Entries in Obama Administration (46)


Obama Administration Asked S&P to Hold Off on New Debt Rating 

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- For months, as officials from the ratings agency Standard & Poor's sought information from the Obama administration, Treasury officials -- the ones in charge of selling U.S. debt -- worried that the ratings agency would downgrade its long-term outlook on the United States debt. They went so far as to ask S&P to hold off until President Obama was able to offer a serious proposal to reduce the debt, sources told ABC News.
John Chambers, a managing director at Standard & Poor's, tells ABC News that the ratings agency had looked to see how serious the U.S. government was about its debt by primarily focusing on President Obama’s Fiscal Commission report, which was published in December 2011, and President Obama’s FY2012 budget.
“The Fiscal Commission report was robust,” Chambers said, “but it was not warmly embraced by the executive or legislative branches of the government.”
President Obama put forward his FY2012 budget in February, proposing $1 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade, which Chambers said the S&P committee found “disappointing.”
Three weeks ago, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., pledged more than four times that amount -- $4.4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.
S&P officials thought these two points of view seemed unbridgeable and prepared to change the long-term rating of U.S. debt from “stable” to “negative.”
Obama administration officials asked S&P to hold off on issuing its report until after President Obama and Congress had completed negotiating over the rest of the FY2011 budget, after which the president was planning to make a more serious deficit reduction proposal -- $4 trillion over 12 years -- than had been in his original proposal. Administration officials hoped that would convince the S&P officials that a compromise with Republicans was possible.
But while they waited for this presentation from the president, S&P officials saw President Obama and Congress locked in an intense budget negotiation over a relatively paltry $38.5 billion in spending cuts -- one that threatened to shut down the government and only averted at the 11th hour. This “dismayed” S&P officials, sources close to the process said.
S&P officials waited until President Obama gave his speech, which Republicans criticized as overly partisan and harsh in tone.
“The good news is part of the Republican leadership and the administration have put forward plans with similar fiscal targets,” Chambers said. “However when you look at the content of the proposals and the initial starting positions of this debate they’re pretty far apart.”
On Monday, the agency issued its report. The long-term rating would now be negative.
"Because the U.S. has, relative to its 'AAA' peers, what we consider to be very large budget deficits and rising government indebtedness and the path to addressing these is not clear to us, we have revised our outlook on the long-term rating to negative from stable," S&P said in a statement.
S&P, notably, does not take a position on how the deficit problem be solved -- on that the agency is agnostic, having praised Germany and the U.K. for their governments’ approaches, which include tax increases.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Libya: Senate Republicans Divided on US Involvement 

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Competing groups of Republican senators have introduced resolutions aiming either to boost or curtail the U.S. role in Libya, a sign of how divided Congress is on the military operations there.

One motion, introduced by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the powerful top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, would authorize U.S. forces to operate inside Libya in an effort to keep the situation there from deteriorating into a stalemate between strongman Moammar Gadhafi and the rebels.

"Rather than playing a support role within NATO, America should be leading," McCain said at an Armed Services panel hearing April 7. "Our military should be actively engaged in degrading Gadhafi's forces in the field, which could significantly increase the pressure on his regime and the odds that it will crack."

But fellow GOP Sens. John Ensign of Nevada and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas disagree. Indeed, they argue, the United States has no vital interest in Libya.

They have introduced a resolution to declare that there is no vital U.S. interest in Libya, that Congress has not authorized military power in the region and that NATO and Arab nations that do have a vital interest in the region should increase their military and financial contributions to the effort in Libya.

Ensign said, "I believe that the Senate needs to pass this resolution declaring that our country has no vital interest in Libya so that we can get our servicemen and women out of there once and for all."

The Obama administration is likely to disagree with both measures.

The administration, reluctant to get involved in the conflict in the first place, has stressed it would only do so with international backing. McCain's resolution authorizing the use of ground forces could be at odds with the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force to protect civilians and enforce a no-fly zone in Libya, which specifically prohibits an occupying force in the country.

And the administration has argued that Libya is of strategic interest to the United States. Privately, administration officials worry that if Gadhafi were to win out against the rebels, it would cast a chill on the so-called Arab Spring movement that has toppled dictators throughout the Middle East.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


General Stanley McChrystal to Join Obama Administration

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The White House is expected to announce Tuesday that retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal will join the Obama administration.

The first lady’s office confirms to ABC News that McChrystal will lead first lady and Dr. Jill Biden’s advisory board supporting military families.

The announcement will formally be made on Tuesday at the White House when Michelle Obama and Jill Biden will launch a national initiative to support and honor America’s service members and their families.

“The initiative aims to educate, challenge, and spark action from all sectors of our society -- citizens, communities, businesses, non-profits, faith based institutions, philanthropic organizations, and government -- to ensure military families have the support they have earned,” the first lady’s office says.

Just last June, President Obama relieved embattled Gen. Stanley McChrystal from his position as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, replacing him with Gen. David Petraeus, after comments to Rolling Stone magazine.

McChrystal's comments, "does not meet the standards that should be set by a commanding general," the president said last June.  "It undermines the civilian control of the military...and it erodes the trust that is necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Suspends Deportation of Gay Immigrants

(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration put a hold this week on decisions in immigration cases involving married gay couples -- a temporary reprieve while lawyers evaluate the law.

There has been legal confusion over these cases since February, when the administration said the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.

American citizens are routinely allowed to obtain green cards for their immigrant spouses, but not if they are homosexual. Gay rights advocates have said the law is discriminatory.

"If you are a bi-national couple that is heterosexual, you get to stay here and work here," said Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, told The New York Times. "If you are gay, you get deported."

The United States is home to about 24,000 same-sex couples in which one partner is an American citizen and the other is not, according to an analysis of 2008 census survey data by the Williams Institute, University of California Los Angeles Law School. About 25 percent of those couples have children.

No one knows how many of these couples are with immigration problems. Some obtain legal residency through work visas, applying for asylum or getting green cards on their own. Others leave for countries that have more favorable laws.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Administration to Explain Its Libyan Intervention to Congress

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Facing increasing criticism from Capitol Hill to explain its intervention in Libya, top administration officials will hold briefings and hearings to address the situation overseas.

The Obama administration plans to send top level officials to brief members of Congress next week and to appear at several congressional hearings.

Sources also say that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will take questions at a members-only classified briefing for all lawmakers.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Sr. Administration Official: Obama Does NOT Think Gadhafi Will Prevail

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- “The President does not think that Gadhafi will prevail,” a senior administration official says, distancing the president from comments made by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Thursday afternoon.

President Obama “believes that Gadhafi has lost the legitimacy to lead and should leave, and that history is on the side of the Libyan people and their call for change,” the official says.

Former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke tells ABC News that there are “actually a lot of analysts who agree with General Clapper that there is a chance, perhaps even a probability, that Gadhafi will prevail.”

As for Clapper’s assertion that China and Russia pose a threat to the U.S., Clarke says, “General Clapper, who is a military man after all, and has 30 years-plus in the military, probably heard the question in terms of what countries in the world can really threaten the United States in a substantial way. And the answer to that is there are really only two countries in the world who have nuclear missiles that can hit the United States, and can do severe damage to the United States.”

That said, Clarke said “General Clapper has not spent a lot of time testifying before congressional committees. He doesn’t think politically. He doesn’t think in terms of media. He’s an intelligence officer who thinks in terms of running an intelligence organization. And turns out you need both skills because Congress will kill you if you’re not a good witness. Congress will kill you if you make a mistake. They look for weaknesses and when you make one mistake they’re going to be looking for another one.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


White House Eyes Sale of 14,000 Unused Federal Buildings

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Five office buildings in Fort Worth, Texas, a million-square-foot warehouse, and parking lot in Brooklyn, New York, and thousands of other government-owned properties sit vacant every day, costing taxpayers more than $1 billion a year to maintain.

The Obama Administration says it's now time to shutter them for good and sell them to help trim the federal deficit.

The White House announced Wednesday that it would form an independent board of experts to help the federal government "cut through red tape and politics to sell property it no longer needs."

"The plan will save taxpayers $15 billion over the first three years the Board is fully up and running," said Jeff Zients, the federal chief performance officer and the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.

Zients said the administration has already identified 14,000 properties that are "excess," or vacant, and ready to be sold.  The full list will be made public within the next month.

"There are unneeded properties throughout the country, from downtown city centers to suburban shopping districts to rural locations," he said.  "When you go property by property, you see the properties range from empty warehouses to underutilized office buildings."

The proposed so-called Civilian Property Realignment Board would formalize their recommended real estate sales and issue a proposal to Congress for an up-or-down vote.

The plan is modeled after the Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which has closed hundreds of military installations since 1989, officials say.  Twenty-four federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, reported more than 45,000 underutilized buildings in fiscal year 2009, according to the Government Accountability Office.  The annual cost to operate them is estimated at $1.66 billion.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Administration Fights To Save Embattled Housing Program

Photo Courtesy - ABC News (WASHINGTON) -- In the spring of 2009, the Obama administration unveiled a program that they said would help three to four million struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure, but to date the plan has fallen so far short that non-partisan government watchdogs are blasting it and House Republicans are trying to do away with it altogether.

The Home Affordable Modification Program -- known as HAMP -- has only helped around 540,000 borrowers receive permanent loan modifications to enable them to stay in their homes. By comparison, more than 800,000 homeowners have dropped out of the program.

On Capitol Hill, the program has become a lightning rod for criticism. On Wednesday, a government watchdog ripped the plan before a House subcommittee. 

Neil Barofsky, the outgoing Special Inspector General for TARP (SIGTARP), said the program “continues to fall woefully short of meeting its original expectations” and there is now “near-universal agreement that the program has failed.”

That will only be fuel for the fire of House Republicans, who have unveiled a bill to end the program before it expires at the end of next year, contending that it is wasting tens of billions of taxpayer dollars.

While Treasury has acknowledged that the program will not meet its stated goal of keeping three to four million homeowners in their homes, they have argued that is still helping some 25,000 to 30,000 borrowers every month, so getting rid of it would hurt the housing market.

But that may not be enough to stop Republicans from pulling the plug on it.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Will Obama Administration Veto UN Resolution Critical of Israel?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration finds itself in a diplomatic jam.

It is possible that later Friday it will have to decide whether or not to break from its steadfast support for Israel in the United Nations and support a measure in the Security Council that nearly reiterates its own policy.

The source of the quandary is a resolution introduced at the Security Council last month by Lebanon and backed by more than a hundred countries, that would condemn Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank as "illegal."

The United States, seeking to avoid a step it believes would further complicate efforts to revive stalled peace talks, has since scrambled to prevent the resolution from being put to a vote.

Led by the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, the United States has proposed alternatives, including a weaker so-called Presidential Statement that it says would be non-binding and also balance the criticism by mentioning rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza, according to a U.S. official.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters on Thursday that the U.S. is searching for a solution, but wouldn't say what.

"We are working with our partners in the Security Council, with our friends in the region, to find a consensus way forward that is consistent with our overall approach.  There are a lot of rumors flying around and I'm not going to get into any specifics at this time," she said.

U.N. diplomats tell ABC News the Palestinians have to decide soon whether to accept the alternative, otherwise the Lebanese are prepared to put the original resolution to a vote on Friday afternoon.  If the resolution comes to a vote, the United States would have to decide whether to veto it or abstain and let it pass.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Hillary Clinton, Administration Officials to Call Bahraini Counterparts

Photo Courtesy - Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior administration officials will be calling their Bahraini counterparts Thursday to urge restraint and to advise the U.S. ally on how best to proceed, ABC News has learned.

"The United States strongly opposes the use of violence in Bahrain," an administration official told ABC News.  "Wherever they are, people have certain universal rights -- including the right to peaceful assembly.  We continue to urge the government of Bahrain to show restraint in responding to peaceful protests."

On Wednesday, at least four people were killed and hundreds more injured after police swept through Pearl Square in Bahrain's capital of Manama to disperse protesters who were camped out.  Police came down on the demonstrators with rubber bullets, tear gas and billy clubs.

The protesters have occupied Pearl Square since early this week, demanding jobs, the release of political prisoners and constitutional reforms with hopes to end the monarchy that has ruled the island nation for 200 years.

Aside from being an ally, Bahrain is home to the 5th Fleet, a major U.S. Naval Base that shares a commander and headquarters with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, a component part of CENTCOM, and roughly 2,300 U.S. military personnel.  The base is essentially a port at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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