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Inside Politics

- - Wednesday, May 11, 2011

HOUSE

Lawmakers pass oil drilling bill

The Republican-controlled House has passed another bill putting offshore oil and gas drilling on the fast track.

The latest measure, passed 263-163 on Wednesday, gives the government a maximum of 60 days to decide whether a company can drill. Thereafter, the permit is automatically approved.

There is currently no deadline for the permits.

Republicans fended off efforts by Democrats to boost safety, including recommendations from a presidential panel that investigated the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Republicans say the Obama administration has acted slowly to approve drilling permits since the disaster. They note high gas prices require action.

Last week, the House passed a bill forcing lease sales the government had delayed.

Both bills are unlikely to pass the Senate. The White House also opposes the measures.

HOUSE

Obama pressed over Libya decision

Lawmakers of both parties pushed Wednesday for more information on why Congress was left out of the loop as the Obama administration weighed military action in Libya earlier this year.

The House Armed Services Committee, without dissent, approved a resolution giving Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates two weeks to hand over all material concerning the decision about how to deal with Congress in the month before President Obama ordered U.S. forces to lead U.N.-backed NATO airstrikes against Libya on March 19.

Although congressional leaders were briefed by phone in the hours before the president's announcement that night, "a phone call can hardly be considered significant consultation," said Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, the California Republican who chairs the committee.

The House Armed Services Committee voice vote on Libya came as it met to consider the annual defense authorization bill.

Policy provisions of the bill would reaffirm the congressional resolution authorizing the global war on terror and grants new powers to the Pentagon to launch clandestine operations in cyberspace.

HOUSE

GOP plans sharp cuts to education

Education, health and labor programs would face deep cuts under a budget outline for the coming fiscal year to be unveiled shortly by Republicans in the House of Representatives, a congressional source said Wednesday.

Those programs would face an average cut of 12 percent during the fiscal year which starts Oct. 1, enabling Republicans to shield spending for the military and other areas of the budget from reductions, the source said.

The cuts are sure to draw sharp objections from Democrats, who have championed programs like college-tuition assistance that are likely to fall under the knife.

With the government due to run up against its $14.3 trillion debt limit early next week, the two parties are sharply divided over what steps Washington should take to get its rapidly rising debt load under control. Republicans have championed deep spending cuts, while Democrats say that tax increases should be part of the solution as well.

The budget outline, due to be unveiled by the House Appropriations Committee, sets broad spending levels for defense, national parks and other discretionary programs that have their funding set annually by Congress.

ELECTION

Tea party endorses Bruning for Senate

The Tea Party Express on Wednesday endorsed Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning for the U.S. Senate in Nebraska, the group's first 2012 endorsement.

The prominent conservatives' endorsement comes more than a year before Nebraskans vote in what is shaping up to be a crowded GOP primary to unseat Democrat Ben Nelson.

Mr. Bruning accepted the group's endorsement in Washington on Wednesday, saying the Tea Party Express' backing will give him a boost with its message of fiscal discipline.

"Nebraskans get that, and I think they'll be proud of this endorsement," Mr. Bruning said.

The Tea Party Express is wading into Nebraska early because the group wants to focus national attention on Mr. Nelson, one of the Senate's most conservative Democrats, said Sal Russo, the group's chief strategist and a financial backer of the tea party movement.

Mr. Nelson is considered vulnerable in large part because of the key role he played in the passage of President Obama's health care reform legislation.

"Clearly this is a national race," Mr. Russo said. "(Nelson's) vote swapping affected the entire country ... so we're here in Washington to put the focus on it on a national level."

SENATE

Overseas military plans unaffordable

Three influential U.S. senators say a planned reorganization of American forces in East Asia is unworkable and unaffordable.

The lawmakers say the Department of Defense should re-examine its plans for South Korea, Guam and the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, where many locals oppose the U.S. troop presence.

The recommendations were made Wednesday by Michigan's Carl Levin, Democrat, and Arizona's John McCain, Republican, the two highest-ranking members of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, and Sen. Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia.

They say a 2006 agreement with Japan is outdated and imposes an "enormous financial burden" on the U.S. ally as it recovers from a huge earthquake.

They question the need for building a replacement facility on Okinawa, and propose using other bases in Japan and Guam instead.