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News Briefs: March 11, 2013

Mar. 10, 2013 - 01:34PM   |  
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Senate may push for more customized CR

Senate appropriators signaled last week that their version of legislation to keep the government open beyond March 27 would include a full defense spending bill — and potentially other full agency funding measures.

“I’ve been talking with Sen. Mikulski about whether it’s possible to put more of the regular appropriations bills on it,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told reporters Thursday, referring to panel Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

“We in the Senate have done our work on the appropriations bills, with one exception, and I don’t think it makes sense to throw that work out the window,” Collins said.

Asked whether a mini-omnibus or full omnibus — meaning a bill that would couple together multiple full-year agency spending bills into a single measure — could pass the House, Collins replied: “I don’t know whether it would or not.”

Minutes later, Mikulski happened upon the same group of reporters carrying a purple folder with a proposed plan for the Senate’s version of continuing resolution (CR) legislation. She was preparing to present it to her Democratic caucus.

The House on Wednesday passed its version of the legislation, a $982 billion measure that includes a full $518.1 billion Pentagon 2013 appropriations bill. The House measure also has attached full-year military construction and Department of Veterans Affairs funding bills.

“As you can see, I have a slim proposal,” Mikulski said, holding up the glossy folder.

Sen. Levin won’t seek re-election

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., is leaving the upper chamber, saying he can best help forge solutions on major national problems without the distractions of a re-election campaign.

After numerous reports of his scant campaign fundraising totals, Levin announced Thursday evening he will retire. When Levin steps down in two years, he will give up his Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) chairmanship and other top posts, drastically transforming that panel and the upper chamber.

Levin, in a statement, said he opted against another campaign so he can remain free of the shackles of a re-election bid to help seek solutions to a range of outstanding national issues.

“This decision was extremely difficult,” Levin said. “Our country is at a crossroads that will determine our economic health and security for decades to come.”

Levin, who has held the Senate seat since 1979, said he decided “I can best serve my state and nation by concentrating in the next two years on the challenging issues before us that I am in a position to help address; in other words, by doing my job without the distraction of campaigning for re-election.”

Among those issues: tax reform, reviving Michigan’s manufacturing sector and Pentagon budget pressures.

“The next two years will also be important in dealing with fiscal pressures on our military readiness,” Levin said. “As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am determined to do all I can to address that issue.”

Brennan sworn in as CIA chief

When John Brennan was sworn in as the new Central Intelligence Agency director on Friday morning, he put his left hand on a piece of history as he delivered his oath.

At Brennan’s request, the National Archives loaned Brennan an original draft of the U.S. Constitution for the private swearing-in ceremony at the White House. The document, which dates from 1787, has George Washington’s handwriting and annotations on it.

“Mr. Brennan had requested a document from the National Archives that would symbolize that the United States is a nation of laws,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “And before Mr. Brennan was sworn in he told the president that he made the request to the Archives because he wanted to reaffirm his commitment to the rule of law as he took the oath of office as director of the CIA.”

Vice President Biden officiated at the swearing-in.

Brennan, who previously served as White House counterterrorism adviser and spent 25 years in the CIA, was confirmed by the Senate Thursday after facing a long filibuster led by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who questioned the constitutionality of drone strikes without legal due process.

Some have found some irony in Brennan’s choice of document. The Emptywheel blog notes that Brennan took his oath on a draft that did not include the Bill of Rights. The Constitution went into effect in 1789, but the Bill of Rights was not ratified until 1791.

Brennan has played a key role in overseeing the drone program, which has been used to target terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, in President Obama’s and George W. Bush’s administrations.

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