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Two Bush-era leftovers are finally being taken care of: Congress passed the $410 billion spending bill from last year, and the Environmental Protection Agency plans to set up a greenhouse-gas reporting system that could help lead to emissions caps. In the Middle East, Iran may not be the biggest threat after all, as increasing violence in Iraq threatens to destabilize a government bracing for a decreased American military presence. For President Obama, it all adds up to a score of 12 on the Change-o-Meter.
The Senate finally passed the $410 billion spending bill for the fiscal year that started more than five months ago, securing eight Republican votes for the cloture motion that ended debate, which three Democrats opposed. (The bill itself passed by a voice vote.) The budget, which provides funding for all government activities other than defense and homeland security, has come under fire for its thousands of pet projects, a type of spending Obama promised to curb. Obama signed the bill, anyway, describing the heavily earmarked legislation as a remnant of the previous administration. He loses 15 points for addressing the earmark issue in a signing statement, a tactic that just this week he promised he would not use as often as Bush did. But we'll return 2 points for particularly a catty swipe at Congress for "legislative aggrandizement"—no casual insult here in Washington—for provisions that add extra congressional control over granular spending decisions.
The EPA, meanwhile, is planning to establish a national system for reporting greenhouse-gas emissions, a system that would include up to 90 percent of the country's output. The program was drafted during the Bush administration but blocked by the White House budget office at the time—still, better late than never. This move could be the first step in creating an emissions cap to help curb global warming, for which the 'Meter awards 25 points.
In the Middle East, it looks like the threat of a nuclear Iran is still several years off. (A brief history of Iran's nuclear capability, according to the United States: Iran did have fissile material on March 1, 2009; it just really wanted one on Feb. 12, 2009; it had given up on Dec. 3, 2007.) Intelligence officials briefed Congress yesterday, saying that Iran had not produced enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. This assessment, however, contrasts with the Israeli view, which warns that Iran's nuclear ambitions remain grand. The 'Meter awards 10 points for this week's assessment of a slightly less volatile Mideast.
But then the 'Meter takes those points right back. In Iraq, two highly sophisticated suicide bombings have killed more than 60 people since Sunday, creating worries that al-Qaida's organization in Iraq has teamed up with Sunni insurgents, mainly remaining Saddam Hussein and Baath Party supporters. Though overall violence is down, Iraqi military officials are worried this may be a sign of increasing attacks to destabilize the government as Americans start planning for withdrawal.
There's a lot to cover, so we want to hear your thoughts on what the Change-o-Meter should be taking into account. No detail is too small or wonky. E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.