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Political notebook

House vote on genocide resolution could create rift with Turkey

December 19, 2010

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The House may vote this week on a measure that could damage US relations with critical ally Turkey: a resolution declaring the World War I-era killings of Armenians a genocide.

The vote would be a blow to President Obama by his Democratic allies. House Democratic leaders had long set aside consideration of the draft resolution, and the measure was expected to expire as a new Republican-led House takes office next month.

House aides, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment, said Friday that Democratic leaders have been discussing a possible vote with lawmakers. A spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi had no immediate comment.

Turkey, which sees the measure as a historical affront, has said frequently that the resolution would drive a wedge in its relations with the United States. In March after the House Foreign Affairs Committee endorsed the proposed resolution, Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Washington.

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

The issue is awkward for Obama, who pledged as a presidential candidate to recognize the Armenian deaths as genocide. The administration reversed course, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledged Thursday.

Turkey, a NATO ally with a pivotal role for US interests in the Middle East and Afghanistan, has warned that the resolution’s approval could jeopardize cooperation between the two nations and set back negotiations aimed at opening the border between Turkey and Armenia. In addition, Turkey holds one of the rotating seats in the United Nations Security Council that will have to approve sanctions against Iran.

Armenian-American groups have sought congressional affirmation of the killings as genocide for decades.

“We continue to look to the House Democratic leadership to schedule a vote allowing a bipartisan majority to vote for the Armenian Genocide Resolution,’’ Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, said Friday in a prepared statement.

Opponents of the resolution, including the Turkish government, have begun stepping up their lobbying as it became clear that a vote might be in the works shortly before Democrats hand over leadership of the House to Republicans next month. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

For-profit colleges have an ally in new House leader
Representative John Kline, the incoming leader of the House education committee, says he is considering measures to block an Obama administration plan to tighten for-profit colleges’ access to student aid.

The Department of Education has proposed tying for-profit colleges’ eligibility for federal student aid to the income and loan repayment rates of graduates. In September, after receiving more than 90,000 comments, the department delayed making public the final rule until early next year.

Kline, a Minnesota Republican who will become chairman of the education committee in January, said he would rather that nonprofit and for-profit colleges be required to disclose graduation rates, costs, and graduates’ debt burdens to all applicants. The so-called gainful employment rule is scheduled to go into effect in 2012, and Kline said he has been looking at ways of stopping it.

“At the very least, you need to push this thing back,’’ he said Thursday during an interview with reporters in his office. The rule has been getting “an enormous amount of pushback and getting it in a bipartisan way.’’

Democratic Representatives Alcee Hastings of Florida and Donald Payne and Robert Andrews of New Jersey have voiced opposition to the gainful employment proposal, Kline said. At least 80 members of Congress have said they oppose the rule.

Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Senate education committee, state prosecutors in Kentucky and Florida, and the Government Accountability Office have been investigating the education companies’ recruitment practices and use of government funds.

The rule is intended to measure the quality of for-profit colleges by tracking former students’ incomes and ability to repay loans. Schools that fail to hit benchmarks risk losing eligibility for student financial aid that can account for up to 90 percent of revenue at for-profit colleges. Those measures don’t provide an accurate picture of how well the colleges educate their students, Kline said.

For-profit colleges are an important part of the educational system, because they can quickly develop programs to prepare students for expanding job opportunities, Kline said. The regulation needlessly hinders an industry that’s working well, he said. — BLOOMBERG NEWS