Will Obama's Timeline to Reform No Child Left Behind Get Schooled?

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Reforming the Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law might be one of the few things that Republicans and Democrats can agree on, but with budget battles brewing on Capitol Hill, getting it done might not be so easy.

President Obama urged Congress earlier this week to send him a new education law by the time students head back to school this fall. On Tuesday, Obama came out in defense of that deadline, arguing that, despite budget concerns, education is "an investment in our future."

"We think that the time is now to do it and there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to get it done by August," Obama said in an interview with ABC affiliate KOAT-TV in Albuquerque, N.M.

Although there is bipartisan support for reforming NCLB, education policy experts and lawmakers alike criticized the president's "arbitrary" timeline.

"We need to take the time to get this right -- we cannot allow an arbitrary timeline to undermine quality reforms that encourage innovation, flexibility, and parental involvement," House Committee on Education and the Workforce chairman Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said Monday.

Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an educational policy think tank, said the deadline, while perhaps unrealistic, helps shine a spotlight on the issue.

"I think that's useful. This is what president's do; they create a sense of urgency," he said. "But I don't think many insiders have much optimism that deadline will be met."

Beyond the timeline, the biggest challenge facing reform of NCLB is the budget battle brewing on Capitol Hill. In fiscal year 2010 the bill cost more than $12 billion, a number that may be hard for many to tolerate in a year when all federal spending seems to be on the table.

The president, however, said education is worth the price. He also noted that the reform doesn't necessarily mean more spending.

"Reform doesn't always mean more money, in some cases it's a matter of, 'Are we using resources more wisely?'" he said.

While the details of a reform bill remain unclear, the shortcomings of NCLB are well known.

The current law -- approved by Congress with overwhelming support in 2001 and signed by President George W. Bush in 2002 -- requires students to be measured through standardized tests. Currently, states set their own standards for academic success and may risk federal funding if they fail to show adequate yearly progress in achieving their goals.

Critics, and the Obama administration, claim the current system encourages states to lower, or "dummy down," standards so they can report better progress.

Today, according to the administration, 37 percent of America's schools are not meeting their annual targets mandated by NCLB. That number could more than double to more than 80 percent of schools in 2011, according to the Education Department.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Administration Threatens to Veto Bill to End HAMP Housing Program  

The White House/Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama would be urged to veto the House Republican bill that would kill his administration's underperforming housing assistance program and replace it with a new program, a statement from the Office of Management and Budget said Tuesday afternoon.

"The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 839, which would eliminate the Department of the Treasury's Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP)," read a statement of administration policy issued Tuesday afternoon. "As tens of thousands of responsible American homeowners struggling with their mortgages receive permanent assistance each month from HAMP, the Administration believes that continuation of HAMP is important to the Nation's sustained economic recovery. If the President is presented with H.R. 839, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill."

In February 2009, President Obama said HAMP would help 3 or 4 million American renegotiate the terms of their mortgages. Two years later, the program has permanently renegotiated the loans of approximately 540,000 Americans. Approximately 1.5 million Americans have received temporary modifications -- but more than 800,000 of them have been cancelled.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., recently called HAMP "an arbitrary, capricious system that kicks hard-working people out on the street. The administration cannot allow this to continue."

Earlier this month, Neil Barofsky, then the inspector general of TARP program, testified before Congress that HAMP was "clearly a failure," saying there is "basically universal and bipartisan agreement that the HAMP program is failing to meet TARP's goal of preserving homeownership."

But, Barofsky said, "Secretary Geithner continues to celebrate the status quo…Treasury stands alone in its defense."

Earlier this month, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told Congress that ending the HAMP program "would cause a huge amount of damage" because the housing market is in such a fragile state. "I would recommend against it."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


House Votes to Cut $6 Billion in 3-Week Continuing Resolution

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The House on Tuesday passed a three-week continuing resolution by a count of 271-158.

While the last short-term spending bill received nearly unanimous support from the Republican Conference, Tuesday’s measure saw 54 Republicans peel off in opposition against funding the government on an incremental basis. Without support from 85 House Democrats, the bill could have failed.

The spending bill includes $6 billion worth of cuts compared to 2010 spending levels, cutting 25 programs for a savings of $3.5 billion and eliminating $2.6 billion in earmarks that were automatically renewed in the CR approved by the Democratic-controlled Congress in December.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated it has enough support to pass ahead of Friday's deadline to avoid a government shutdown.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Senate Energy Chair Bingaman: US Can’t Abandon Nuclear Power

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- With the disaster in Japan prompting a reexamination of nuclear safety issues, the Senate's top Democrat on energy issues said Tuesday that the U.S. should continue to pursue new nuclear power options.

Senate Energy Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) tells ABC News that while it's too early to draw conclusions about safety concerns based on what's happening in Japan, it doesn't change the fact that nuclear power can and will be produced safely in the United States.

"We have depended on nuclear power for many decades to meet much of our electricity needs, and I think we will continue to in the future," said Bingaman. "And I do believe we can produce power safely. We've done that. We've done it for many decades."

"Clearly we need to be sure that the design that we are using in our power plants is the very best and the safest design. And whatever changes we need to make to those designs or to the regulations of those plants we need to make. But I'm not persuaded that nuclear power should be deleted from the list of options that we look at."

Bingaman said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission may wind up making changes on safety requirements and regulations as a result of what we learn from Japan.

Still, a strong majority of senators continue to support nuclear power, Bingaman said.

"Most members I believe recognize the importance that nuclear energy provides in our energy mix. I'm a strong believer that we need to have a diversified set of supplies for our energy needs, and nuclear power is one of them."

Conversely, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., told ABC News on Tuesday he "never thought it was a good option."

“I think it's not only the unthinkable, what is apparently happening in Japan today, but if you were to ask any expert what is the most expensive way to produce new energy, you know what it is? It's nuclear energy,” Sanders said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Petraeus: Progress in Afghanistan 'Fragile and Reversible'

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan acknowledged Tuesday that security in the war-torn country is still fragile and warned that it would be unwise to abandon the mission, despite the U.S. public's record-high opposition to the war. Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. David Petraeus said "much difficult work lies ahead with our Afghan partners" to expand gains achieved in the past year.

"As a bottom line up front, it is ISAF's [International Security Assistance Force] assessment that the momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas," Petraeus said in his first congressional appearance since he took command last summer.

"However, while the security progress achieved over the past year is significant, it is also fragile and reversible."

Public support for the war in Afghanistan has dropped sharply in recent months amid domestic economic and employment woes. Thirty-one percent now say the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, a new low, 64 percent say it's not worth fighting, and 49 percent feel that way "strongly," according to an ABC News-Washington Post poll released Tuesday. The latter numbers are both record highs in the poll.

A January report had painted a gloomy picture of the war in Afghanistan, the longest in U.S. history. Attacks by insurgents have increased by two-thirds above already record levels in 2009, the "highest annual growth rate we have recorded," the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office said, adding that "their momentum would appear unaffected by U.S.-led counterinsurgency measures." The report argued that the White House and the U.S. military's claims of success are overstated.

Now, the onset of spring has once again elevated concerns about a Taliban resurgence, especially from safe havens on the border with Pakistan. With the spring thaw tradtionally comes a spring offensive from the militant group. And with public opposition escalating to a new record, even supporters of the war are viewing the situation with caution.

President Obama has committed to a draw-down of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, starting July, and transitioning security responsibilities to Afghan forces. Petraeus on Tuesday said he supports that plan and will present his options and recommendations to the president on how to go about reducing the number of troops.

But that could be a significant challenge in itself. As ABC News reported Monday, field commanders in Afghanistan are asking for more troops and are openly challenging the wisdom of withdrawing any U.S. forces by the July 11 date set by the administration.

Some lawmakers plan to draft a resolution calling on the president to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan no later than Dec. 31, 2011, but that's likely to fail, as it has in the past. Critics claim Obama's date -- or any date certain for a withdrawal -- will only cause the enemy to retreat and wait out the U.S. presence there.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


DOE Sends Equipment, Personnel to Monitor Japan's Nuclear Crisis

Sankei via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Department of Energy has deployed equipment and 34 team members to Japan to help monitor radiation levels and address the country's nuclear crisis, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Tuesday before a House appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development.

"These teams have the skills, expertise and equipment to help assess, survey, monitor, and sample areas," Chu explained, adding that officials from the Energy Department and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission "have maintained close contact with Japanese officials."

DOE officials in Japan include an emergency response representative deployed as part of the USAID Disaster Response Team, a nuclear engineer with Japanese language skills, and a larger contingent to provide monitoring equipment.

Chu stressed the safety of reactors in the U.S. and said repeatedly that the administration will apply lessons learned from the crisis in Japan here at home.

The secretary, who described Japan as being hit with "a double-barreled whammy of devastating earthquake and tsunami," went on to assure the American people that reactors in the U.S. are designed to anticipate these kinds of disasters.

Asked about the future of nuclear power in the U.S., Chu emphasized the importance of relying on a diverse set of energy sources and said it was "probably premature to say anything except we will learn from this."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


DNC Chairman Tim Kaine Leaning Toward US Senate Run

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Nervous about losing a U.S. Senate seat to Republicans in Virginia, President Obama has been pushing former Virginia governor and current Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine to run for the spot being vacated by Sen. Jim Webb.

Virginia is a battleground state that Obama can ill-afford to lose next year and his chances would improve significantly if a strong Democratic candidate like Kaine is the nominee for Senate.  His most likely GOP opponent would be former Sen. George Allen.

Up to now, Kaine has been reluctant to make a commitment but there were signs Monday that he appears ready to make a decision that will please the president.

DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse said that Kaine is more apt to run than sit out the race.  Woodhouse made the statement following reports that Kaine told University of Richmond students that he is indeed a candidate.

Kaine's people are insisting that no firm decision has been made yet and that the former governor will announce his intentions once he addresses several matters, including whether he has the support to win, as well as ensure that he leaves the DNC in capable hands should he step down from the chairmanship.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Gets Low Marks from Fellow Democrat

Conyers [dot] House [dot] gov(WASHINGTON) -- Longtime Michigan Democratic Congressman John Conyers wasn't particularly effusive in his support for President Obama during a speech Monday at the National Press Club.

In fact, Conyers almost sounded like he would endorse another Democrat for the White House, if one was available.

Conyers told reporters, "We keep getting a longer and longer list of things [Obama] wanted to do, wished he could do more about, and is of course having a big problem."

He said the president has made missteps on job creation, curtailing energy costs and dealing with the crises in the Middle East and North Africa.

Nonetheless, the Michigan lawmaker predicted Obama will win reelection in 2012 only because "there doesn't seem to be anybody to run against him next year."  Conyers admitted the list of possible Republican alternatives frightens him.

As for all the criticism he heaped on the commander in chief, Conyers said it was an effort to "make him a better president."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


House Republican at Odds with Tea Party Counterparts over Budget

Grimm [dot] House [dot] gov(WASHINGTON) -- New York Congressman Michael Grimm really went rogue Monday by attacking members within his own party for preferring to see the government shut down Friday instead of approving another continuing resolution (CR) so that more cuts could be made to the 2011 fiscal budget.

The freshman lawmaker launched into a tirade against "the extreme wing of the Republican Party," which Grimm said was made up of members of the Tea Party.

In a statement, Grimm accused these staunch conservatives of advocating a government shutdown, which he called "a big mistake."

The right thing to do, according to Grimm, is voting in favor of another CR so that more spending reductions are made, thus "keeping our promise to the American people to reduce the deficit and fix the economy."

Still, Grimm managed to get a dig in against a longtime Democratic foe by saying Tea Partiers are "not looking at the big picture, and the last thing we want to do is become like Nancy Pelosi in the last Congress, where it was 'my way or the highway.'"

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Key Senate Republican: Declaration Of War Needed for Libyan No-Fly Zone

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Monday said if the Obama administration wants to implement a no-fly zone in Libya, it must first get Congress to declare war.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., also said if a no-fly zone is implemented, the Arab League should pay for its costs. 

“Given the costs of a no-fly zone, the risks that our involvement would escalate, the uncertain reception in the Arab street of any American intervention in an Arab country, the potential for civilian deaths, the unpredictability of the endgame, the strains on our military, and other factors, it is doubtful that U.S. interests would be served by imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. If the Obama Administration is contemplating this step, however, it should begin by seeking a declaration of war against Libya that would allow for a full Congressional debate on the issue,” Lugar said in a statement Monday.

Lugar, who is fighting a tough re-election battle in the Hoosier State, differs with the Senate’s number-three Democrat, Chuck Schumer, on the issue of whether or not the White House should get Congress to declare war if the administration wants to implement a no-fly zone.

On Sunday Schumer, D-N.Y., said it is up to the president to decide.

“I believe on these we should defer to the commander in chief on short term, immediate situations like this,” Schumer said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

A number of senators have vociferously demanded a no-fly zone in Libya. On Monday, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, I-CT, introduced a resolution in the Senate calling for a no-fly zone to combat Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

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