Pentagon Terminates Controversial Jet Engine

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon announced Monday it has stopped payment on a controversial fighterjet engine program that military brass long decried as a boondoggle but had thrived for years anyway with the backing of powerful leaders in Congress and a push from a brigade of well-connected lobbyists.

"The Department of Defense today notified the General Electric/Rolls Royce Fighter Engine Team and the Congress that the F136 Joint Strike Fighter engine contract has been terminated," a Defense Department release said Monday. "The stop work order ended the expenditure of $1 million per day on an extra engine that the [Pentagon] has assessed as unneeded and wasteful."

The statement was intended to bring finality to a decision that has for years been grist for an intensive public relations and lobbying war inside Washington. President Obama identified the engine, being developed jointly by General Electric and Rolls Royce, as a symbol of wasteful spending. He and others decried it as an unnecessary duplication of work already contracted to Pratt & Whitney, which had been tapped to design the propulsion system for the next generation of American fighter jets, known as the Joint Strike Fighter.

"The Bush administration opposed this engine. The Obama administration opposes it. We have recommended for several years now against funding this engine, considering it a waste of money," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters last May. "To argue that we should add another $3 billion in what we regard as waste...frankly, I don't track the logic."

The Pentagon and the president repeatedly called for the program to be cut from the budget, but Congress always responded by setting aside more money for the project. Supporters of the alternate engine said taxpayers would benefit by having two defense contractors competing to develop propulsion systems for the fighter jet. Over the long haul, they said, the competition would force the price down and produce overall savings.

Critics disputed that argument, saying the development of two engines represented an enormous extra expense with no guarantee that it would yield savings. They also accused GE and Rolls Royce of exploiting their presence in key congressional districts around the country -- factories doing work on the engine are located within a few miles of districts held by House Speaker John Boehner, R.-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R.-Virginia.

The competing arguments helped fuel one of the most costly lobbying and PR campaigns in Washington in recent memory. The clash came to a head earlier this year as congressional leaders and the president negotiated the final details of the 2011 budget under a threat of a government shutdown. The engine project wound up on the cutting room floor.

GE, which according to the Center for Responsive Politics has spent more on lobbying over the past decade than any other American company, vowed Monday to continue to work on the project in the hopes it could be revived as Congress takes up the 2012 budget.

"While we are deeply disappointed by the DoD's 'Notice of Termination,' GE and Rolls-Royce remain committed to the [engine] and the significant benefits it brings to the American taxpayer and our fighting men and women," GE spokesman Rick Kennedy said in an email to ABC News.

"GE and Rolls-Royce will work closely with our Congressional supporters during the 2012 budget process in pursuit of incorporating the engine into the program, and preserving competition," Kennedy said. "We continue to be encouraged by the bi-partisan support for the engine on the merits of its performance and value. There is a significant willingness in Congress to revisit the [engine] funding debate as the consequences of terminating the engine are being fully understood."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


President Obama Considering New Sanctions Against Syria

KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In the wake of the violent crackdown on protesters in Syria, President Obama is considering imposing new sanctions on Syrian leaders, including a travel ban and asset freeze, senior White House officials said Monday.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said “we continue to look for ways and are pursuing a range of possible policy options, including targeted sanctions, to respond to the crackdown in Syria and to make clear that this behavior is unacceptable.”

On Friday, President Obama issued a statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators. This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now…We strongly oppose the Syrian government’s treatment of its citizens and we continue to oppose its continued destabilizing behavior more generally, including support for terrorism and terrorist groups.”

The U.S. already has imposed sanctions against Syria, including the Syria Accountability Act of 2004 which bans the export to Syria of most goods containing more than 10 percent U.S.-manufactured component parts.  The USA Patriot Act in 2006 included a specific sanction against Commercial Bank of Syria.

In addition, previous Executive Orders from the president have also denied certain Syrians and Syrian organizations access to U.S. financial system because of their involvement in corruption, destabilizing activities in Iraq and Lebanon, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or association with al Qaeda, the Taliban or Osama bin Laden.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


DOMA Defense Triggers Legal Turmoil

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images (file)(WASHINGTON) -- The former solicitor general for President George W. Bush who was tapped by House Republicans to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act in court abruptly resigned from one of the nation's top law firms Monday after it refused to provide legal services in support of the law.

Paul Clement, a partner at the law firm King & Spalding, was appointed by House Speaker John Boehner last week to step in for Justice Department lawyers who withdrew from several pending cases involving DOMA in February. The law defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Attorney General Eric Holder said at the time that the Obama administration concluded that laws treating gays and lesbians differently deserve a heightened form of legal scrutiny, which, in turn, could result in finding the law unconstitutional.

House Republicans have insisted only the judges should decide on the law's constitutionality, and in a contract with King & Spalding, agreed to pay $520 per hour for up to $500,000 total for Clement and the firm's legal services to defend the statute in court.

But Monday, the firm made an about face, unexpectedly announcing that it had withdrawn from representing the cases. Robert D. Hays Jr., the firm's chairman, said in a statement that the methods used for vetting the representation were "inadequate."

Gay and lesbian rights groups, which had mounted intense pressure on the firm for accepting the case, celebrated the reversal. "King & Spalding has rightly chosen to put principle above politics in dropping its involvement in the defense of this discriminatory and patently unconstitutional law," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "We are pleased to see the firm has decided to stand on the right side of history and remain true to its core values."

Clement later resigned and blasted Hays' decision in a letter, saying the firm had backed down because its client's legal position was unpopular. He vowed to continue a legal defense of DOMA. Clement said that he "recognized from the outset" that the statute implicates sensitive issues "on both sides" but that "having undertaken the representation, I believe there is no honorable course for me but to complete it."

Clement said he would move to the Bancroft firm and continue in his role as private counsel on behalf of the U.S. House.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


No Early Review of Health Care Law by Supreme Court

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court opted Monday not to step in and hear a challenge to the Obama administration’s health care law. 

The decision follows a request by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for the Supreme Court to step in and provide an expedited review of the health care law. The court’s decision not to intervene means that the appeals process will continue with expedited hearings this spring. The issue, however, could find its way back to the Supreme Court next term.

The cert denial reportedly made no mention of any recusals from any of the justices.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gas Prices: Rep. Blumenauer Says No Change Soon

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Skyrocketing gas prices and earnings reports from major oil and gas companies this week have combined to again make energy policy and gas prices potent political issues.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, sponsor of a bill that he says would strip $40 billion in subsidies from the largest oil companies over five years, told ABC News on Monday that Congress should stop giving tax breaks to companies that don’t need them.

“Our $8 billion a year that is handed to the oil interests does not affect a $2 trillion global price for oil. What it does is it just goes to the bottom line, and you see those profits at record highs,” Blumenauer, D-Ore., said.

“We should be using that money to reduce the deficit or to help develop alternative sources of energy that will be in America, that will not contribute to greenhouse gases and will improve efficiency in the long run. I mean, there's a win-win here, and most people understand it.”

But as for what can be done in the short term to address rising gas prices, Blumenauer was blunt: “The fact is there isn't anything that is going to change that tomorrow. I mean you could drain America dry of its oil. We only have two percent of the world's supply. We consume over 20 percent of it, and that's not going to happen overnight.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


GOP Raises Doubts About Debt Ceiling ‘Catastrophe’

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- House and Senate Republicans are staking out their negotiating position ahead of the coming debate about raising the nation’s debt ceiling and they’re using all the leverage they’ve got.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, penned an op-ed in Monday’s National Review arguing that Congress should refuse to up the debt ceiling unless it also passes a balanced-budget amendment.

“The debt-ceiling charade must come to an end,” Lee wrote, "and the federal government must implement binding, permanent, structural spending reforms.”

Lee, a conservative freshman senator, pledged to “aggressively oppose” any efforts to raise the ceiling without accompanying budget-balancing measures.

“As history suggests, the strategy of creating a debt-ceiling boogeyman works every time,” he wrote, referring to what he said were scare tactics employed by the Obama administration. “Having maxed out one card, they habitually demand another, using threats of fiscal Armageddon to extort taxpayers into giving them ‘just one more.’”

Democrats and the White House have been warning of the dire consequences of not raising the limit -- the government would default on its loans and the resulting financial disruption would likely send the U.S. and global economies into an economic tailspin. Obama administration officials like Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers Austan Goolsbee have sounded confident that Congress will, in the end, raise the ceiling.

But that hasn’t stopped some of Senator Lee’s fellow Republicans from putting pressure on the administration.

“The idea that this is catastrophic is wrong,” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, said in an appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press, on Sunday. “What is catastrophic is to continue to spend money we don't have.”

The Oklahoma Republican insisted that the “debt limit doesn't really mean anything because we've always extended it” and that the U.S. Treasury could still pay down the interest on the country’s loans even if the limit is not extended.

When asked if Congress was likely to raise the limit, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, said: “Maybe or maybe not,” suggesting that it should be tied to “the bipartisan deficit commission report of the ‘Gang of Six.’”

“That would be huge cuts in the future spending of the United States that may be a good deal,” he said. “Without that we should not send a blank check to the administration.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


First Family Attends Easter Service

Annie Leibovitz/Released by White House Photo Office/File(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama and the rest of the first family attended Easter service at a church in northwest Washington, D.C. Sunday.

The president along with wife Michelle, and their two kids Sasha and Malia, attended service at the Shiloh Baptist Church, a historically black church located not too far from the White House. Since moving to D.C. the Obamas have not picked a church to consistently attend, as President Obama said that his attendance would be disruptive to services.

Prior to Sunday’s church attendance, the last time the Obamas attended service was in January just before Martin Luther King Day at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church.

In 2010, the first family attended Easter service at Allen Chapel AME in southeast, Washington, DC. The selection of that church was not insignificant, as days before the Obamas made their visit, the neighborhood was shaken by a drive-by shooting that took the lives of four teenagers.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Religious Leaders Debate Religion and Government

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- As heated political rhetoric escalates and acts of religious intolerance arise across the nation, a group of prominent religious leaders appeared on ABC’s This Week to discuss the role of religion in government and what can be done to promote civil discourse.

"A hundred years ago the social safety net in the country was provided by the church," the Rev. Franklin Graham told host Christiane Amanpour. "If you were hungry, you went to the local church and told them, 'I can't feed my family.' And the church would help you. And that's not being done."

Graham's comments come as people across the country debate the degree to which the government should manage social programs including Medicare, social security and health care.

"The government took that," Graham said. "They had more money to give and more programs to give and pretty soon the churches just backed off."

As Congress debates the federal budget including the plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., which would decrease the extent of government involvement in certain social services, Graham concedes that churches are not prepared to handle the civic responsibilities they once bore.

In a year when "compromise" has been described as a dirty word in Washington and a congresswoman was shot at political event in her hometown, what role should religious organizations play in promoting civility and understanding?

"At the very least, we should be creating individuals who know how to talk civilly," said Pastor Tim Keller.

"As an institution, most of the churches have lost a lot of credibility," Keller told Amanpour. "So I think my job is to create individuals who can participate in civil discourse."

The governing principle of the separation of church and state traces back to the founding of the country, but its interpretation and the degree to which the two entities should be separate is an issue of heated debate. Even among religious leaders, the church's proper role in politics is not consistent.

"I personally think the church, as the church, ought to be less concerned about speaking to politics and more concerned about service," Keller said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton had a very different take on the role of the church in politics, claiming that spiritual leaders have the obligation to build a moral and ethical framework for heated political discussions.

"I think the church must set first a moral tone," Sharpton said. "All religions are based on how we interact one to another as human beings... That should be reflected in the public policies that we support."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


GOP Weekly Address: Sen. Johanns Says Gov't Stifling Job Creation

Johanns[dot]Senate[dot]gov(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) says that government needs to get out of the way, to allow the job creation process to take place in the U.S.

Speaking in the weekly Republican address, Sen. Johanns said that job creation doesn’t start with government but with businesses, small businesses in particular. The Nebraska senator said that job creators need to be freed from regulations and mandates in order to allow them to flourish.

“It is time to change the culture in Washington. We can't tie up small businesses in needless red tape and regulations and then expect them to create jobs and boost the economy,” Sen. Johanns said. “The federal government can't create jobs; we must help shape an economic environment conducive to job creation.”

Citing the Small Business Administration, the senator said small businesses are responsible for creating between 60 percent and 80 percent of all new jobs.

Sen. Johanns said that himself and his fellow Republicans will continue to push for a scaled back government that would allow for the creation of a prosperous economy that benefits everyone.

“It is clearly time for government to get out of the way,” Sen. Johanns said. “Our small businesses will respond with innovation and job creation.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Weekly Address: Obama Again Tries to Show He Feels Your Pain

Pete Souza/The White House(WASHINGTON) -- In his weekly address, President Obama once again lays out what he’s doing to respond to the apparent pain America is feeling at the gas pumps. However, he admits “there’s no silver bullet that can bring down gas prices right away.” 
Obama says a smart answer to soaring gas prices is investing in clean renewable energy. 

“In the long term, that’s the answer. That’s the key to helping families at the pump and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”
Trying once again to show he gets it, Obama talks about the anxiety felt by so many Americans this Easter and Passover. 
“Your paycheck isn’t getting bigger, while the cost of everything from college for your kids to gas for your car keeps rising.  That’s something on a lot of people’s minds right now, with gas prices at $4 a gallon.  It’s just another burden when things were already pretty tough.”
The president's address also includes a mention of the upcoming battle over the debt with his critiques of the Republican plan. He says he disagrees strongly with proposed cuts to clean energy. 

“Yes, we have to get rid of wasteful spending -- and make no mistake, we’re going through every line of the budget scouring for savings. But we can do that without sacrificing our future,” Obama says.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio