In it, but not of it. TPM DC

It started last week, when an influential group of Senate Democrats began signaling to the Obama administration that its $3.55 trillion 2010 budget bites off more than they'd like to be chewing.

The centrist Dems threw up plenty of red flags, from Obama's decision to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans in 2011 to the inclusion of climate change in the budget as an $80 billion-plus revenue raiser. And the most powerful member of this group is Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND), who quipped to The Hill yesterday that anyone who thinks the votes are there for Obama's budget is "smoking something."

That Conrad is joining the cadre of centrists putting the brakes on the White House budget isn't surprising -- he was also a skeptic of the stimulus -- but it is disheartening for anyone hoping for action on carbon emissions this year.

Conrad and his committee's ranking Republican, lapsed Commerce Secretary-designate Judd Gregg (NH), are singing from the same hymnal in criticizing carbon emissions regulations as too costly in the bad economy, handing the GOP a major cudgel to hit the forthcoming cap-and-trade climate bill when it emerges later on this year.

Roll Call reports that Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), the staunch social conservative whose career became bogged down in the 2007 D.C. Madam prostitution scandal, was sighted this past Thursday night having an incident of airport rage at Dulles Airport.

Vitter arrived 20 minutes before the plane was scheduled to depart, and found the gate locked. He then opened the door, setting off the alarm and inviting the attention of an airline worker:

Vitter, our spy said, gave the airline worker an earful, employing the timeworn "do-you-know-who-I-am" tirade that apparently grew quite heated.

That led to some back and forth, and the worker announced to the irritable Vitter that he was going to summon security.

Vitter, according to the witness, remained defiant, yelling that the employee could call the police if he wanted to and their supervisors, who, presumably, might be more impressed with his Senator's pin.

But after talking a huffy big game, Vitter apparently thought better of pushing the confrontation any further. When the gate attendant left to find a security guard, Vitter turned tail and simply fled the scene.


Late Update: Vitter is now responding to the story, after a spokesman declined to comment in the initial reports:

"After being delayed on the Senate floor ensuring a vote on my anti-pay-raise amendment and in a rush to make my flight home for town hall meetings the next day, I accidentally went through a wrong door at the gate," Vitter said in a statement. "I did have a conversation with an airline employee, but it was certainly not like this silly gossip column made it out to be."

Congress Passes $410 Billion Omnibus Spending Bill Congress approved last night the $410 billion omnibus bill, left over from last fall, sending it to the White House for President Obama's signature today. The Senate voted for cloture by a 62-35 margin, with three Democrats voting No and eight Republicans voting Yes.

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will be speaking at 11:20 a.m. from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where he will make an announcement on earmark reform. At 1 p.m. ET he will sign an executive order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls, chaired by Valerie Jarrett, with Michelle Obama and Jill Biden also attending the announcement. At 4 p.m. ET he will hold a closed meeting with the Democratic members of the Senate Budget Committee, and at 5:15 p.m. he will meet with the Democratic members of the House Budget Committee.

Biden's Day Ahead Vice President Biden is meeting this afternoon with Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Act Implementation and Oversight Board. In the late afternoon he will join President Obama's meetings with the Democratic members of the House and Senate Budget Committee.

Conrad: Obama's Budget Can't Pass In Current Form Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) told The Hill that President Obama's budget does not currently have sufficient support in Congress to pass, with the cap-and-trade proposal being the biggest sticking point. Said Conrad: "Anybody who thinks it will be easy to get the votes on the budget in the conditions that we face is smoking something."

Report: Steele May Face RNC No-Confidence Vote Taegan Goddard reports that Republicans insiders say Michael Steele is likely to face a no-confidence vote from RNC members after the March 31 special election for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat -- and this vote would happen regardless of the election results.

GOP Sen. Thune Criticizes Steele's Slow Pace Roll Call reports that Steele is also coming under increasing criticism from Republican Senators, who are annoyed at the non-progress in staff hiring and the lack of messaging at the RNC. "We don't have the luxury of time. I know they're trying to get staffed up over there, so they're working it," said Sen. John Thune (R-SD). "It needs to happen soon. Two-year election cycles go very, very quickly."

CQ: Republicans' Biggest Enemy On Earmarks Is...Themselves CQ points out that Republicans have struggled to gain credibility in their opposition to the omnibus bill in large part because they have criticized earmark spending -- at the same time as many of their own members have included earmarks, and are standing by the practice. "In my opinion I would be doing my constituents a disservice if I didn't request earmarks," said Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), who added that the alternative is "letting a 23-year-old bureaucrat" decide where the money goes.

NYT: Obama Has Opportunity To Turn Lower Courts Left The New York Times examines the pending opportunities of President Obama to reshape the country's appeals courts, with the most notable example being the Richmond-based Fourth Circuit. The court currently has a 6-5 majority of Republican-appointed judges, and has gone in an activist conservative direction on such issues as the Miranda rule, affirmative action and detention of terror suspects -- and it has four vacancies to be filled.

Today's announcement by the Franken campaign -- that they will provisionally rest their case tomorrow -- has likely changed the timeline of the case dramatically, a top election expert in Minnesota tells TPM.

Professor David Schultz, a teacher of election law at Hamline University, was previously predicting that a ruling would take until mid-April at the earliest. But that assumed Team Franken would take 2-3 weeks to make its case, as opposed to the week and two days they'll have actually used. "I would say we could anticipate -- we should anticipate at this point -- definitely before the end of the month," said Schultz. "It very well might be in a couple of weeks."

After that, the next step will be the appeals, which are likely to be fast-tracked straight to the state Supreme Court -- and which Schultz expects will come from Coleman, with the court likely to have ruled that Franken is the winner: "It doesn't look like at this point the Coleman campaign has either made the arguments or has the numbers to switch it over to his side for victory. So I presume at this point that the court will find for Franken."

Schultz also affirmed that the Coleman camp's latest gambit -- to declare that the true winner cannot be determined, and the election results should be set aside -- is simply off the table legally. "He has to do more than simply cast doubt," said Schultz. "He has to make the case as to why, on the preponderance of evidence, he won."

Hmmm? Where would Chuck Schumer come down on the withdrawal of Chas Freeman? In the shy and retiring style which Brooklynites and all New Yorkers know so well, the Senior Senator declared:

Charles Freeman was the wrong guy for this position. His statements against Israel were way over the top and severely out of step with the administration. I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him, and I am glad they did the right thing.


I will confess to being a total agnostic on Freeman's appointment to the National Intelligence Council. My friend James Fallows made a good case for him as did my boss, Josh Marshall. My former New Republic colleague and friend, Jonathan Chait, made the case against him here. All are pretty thoughtful looks at the guy, unlike Schumer's I-told-you-so.

President Obama's science adviser and NOAA nominee aren't the only ones getting held up by mysterious Senate Republican concerns.

As Bloomberg reported on Friday, two nominees to join Obama's Council of Economic Advisers -- Austan Goolsbee and Cecilia Rouse -- have also stalled amid anonymous GOP objections.

But that delay could come to an end as soon as this week, according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). He told reporters today that "we're going to have a discussion of the nominees" and "they probably will be confirmed later this week."

In his Times opinion column this morning, David Brooks urged Republicans to adopt a singular focus on the financial crisis as a way of countering President Obama's agenda. As Brooks wrote:

Republicans could admit that they don't know what the future holds, and they're not going to try to make long-range plans based on assumptions that will be obsolete by summer. Unlike the Democrats, they're not for making trillions of dollars in long-term spending commitments until they know where things stand.

...

Do I expect them to shift course in this manner? Not really.


But Brooks appears to have underestimated his own influence. Senior Republicans came out in force today to contend that the financial crisis was getting short shrift from the White House, expanding on the "Obama is distracted" meme that Matt has blogged about this week to accuse the president of not tackling the economy as intensely as he should.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) relayed the new message loud and clear, as The Hill reports:

Following the GOP's weekly conference meeting, the second-ranking House Republican told reporters that President Obama should be focusing on the "economic crisis," as opposed to holding four-hour meetings on healthcare, as the president did last week. The efforts may be laudable, Cantor said, but the White House should be devoting all resources to fixing the economy and not to "impose these cap-and-trade schemes."


And Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) echoed the assertion that Obama's team needs to do more intense work on the economy. "I wish Secretary Geithner and the president would actually begin to solve the problem that's Number One, the credit crisis," he told me today, urging the president to "attend to the problems of the most importance to our country first."

The GOP also seems to be moving forward on Brooks' other recommendation this morning: the introduction of a coherent conservative alternative to the Obama administration's financial policies. Ideas under consideration include a tax credit to homebuyers who make a 5% down payment, tax benefits for those who sell investment properties ... and likely more breaks in the tax code.

The Franken campaign will be provisionally resting their case tomorrow, lead attorney Marc Elias announced at his post-court press conference today.

A few tasks will remain in sorting evidence -- for example, the Coleman camp is ready to introduce a spreadsheet of rejected ballots that it's pulling for, though Elias doubted this would cause his side to delay resting. It's also possible that they may delay resting if severe weather prevents some witnesses from coming in tomorrow, or if Team Coleman lodges further objections, but again Elias didn't think these were likely.

"So far we've had 73 witnesses -- 62 of them were voters," Elias said. "That's actually more witnesses in our case than they they had in their case, though their witnesses testified for a longer time."

Just a week ago, Elias said their case would take two to three weeks -- but instead, they've only gone for one week. After this, the Coleman campaign will get to wage a rebuttal to the Franken case (Coleman legal spokesman Ben Ginsberg said this would be "not terribly lengthy") and the Franken side will get to make a rebuttal to the rebuttal, followed by closing arguments.

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Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner spent two hours behind closed doors last night with House Democrats. He told lawmakers that the economic crunch would get worse before it gets better, either later this year or early next year, while vowing action on small business lending.

What Geithner didn't mention -- but what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged today after a forum with several leading economists -- is that more taxpayer money is likely to be needed to shore up foundering banks.

After economist Mark Zandi of Moodys.com told reporters that "another stimulus package is a reasonable probability, given the way things are going" and that "more money for financial stability to shore up the banking system is likely," Pelosi said she agreed with his statement.

But can Democrats find the votes to push through another round of capital for the banks, should the Obama administration ask for one? House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) said on Thursday that "it's not clear that the political support would be there to" approve another infusion aimed at loosening stalled credit markets, although several Democratic senators said today that they were giving Geithner the benefit of the doubt as he works to handle the conflagrations in the housing markets, credit markets, and bank balance sheets.

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President Obama took on the can-he-walk-and-chew-gum media today:

I know there are some who believe we can only handle one challenge at a time. They forget that Lincoln helped lay down the transcontinental railroad, passed the Homestead Act, and created the National Academy of Sciences in the midst of Civil War. Likewise, President Roosevelt didn't have the luxury of choosing between ending a depression and fighting a war. President Kennedy didn't have the luxury of choosing between civil rights and sending us to the moon. And we don't have the luxury of choosing between getting our economy moving now and rebuilding it over the long term.

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