- - Monday, June 21, 2010

HOUSE

Pelosi wants fee boost, jobs money combined

The top House Democrat says her chamber won’t vote on Senate legislation to reverse a cut in Medicare payments to doctors.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the bill — which would reverse a 21 percent cut to Medicare doctor fees that was imposed on Friday — has to include elements of the Democrats’ jobs agenda.

The move by the California Democrat appears aimed at pressuring the Senate to break a logjam on long-sought legislation to extend unemployment benefits and give money to states to help them avoid additional layoffs and furloughs. That bill is stuck on the Senate floor because of a GOP filibuster.

The Senate passed the doctor fee fix as a stand-alone measure on Friday after a GOP filibuster killed the bigger jobs-related measure the night before. The measure would only forestall the cuts — they are required under a 1990s budget-cutting law that Congress has routinely waived — for six months.

The House passed legislation to prevent the cuts from going into effect through the end of next year.

“The bill Senate Republicans allowed to pass is not only inadequate with respect to physician fees, but it ignores urgent sections of the House bill to provide jobs,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “I see no reason to pass this inadequate bill until we see jobs legislation coming out of the Senate.”

MILITARY

Top Marine picks are announced

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced his choices for new leadership of the Marine Corps on Monday, passing over a maverick candidate in favor of the service’s No. 2 official.

Mr. Gates said he has recommended that President Obama nominate Gen. James Amos for the top job of commandant of the Marine Corps. The job requires Senate confirmation.

The White House is expected to accept Mr. Gates’ choice. A public schedule released last week prematurely listed Gen. Amos as the nominee.

Gen. Amos is seen as willing to support Mr. Gates and other senior Pentagon leaders as they spend the next several months looking for cost savings.

In choosing him, Mr. Gates and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus passed over Gen. James Mattis, an expert in counterinsurgency warfare who would have probably posed a stiffer challenge to proposed budget changes.

Gen. Amos is the service’s assistant commandant. He would replace Marine Gen. James Conway, whose four-year term as Marine commandant ends this fall. Mr. Gates proposed replacing Gen. Amos as No. 2 with Lt. Gen. Joseph Dunford.

JUSTICE

Plan to convert prison on track

The Justice Department is telling Illinois lawmakers that plans to convert a state prison into a federal supermax facility are on track, even though the site’s potential as a site to house Guantanamo Bay detainees may be foundering.

In a letter sent on Monday to Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin and Republican Rep. Donald Manzullo, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich says the administration is committed to acquiring the facility in Thomson, Ill., this year.

Once the property has been acquired, the entire space will be made available to the Bureau of Prisons.

President Obama has eyed Thomson as a potential site for detainees held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but he is facing strong resistance in Congress.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama’s fun time during crisis defended

A White House spokesman says the whole country benefits when President Obama takes time to go golfing and “clear his mind.”

Obama spokesman Bill Burton on Monday defended Mr. Obama’s leisure activities amid some Republican criticism that Mr. Obama should not be scheduling fun time during the Gulf oil spill crisis. The president went golfing on Saturday afternoon after attending a baseball game Friday night.

Mr. Burton said the people of the country stand by the notion that “their president ought to have a little time to clear his mind.” He said Mr. Obama relaxed after a week in which he got help for victims of the oil spill and traveled to Ohio to speak on the economy, among other work. Mr. Burton said that having time to himself “probably does us all good.”

TREASURY

More borrowers exit mortgage-help plan

A growing number of homeowners who sought help from the Obama administration’s main mortgage-aid program are in danger of losing their homes.

The Treasury Department says about 436,000 borrowers have dropped out of the $75 billion plan as of last month. That’s about 35 percent of the 1.24 million who enrolled since March 2009.

The result could be a new wave of foreclosures that could weaken the housing market and hold back the broader economic recovery.

Most of those homeowners were rejected during a trial period lasting at least three months. About 6,357 dropped out after having their loans modified. About 340,000 homeowners, or 27 percent of those who started the program, have received permanent loan modifications and are making payments on time.

CONGRESS

Lawmakers reach tentative card deal

House and Senate lawmakers tentatively have agreed on how to regulate fees that banks charge merchants who accept payment with debit cards.

Under the deal, the Federal Reserve would not limit fees on transactions involving debit cards issued by the federal or state governments. Governments use debit cards for programs such as unemployment compensation or child-support payments. Several state treasurers argued that restricting fees paid by merchants could force banks to increase charges for the cards to states.

The deal also allows the Federal Reserve, which would write fee regulations, to consider costs that banks incur for preventing fraudulent use of the cards.

The agreement is part of broader legislation to regulate financial institutions.

PENTAGON

Investigators probe cash flow to insurgents

Criminal investigators are examining allegations that security firms in Afghanistan have been extorting money from contractors paid with U.S. tax dollars and funneling the spoils to warlords and the Taliban.

The payments reportedly end up in insurgent hands through a Pentagon contract to transport food, water, fuel and ammunition to American troops stationed at bases across Afghanistan. To ensure safe passage through dangerous areas, the trucking companies make payments to local security firms with ties to the Taliban or warlords who control the roads. If the payments aren’t made, the convoys will be attacked, according to the allegations.

A spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Command said Monday the inquiry is under way, but would not provide details.

From wire dispatches and staff reports