- The Washington Times - Friday, October 23, 2009

INTERIOR

Land designated polar bear habitat

The Obama administration said Thursday it is designating more than 200,000 square miles in Alaska and off its coast as “critical habitat” for polar bears, an action that could add restrictions to future offshore drilling for oil and gas.

Federal law prohibits agencies from taking actions that may adversely affect critical habitat and interfere with polar bear recovery.

Assistant Interior Secretary Tom Strickland called the habitat designation a step in the right direction to help polar bears stave off extinction, while recognizing that the greatest threat to the bear is the melting of Arctic sea ice caused by climate change.



The total area proposed for critical habitat designation would cover about 200,541 square miles - about half in the rugged Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast. About 93 percent of the area proposed for the polar bear is sea ice, with the remaining 7 percent made up of barrier islands or land-based dens of snow and ice.

AFGHANISTAN

Decision on troops in ‘next few weeks’

President Obama’s decision on Afghanistan strategy is coming within a few weeks and won’t necessarily wait for that country’s presidential election runoff on Nov. 7, his top spokesman said Thursday.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that Mr. Obama spoke with the U.S. ambassador to Kabul by video conference as part of the administration’s ongoing review of Afghanistan policy and a decision on whether to send more troops there. National Security Adviser James L. Jones, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and staff from the National Security Council also joined the meeting with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry in the White House Situation Room.

SENATE

Military wins pay raise

Military personnel will get an above-inflation pay raise of 3.4 percent under a Pentagon policy bill the Senate passed Thursday and sent to President Obama for his signature.

The pay increase was a half-percentage point more than Mr. Obama sought earlier this year and beats the average pay boost in the private sector.

The popular legislation also gives Mr. Obama a few victories in his bid to kill some especially costly weapons systems, though it contains an effort by lawmakers to continue development - over the president’s strong objections - of a costly alternative engine for the Pentagon’s next-generation fighter jet, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The second engine would be built by General Electric Co. and Rolls-Royce in Ohio, Indiana and other states. The main F-35 engine is built in Connecticut by Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies Corp.

The administration promised in June to veto the legislation if it would “seriously disrupt” the F-35 program. The legislation recommends $560 million for the program in 2010, and the administration has since backpedaled from the veto threat.

“I would be stunned if they vetoed,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, said after the vote.

The Senate cleared the House-Senate compromise measure by a 68-29 vote.

The far-reaching legislation also prohibits the Obama administration from transferring any detainee being held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba to the United States for trial until 45 days after it has given notice to Congress. Guantanamo prisoners could not be released into the United States.

DEMOCRATS

Illinois governor to seek full term

CHICAGO | Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who succeeded ousted Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich in January, formally has announced Thursday he will run for a full term in Chicago.

Mr. Quinn, a Democrat, said there’s still more to do and that’s why he wants to continue the job.

The former lieutenant governor inherited the state’s top job when lawmakers removed Mr. Blagojevich from office after his arrest on federal corruption charges. Those charges include plotting to sell or trade President Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat. Mr. Blagojevich has denied wrongdoing.

Mr. Quinn said he’s committed to bringing jobs and economic growth to Illinois. He’ll face state Comptroller Dan Hynes and Oak Park attorney Ed Scanlan in the Feb. 2 Democratic primary.

ECONOMY

Ex-Fed chair predicts slow jobs recovery

HARRODSBURG, Ky. | Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker says any economic recovery will be too slow to make a quick dent in high unemployment rates.

At a roundtable meeting of corporate and government leaders in Kentucky on Thursday, Mr. Volcker said the hard-hit financial sector faces “a considerable slog” in recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Mr. Volcker said that the factors that caused the downturn took years to form and that the recovery will take years as well.

He warned that economic recovery will be too slow to reduce the jobless rate at a fast clip.

The national unemployment rate currently stands at 9.8 percent.

Mr. Volcker is now an economic adviser for the Obama administration.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama signs VA funding bill

President Obama has signed a bill designed to keep funding for veterans’ medical care steady during future budget negotiations.

Mr. Obama said Thursday that the new law will guarantee timely and predictable funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which cares for 23 million veterans. He said the measure will help the VA plan how to pay for its services.

The White House said the change was needed to protect veterans’ programs, given that Congress has been late 20 of the last 23 years in passing a budget bill. Aides say the uncertainty of the budget process harms those who have served in uniform.

HOUSE

Lawmaker ends link to ‘Names of Dead’

A Florida congressman has responded to complaints he violated House rules by amending a Web site he created this week calling attention to people who die without health coverage.

Rep. Alan Grayson removed a link from the “Names of the Dead” site Thursday that had directed people to his campaign Web site. The National Republican Congressional Committee argued the link violated House rules and possibly campaign finance laws regulating how lawmakers promote their campaigns. Andy Sere, a spokesman for the group, said Mr. Grayson is using it to draw attention to himself.

Mr. Grayson is asking people to post names of loved ones who died for lack of insurance. The Orlando Democrat, who said recently that Republicans want sick people to “die quickly,” said the GOP is trying to avoid the subject of the uninsured by claiming rules violations.

Patricia Sullivan, a Republican challenging Mr. Grayson for his 8th Congressional District seat, said she plans to file an ethics complaint against him over the matter.

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