Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Washington Beat tidbits 12-21-10

Washington Beat, from Townhall.com…
By Jillian Bandes

President Obama expects the START treaty to be ratified before the next Congress, and it looks like he may be right. Ten Republicans would need to support the deal, and those votes appear to be lining up; after compromising with Democrats on the tax deal, there seems to be a more conciliatory mood wafting through the Senate halls. 
Republicans who still dissent say that it could prevent the development of some U.S. weapons programs, but President Obama has been reassuring them via personal phone calls that this treaty is an essential step in maintaining normalized Russian relations. The treaty would reduce nuclear arsenals in both the U.S. and Russia and increases the surveillance of both countries' nuclear capabilities.

A tax-busting, deficit-raising bill passed the Senate this week, reducing the burden for Americans of all income levels by extending the Bush tax cuts for another two years. A single filer making $50,000 will save about $5,000, while a married couple making $100,000 per year would save about $8,000 per year in taxes. Unemployment benefits were also extended, at a total cost of $858 billion over two years. When signing the bill, Obama emphasized that there were elements that both parties didn't necessarily like, but that it represented a strong showing of bipartisan compromise — something both parties will need quite a bit of in the next Congress.

The South Korean military conducted live-fire artillery exercises on Yeonpyeong Island after North Korea attacked the island in late November. The exercises came on the heels of a visit from Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who has been acting as a mediator to the conflict, after North Korea directly instructed South Korea not to conduct the drills. The fact that they followed through was a bit of a snub and luckily did not result in any escalation.

A version of the long-awaited net neutrality regulation is expected to go forward after years of deal-making and expensive lobbying efforts. Net neutrality would prohibit internet carriers like Comcast from charging different rates for the same types of service in different areas, but it would also prohibit those carriers from getting more money for more bandwidth. In other words, it would be forced to charge a guy downloading illegal videos all day the same fee it charges a retired couple for checking their email once a week, even though the former has a far higher internet usage. The Federal Communications Commission is staffed by three Democratic members and two Republican members, so the provision is likely to go through. Republicans claim that it's an unnecessary extension of federal authority that imposes excessive regulation on private business.

The debate was epic; Congress hearing bills to lift the ban again and again, while senators had virtual fist fights on the Senate floor. Now, "don't ask, don't tell" has been repealed, and is now awaiting President Obama's blessing before going into effect. Many are drawing a parallel between Obama sanctioning the measure and President Harry Truman signing a bill to implement racial equality in the military, but conservatives are having none of it. They claim that the military — not Congress — should be the ones to repeal the ban, which has been in place for 17 years.

Exactly when the new provision will be implemented is still somewhat unclear, as the military still has to certify readiness and physically implement the policy in its ranks. That transition is expected to be mostly smooth, however.

Two important bills failed this past week: the omnibus spending bill and the DREAM Act, both of which were vehemently opposed by Republicans. The omnibus clocked in at $1.2 billion and was loaded with earmarks, providing the perfect platform for Republicans to rail against government spending. In its place, a temporary spending bill will be passed that funds government at current levels, leaving Republicans to deal with other parts of the spending bill after they take the majority in January. The DREAM Act failed after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could not get enough votes to line up behind the bill, which would've granted citizenship to immigrants who attended college or served in the military.


The latest development in the WikiLeaks saga has left the international provacateur launching wide-ranging conspiracy charges against everyone from The Guardian — who published his materials for him — to the Swedish government, which he believes is unfairly holding him on sexual assault charges. Assange appears to have lost it a little bit, if the release of multitudes of secret documents doesn't qualify him as crazy to begin with, claiming that he expects to be assassinated on the front steps of London's High Court. He continues to claim that he will release sensitive information on some of the world's largest banks if he is mishandled.


The most important news of the week, of course, is that the first couple did not get a wedding invitation to Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding, despite gushing compliments from the Queen last year. President Sarkozy and Carla Bruni did receive an invite, suggesting that the new royal couple is not as warm to their friends across the pond.

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