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Thursday’s Headlines: Afghanistan Hearings, Bernanke on the Hill

On an unusually warm December day in Washington this Thursday, top administration officials are gearing up for another day of hearings on President Obama’s decision to send an extra 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. In hearings yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates drew fire from both sides of the aisle over the president’s plan to begin withdrawing forces from Afghanistan as soon as July 2011. Today, they’ll return for round two. Gates defended the drawdown plans yesterday in an interview with Jim Lehrer, saying “It’s a matter of demonstrating resolve, but at the same time, signaling to the Afghans that they need to build a fire and accelerate their efforts to begin to play a bigger role in this.” * Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is also heading to Capitol Hill today to appear before the Senate Banking Committee for a hearing over his reconfirmation. Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund lays out in The New York Times which questions he would ask, including how the Fed can break the doom loop — repeated boom-bust cycles. Meantime, the Wall Street Journal’s David Wessel wants to know why the Fed seems ready to tolerate a slow recovery in the job market.
For Bernanke, at least one thing is certain: His nomination will face opposition from Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., who said yesterday he’s putting a hold on the nomination, which could push the confirmation into next year. Sanders’ move means that Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, will have to win the support of 60 senators before a vote can be taken on the nomination. Normally, 51 votes are needed to confirm. “Clearly, this guy is part of the problem,” Sanders told the Washington Post, adding, “I hope the president will give us a new nominee.” * Speaking of jobs, President Obama is hosting a jobs summit at the White House today with 130 corporate executives, economists, small-business owners and union leaders. While the summit will be highly symbolic, the president is likely to come out of the meeting with “limited options.” You might think of it as a massive brainstorming session. *
In the world of finance, Comcast, the nation’s largest cable television operator, announced it was buying a majority stake in NBC Universal in a deal valued at around $37 billion. In fact, the companies have already launched a Web site describing the deal. The Wall Street Journal breaks down the purchase, which is likely to go under major review by the Obama administration and regulators. Elsewhere, Bank of America said it’s ready to begin repaying $45 billion in federal bailout money, a move that should help the nation’s largest bank recruit a new chief executive. The announcement made world markets happy, at least, as stocks rose Thursday morning.

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