Tuesday, May 31, 2011

House sends Obama message, rejects debt increase

The U.S. House today rejected a GOP bid to increase the debt limit without any spending cuts to go along with it, in an effort designed by Republicans to put President Obama and Democrats on the political hot seat.

The bill was set up to fail by House Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team to show the need for deep spending cuts and budget changes to go along with any increase in the nation's $14.3 trillion borrowing authority.

In the end, the bill was rejected on a 97-318 vote. No Republicans voted for the measure.

The political ploy comes a day before Obama meets with the entire House GOP conference -- the first such White House get-together since Boehner's party won a record 63 seats to gain power in the 2010 elections.

"Raising the debt limit without major spending cuts and meaningful reforms would hurt our economy and destroy more jobs, adding to our debt crisis," Boehner said. The speaker has said that everything except tax increases is on the table to reduce a sea of red ink.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said repeatedly that the nation will be in danger of default if Congress does not pass an increase in the debt limit by Aug. 2. The United States officially hit the $14.3 trillion limit earlier this month, but Geithner halted investments in two big government pension plans in order to help cash flow.

Under the measure by House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, the government would have been allowed to borrow another $2.4 trillion.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., blasted Republicans before the debate began for playing games when defaulting on government loans is at risk.

"If we were adults and acting as adults, we would come together and give certainty to the markets that, 'Of course, America's going to pay its bills," said Hoyer, who planned to vote against the so-called "clean" debt limit increase.

Democrats were split on the vote: 97 lawmakers voted for the bill, while 82 members joined 236 Republicans to reject the measure. Seven Democrats voted "present," to avoid taking a stand.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who has been trying to garner support for a "clean" debt limit increase, denounced the GOP's effort as "guaranteed to fail."

"The clock is ticking away to Aug. 2. If we fail to increase the debt limit and default, America for the first time will not be able to pay its bills," Welch said in a recent interview.

"If this (vote) has the fundamental objective to be 30-second attack ads, then members will see it for what it is," Welch said.

Separately, Vice President Biden has been working with a small group of lawmakers on a bipartisan debt deal. White House press secretary Jay Carney said before the House vote that Obama "looks forward to an agreement on deficit reduction and to the Congress doing what it must do, which is vote to raise the debt ceiling."

USA TODAY's Richard Wolf takes a look at the White House meeting between Obama and the House GOP in The Oval, scheduled for Wednesday.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Obama's aides split over top-secret Osama bin Laden raid

U.S. President Barack Obama held a crucial meeting last week in which his advisers debated three options for dealing with top-secret information about a luxury compound in Pakistan where they thought Osama bin Laden might be hiding.

At a two-hour meeting in the ultra-secure White House Situation Room, the team discussed the pros and cons of a raid on the compound by a small group of elite U.S. forces, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The two other alternatives were to conduct a strike or to wait for information that might lend greater clarity on whether the Al-Qa'ida leader was indeed holed up at the fortress-like compound outside of Islamabad, the official said.

Obama's advisers were split at the Thursday meeting and the president took a night to think about the decision, the official said.

On Friday morning, just before leaving to visit tornado-hit Alabama, Obama revealed to a small group of aides that he had decided in favor of an immediate raid, the official said.

"It's a go," Obama told his advisers, as he ordered the operation that led to killing of the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S.

Information about the Abbotabad compound had surfaced last August, but it was not until March that U.S. officials felt convinced enough of bin Laden's potential presence there that they began to develop a list of options.

U.S. intelligence analysts had been monitoring the complex, observing that there was a million-dollar home there owned by someone with no apparent source of income. There also appeared to be a family living there, including a man who never left the compound, according to the official.

The family seemed to fit a profile of bin Laden's family. Still, right up until the end, no one in the Obama administration, including the U.S. president, knew for sure.

The discussions over what to do took place over a period of weeks in meetings that were so closely held, no photographers were present and the sessions were not given titles, the official said.

Because the person who was believed to be bin Laden seemed always to remain at the compound, that removed some of the pressure to act immediately on the suspicions.

Still, Obama and his aides feared delaying action too long would increase the risk that word of the surveillance might leak out and their target might flee, the official said.

The timing of Obama's Friday order of the raid was driven in part by that concern. Also playing a role in the timing was the fact that the U.S. Navy SEAL team had carried out a number of rehearsals of the operation and was deemed ready to move ahead by its commander.

On Sunday afternoon, Obama convened a meeting at the White House where the mood was "tense" and "anxiety-ridden" as the group monitored the unfolding operation on a screen, the official said.

Those present included U.S. Secretary of State of Hillary Clinton, Defence Secretary Robert Gates, White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan.

"We got him, guys," Obama said in reaction to the news of bin Laden's death.