- The Washington Times - Monday, March 2, 2009

BUDGET

Aide: Obama to accept earmarks

The White House on Sunday downplayed massive deficit spending and President Obama’s pledge not to sign legislation laden with billions in earmarks amid Republican criticism that he was recanting on a key campaign promise.

Peter R. Orszag, director of the Official of Management and Budget, said Mr. Obama would sign the $410 billion spending bill despite a campaign pledge that he would end the practice legislators’ earmarking special projects for their districts.

”This is last year’s business,” Mr. Orszag said, acknowledging that Mr. Obama would sign a bill that doesn’t conform with his campaign vows. “We want to just move on. Let’s get this bill done, get it into law and move forward.”

CANADA

Canada’s leader doubts Afghan win

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Sunday that the insurgency in Afghanistan cannot be defeated and Canada would not provide more troops without a clear exit strategy.

Mr. Harper said in a CNN interview that Afghanistan needs an indigenous government that can manage the insurgency and is not perceived as foreign-installed.

“We are not going to win this war just by staying,” Mr. Harper said. “My own judgment is, quite frankly, that we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency.”

”We have to have an Afghan government that is capable of managing that insurgency and improving its own governance,” he told CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”

WHITE HOUSE

Obama to visit Prague in April

BRUSSELS | President Obama will visit Prague on April 5, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said Sunday.

Mr. Topolanek, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, also told a news conference that EU leaders had agreed the economic crisis could be overcome only by respecting the bloc’s single-market rules.

DRUG WAR

Gates: U.S. can help Mexico fight cartels

The U.S. military is in a better position to provide Mexico’s military with training, resources and intelligence as its southern neighbor battles deadly drug cartels, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in Mexico in drug-related violence this year. In 2008, the toll doubled from the previous year to 6,290. The U.S. and Canada have warned that murders related to drug activity in certain parts of Mexico, particularly along the border with the U.S., raised the level of risk in visiting the country.

“I think we are beginning to be in a position to help the Mexicans more than we have in the past. Some of the old biases against cooperation with our - between our militaries and so on, I think, are being set aside,” Mr. Gates said in an interview aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“It clearly is a serious problem,” he said.

ENERGY

Capitol plant dims clean energy hopes

As Congress tries to clean up the nation’s energy sources and cut gases blamed for global warming, it is struggling to do so in its own backyard.

The Capitol Power Plant, a 99-year-old facility that heats and cools the hallowed halls of Congress, still burns coal and accounts for one-third of the legislative branch’s greenhouse gas emissions. For a decade, lawmakers have attempted to clean it up.

In recent years, Congress has reduced its energy consumption. The steam and chilled-water power plant has become more efficient. It now burns more natural gas and only 35 percent coal, compared with 49 percent in 2007.

But Congress is running out of options to make the plant fully green. On Friday, the House announced that it was abandoning its goal to be carbon neutral and would no longer buy offsets to make sure it was removing as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it releases. Those offsets were key to zeroing out the remaining emissions at the power plant that could not be reduced by other means.

There also are questions about whether Congress can afford to pay for more natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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