- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 10, 2009

BUDGET

House panel orders defense budget cuts

A key House panel on Tuesday ordered a $3.5 billion cut from President Obama’s defense budget, setting the stage for big increases for domestic programs favored by Democrats.

In kicking off action on 12 annual spending bills that set agency operating budgets, the House Appropriations Committee also unveiled legislation boosting the House’s budget, while adopting a $64.3 billion measure funding the Commerce and Justice departments and the space program.

The flurry of action came as an overdue $100 billion war-funding bill remained stuck in House-Senate talks. Committee Chairman David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, warned that a battle over language governing Mr. Obama’s planned closing of the prison for terrorism suspect at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is a main reason the war-funding bill is “likely to be hung up for some time into the future.”

Even so, the panel is moving ahead with spending bills likely to occupy the House for the next several weeks in an effort to get the annual appropriations process back on track after years of battles with President Bush.

Republicans protested the course of spending being set by Mr. Obama and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill, including a 4 percent increase for defense they deem inadequate.

AFGHANISTAN

Mullen, Gates look for momentum

The Pentagon’s top leaders said Tuesday that the next year to 18 months will tell whether the war in Afghanistan is being won.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, told a Senate Appropriations panel that they’re more optimistic now than in recent months about efforts to combat insurgents and extremists along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

But Adm. Mullen also said the next 12 to 18 months “will really tell the tale.”

Mr. Gates emphasized that he did not mean the Afghan campaign would achieve success in that time, but rather that officials hoped to “see a shift in the momentum” by then.

“It’s very important for us to be able to show the American people that we are moving forward to show some shift in momentum,” Mr. Gates said. “This is a long-term commitment, but I believe the American people will be willing to sustain this endeavor if they believe this is not just a stalemate.”

ENERGY

Senate panel OKs more Gulf drilling

A Senate committee on Tuesday approved opening the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling, including in an area rich with natural gas 10 miles off the Florida Panhandle. A 45-mile no-drilling buffer would be maintained off most of Florida’s coast.

The provision was tacked onto a broader energy bill by a vote of 13-10 in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which was expected to advance the legislation later this week.

The eastern Gulf of Mexico - an area stretching from 125 to 300 miles off Florida’s coast - was singled out for protection by Congress in 2006 as part of a deal with Florida lawmakers that made available 8.3 million acres to oil and gas development in the east-central Gulf.

But the energy panel on Tuesday approved a provision offered by Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, that would end the drilling ban across most of the eastern Gulf waters, including in an area known as the Destin Dome, which reaches within 10 miles off Pensacola, Fla., and is thought to have as much as 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

NTSB

Pilot: Bird warnings of little use

The pilot of the US Airways plane that ditched into the Hudson River after colliding with a flock of Canada geese told safety officials Tuesday that warnings from air-traffic controllers to pilots of birds in the vicinity of airports have little value.

“In my experience, the warnings we get are general in nature and not specific and, therefore, have limited usefulness,” Chesley Sullenberger, the captain of Flight 1549, told the National Transportation Safety Board.

The board is holding three days of hearings into safety issues arising from its investigation of the Jan. 15 accident, including efforts to prevent bird strikes and the ability of aircraft engines to withstand collisions with large birds.

Other issues include whether the Federal Aviation Administration’s aircraft-certification standards are adequate to protect passengers in event of a forced water landing.

SENATE

Feingold objects to detainee policy

President Obama risks creating “future Guantanamos” by continuing his predecessor’s policy of indefinitely holding al Qaeda suspects, a Democratic senator said Tuesday.

Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin said he was “troubled” by Mr. Obama’s policies and that the practice of holding some suspected terrorists indefinitely risked being “effectively enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice.”

Mr. Feingold said the administration risked mimicking the policies of the George W. Bush administration, which “claimed the right” to detain anyone, anywhere, he said.

During a major security speech at the National Archives in May, Mr. Obama acknowledged for the first time that a legal framework could be established to hold the most dangerous detainees indefinitely without trial.

Speaking during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the consequences of “prolonged detention,” Mr. Feingold said that could set “the stage for future Guantanamos, whether on our shores or elsewhere, with potentially disastrous consequences for our national security.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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