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Capitol Hill: The Middle East Speech, The Budget And The Patriot Act

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Middle East Speech Response

President Obama spoke on Middle East policy on Thursday. In terms a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama said:

We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps. So that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the White House Friday. He’s already said those 1967 borders are "indefensible."

"[The] Republicans are almost universally taking Netanyahu’s side on this," Hawkings says. "And many of them are issuing statements even using that ‘indefensible’ word. The Democrats seem split."

Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, supports the president's position, Hawkings says. Hawkings says other lawmakers who are close to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) are "critical" to the Democrat's side.

"This would normally be no big deal what Congress thinks about such a thing, but members of Congress are essentially Netanyahu's props - quite literally - next week," he says.

Netanyahu will head to Capitol Hill Tuesday, where he will have the House podium to deliver his side of the argument. How members of Congress react to that speech - whether they clap loudly or listen silently - will have an impact on how the peace process moves forward, Hawkings says.

Budget Deficit: Breaking Up The 'Gang Of Six'

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) withdrew this week from the so-called "gang of six," bipartisan lawmakers trying to negotiate a budget deal. His departure has "certainly deflated the outlook for a so-called 'grand bargain,'" Hawkings says.

That "grand bargain" would potentially tackle several trillion in cuts to projected deficits over the next decade. But reaching that bargain is "essentially impossible," Hawkings says, with a gang of five, where three are on one side and two are on the other. He says there is some talk on the Republican side of replacing Coburn.

For the most part, attention has shifted to the Blair House talks, chaired by Vice President Joe Biden. His group has six members of Congress, two Republicans and four Democrats.

"They're just looking for enough deficit reduction to give the Republicans the feeling that they should vote for the debt ceiling increase," Hawkings says.

The debt ceiling will be hit in August. In order to avoid defaulting, the government needs Republicans to vote to raise the debt ceiling.

Extending Patriot Act Provisions

Thursday night, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Republican leader, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) agreed on an extension of the Patriot Act. Hawkings says civil libertarians on the left and the right had hoped the extension would include some privacy protections.

"[But] probably with some help from the killing of [Osama] bin Laden, the Patriot Act seems like a good idea…whether it was actually used in the capture of bin Laden or not," he says.

The provisions were extended for four more years - fewer than Republicans had wanted but longer than some civil libertarians had hoped for.

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