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ThinkFast: March 27, 2009

Immigration advocates are launching a new strategy to push immigration reform through Congress. They want millions of undocumented workers legalized now, while a new independent commission would study the number of foreign workers allowed to enter the U.S. in the future — a provision they hope will gain the backing of America’s unions.

This morning, President Obama will announce a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan that “plans to further bolster American forces” and “for the first time set benchmarks for progress in fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban there and in Pakistan.” In addition to the 17,000 combat troops Obama ordered to Afghanistan last month, he will add 4,000 more troops to train Afghanistan security forces.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the use of a budget reconciliation process — which requires only simple majorities — “the best prospect” for passing health care reform this year, something she said was “absolutely essential.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) also “refused to rule out” the use of reconciliation, saying, “Let’s see what happens in the next three weeks, in the next month.”

The Senate voted 78–20 to approve the Edward Kennedy Serve America Act, expanding national community service programs by “increasing the number of positions to 250,000 from 75,000 and creating new cadres of volunteers focused on education, clean energy, health care and veterans.” Aides say the bill will clear the House easily.

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Thousands of buildings at U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan “have such poorly installed wiring that American troops face life-threatening risks.” Of the nearly 30,000 buildings the Army examined, more than half “failed miserably.” A “majority…were wired by contractor KBR.”

The Senate Budget Committee yesterday approved President Obama’s “ambitious budget blueprint” giving the president “a symbolic endorsement of efforts to boost clean energy, fight global warming and improve access to health care.” The party-line vote “sets the stage for floor debate next week, where moderate Democrats unhappy with deficits wield more influence.”

In a 186–179 vote, the New Hampshire House yesterday narrowly approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. However, it “faces an uncertain future in the State Senate and, should it pass there, most likely a veto by Gov. John Lynch.” The developments follow the announcement by Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R) that he will veto a marriage equality bill that recently passed his state’s Senate.

The Obama administration plans to raise fuel efficiency standards for passenger cars to 30.2 mpg for the 2011 model year, which is “the first increase in passenger car standards in more than two decades.” Obama’s new standard is “slightly less stringent” than the 31.2 mpg proposed by the Bush administration, but officials are working “on a more comprehensive set” of rules for vehicles through 2015.

“The former finance chief of a Texas company controlled by Nasser Kazeminy, a close friend of former Sen. Norm Coleman, said in a deposition last week that Kazeminy ordered $100,000 in fees be paid to a Minneapolis insurance agency where Coleman’s wife was employed. The deposition is the first corroboration of claims that Kazeminy funneled payments to Hays Companies aimed at benefiting the Colemans.

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And finally: Yesterday Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) spoke at the Heritage Foundation, making clear he had no illusions about what happened in the 2008 presidential election. “God bless” all the people who voted for me, said McCain, adding, “Over 50 million people voted for me and Sarah Palin — mostly for Sarah Palin.” The audience “erupted” in laughter.

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