium, “Shale Gas: A Game Changer for American Manufacturing,” at 8 a.m. at 529 14th St. NW.
• Friday, March 28 – The Environmental and Energy Study Institute will hold a briefing, “The 2015 Budget: Impacts on Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy,” at 3 p.m. in CVC-215 in the Capitol.
• Friday, March 28 – The National Archives will hold a book discussion on The Gingrich Senators: The Roots of Partisan Warfare in Congress, at noon at 700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
• Monday, March 31 – State Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Va., will deliver a National Press Club Newsmaker Luncheon address on mental health care reform at 12:30 p.m. at 529 14th St. NW.
• Monday, March 31 – The Heritage Foundation will hold a discussion, “Evaluating Feminism, Its Failures, and Its Future,” at noon at 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE.
• Monday, March 31 – The Brookings Institution will hold a discussion, “A Pivotal Year in Afghanistan: 2014 Presidential Election and the Planned Drawdown of U.S. and NATO Forces,” at 10 a.m. at 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
• Monday, March 31 – The Brookings Institution will hold a discussion, “A Pivotal Year in Afghanistan: 2014 Presidential Election and the Planned Drawdown of U.S. and NATO Forces,” at 10 a.m. at 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
• Monday, March 31 – The George Washington University Cybersecurity Initiative will host an event, “Celebrating Women in Cybersecurity,” at 9:30 a.m. at 800 21st St. NW.
• Tuesday, April 1 – The American Association for the Advancement of Science will hold an event, “Big Data, Life Sciences, and National Security,” at 8:15 a.m. at 999 Ninth St. NW.
• Tuesday, April 1 – The Bipartisan Policy Center will hold a discussion, “App, Map, Cloud, Code, Gadgets, Widgets & Digits: What’s Next for the Innovation Economy?” at 12:30 p.m. at 1225 I St. NW.
• Tuesday, April 1 – President Obama will host the 2013 World Series champion Boston Red Sox at 11:15 a.m.
• Tuesday, April 2 – The Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance will hold a hearing, “Examining the GM Recall and NHTSA’s Defect Investigation Process,” at 10 a.m. in 253 Russell. General Motors CEO Mary Barra is scheduled to testify.
• Thursday, April 3 – The president and first lady Michelle Obama will host U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes and delegations at the White House.


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