In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Rep. Paul Ryan (WI), the senior Republican on the House Budget Committee, appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" today to address the mounting criticism of his party as lacking an alternative approach to the financial crisis.

After host Joe Scarborough noted that MSNBC analyst Mike Barnicle's wife works for Bank of America -- and jokingly asked the congressman to "wind them down ... more slowly than other banks" -- Barnicle asked Ryan whether minimum capital requirements for banks should be lowered beyond their existing levels.

In response, the GOP congressman acknowledged that capital requirements have been "too liberal" during the past decade, echoing the warnings of economists who have criticized global regulators for overly relaxing the level of capital that banks are permitted to hold.

But what does Ryan think is the best way to bounce back from overly liberal capital requirements? Imposing more liberal accounting rules by suspending mark-to-market accounting practices that require rational valuation of toxic assets. The congressman's full remarks are after the jump.

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Way back in November, when Norm Coleman was calling upon Al Franken to concede the Senate race, one of the reasons he cited was the expense. "It's up to him whether such a step is worth the tax dollars it will take to conduct," Norm said at the time, saying that he would have stepped aside if he had been in Franken's position.

But take a look at this number: Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has told Time that a new election, for which Coleman is increasingly angling, would cost $3.5-5 million -- and the state is already trying to fix a multi-billion dollar budget deficit. "It's pure fantasy, pure baloney," said Ritchie.

Also consider that at the time Coleman was saying the state had to be spared the expense of a recount, Ritchie estimated that it would cost nearly $90,000. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann just told TPM that the recount proper ultimately came in above estimates, at $120,000. This puts us in the low single-digits as a percentage of the cost of a new election.

Also, the state has to pay more after the recount proper, as a result of Coleman's lawsuit to overturn Franken's margin. In the time time since Coleman brought the election contest, the Secretary of State's office has put in another $55,000. And Gelbmann is sure that local election officials throughout the state and the courts have cumulatively had to put in far more than the total $175,000 that his own office has paid during the two periods.

Still, this doesn't sound like much compared to that price tag on a new election.

The Journal reports today on a Democratic math problem that we noted yesterday: the president's party simply lacks the votes to break a GOP filibuster of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), the No. 1 priority of the labor movement that's headed for its official introduction later this afternoon.

The Journal states that six senators who previously supported EFCA are now up in the air on the bill, although only four fence-sitters are named -- the exact same four we reported yesterday, Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Mark Pryor (D-AR).

The uncertainty surrounding their votes means that we're unlikely to see EFCA come up in the Senate until May or June, giving labor unions more time to lock up support and Minnesota's Al Franken more time to win his court case and get seated in the Senate.

Late Update: Here comes more proof of the Dems' uncertainty on EFCA ... Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), who had previously voted to break a GOP filibuster of the bill, told HuffPo today that he's opposed to Employee Free Choice in its current format.

Late Late Update: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) offered a rosier prediction to reporters after today's party luncheon, predicting that "frankly, [the votes are] there" to break a GOP filibuster of EFCA. As Reid put it:

Now, remember, these are procedural votes. These are not votes on the substance of the bill. There may be somebody who simply -- they don't believe it's right to hold up legislation like this. And so I think getting 60 votes on the procedural aspects of it, I think, it certainly doable. And then we'll look and see if we can get enough votes to pass it. I, certainly, think we can.

The Hill reports that Michael Steele has gone into damage-control mode -- canceling interviews, possibly getting to work on actually hiring staffers, and holding a conference call to apologize to RNC members for his recent gaffes:

Following a series of misstatements that have resulted in criticism from both inside and outside the GOP, Steele canceled a number of interviews scheduled for this week, including one with The Hill, ostensibly to focus on hiring several senior staffers.

As part of his damage-control efforts, Steele participated in a Friday conference call with members of the RNC, where he apologized and sought to reassure them that he would refocus on the task at hand, according to several people who participated in the call.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner paid a visit to House Democrats last night for a wide-ranging talk that didn't include any requests for more financial bailout money, but did come with a plea for patience as the Obama administration attempts to stabilize the economy.

"We're doing more in weeks than other countries do in years," Geithner told Democrats, according to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). In a post-meeting interview with ABC, Cummings was addressed the critics that have been decidedly unenthused* with Geithner's performance thus far:

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Omnibus Could Pass Today The Senate is expected to vote today on the omnibus spending bill, with the Democratic leadership claiming they now have enough crossover Republican support -- and assurances from some wavering Democrats -- to cross the 60-vote threshold. Notably, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said that Treasury officials have compromised on proposed changes to Cuba policy.

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama is speaking at 9:45 a.m. ET to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's 19th Annual Legislative Conference. At 3:30 p.m. he will be meeting with the New Democrat Coalition, the caucus of centrist Democrats in Congress. Then at 5:30 p.m. ET he will meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Biden Meeting With NATO, European Leaders Vice President Biden has been spending the day in Brussels, Belgium, meeting with NATO and European leaders. He met at 4 a.m. ET with Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer; at 4:30 a.m. ET he met with a NATO session; and at 7:20 a.m. ET he and de Hoop Scheffer held a press conference. At 8:35 a.m. he met with members of the European Union; at 10:05 a.m. ET he will meet with Belgian Prime Minister Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy; and at 11:05 a.m. he will meet with the Non-NATO International Security Assistance Force.

Dean Challenges GOP: "Be My Guest" And Filibuster Health Care In an interview with the Washington Times, Howard Dean warned Republicans that serious political backlash will await if they block President Obama's health care plan: "They called Medicare socialized medicine. If they want to filibuster this to death, be my guest and let's see how they do in 2010." He also had this to say about the Rush Limbaugh controversies: "You expect people to have fun, and it was fun, but enough is enough. The reason it's fun is because it's true."

Poll: Dodd Trails By One Point A new Quinnipiac poll in Connecticut shows Chris Dodd down by one point against former GOP Rep. Rob Simmons, with a high undecided number: Simmons 43%, Dodd 42%, within the ±2.8% margin of error. Against right-wing economist/pundit Larry Kudlow, who is reportedly looking at the race, Dodd leads 46%-34%.

Shuler Not Running For Senate Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) has announced through his spokesman that he is not running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Richard Burr in 2010. Burr has proven to be a strong vote-getter in a conservative region of his state, but has also clashed with Democratic leaders and voted against the stimulus bill.

McCain Doesn't Want Obama To Fail, But Says White House Is "Lurching" In an interview with the Politico, John McCain said these are "terrible, perilous" times for the economy, and that "I don't want him [President Obama] to fail in his mission of restoring our economy." However, he also continued to criticize the administration's policies thus far: "There is no clear message. They're just sort of lurching from one crisis to another, and that's the perception the American people have."

Vogel Named DCCC Executive Director The DCCC has announced that political strategist Jon Vogel has been named as the organization's new Executive Director. Vogel previously led the DCCC's independent expenditure arm in 2008, running ad campaigns that helped pick up 24 seats, and in 2006 he served as Northeastern and Florida Regional Political Director.

I reported earlier today on Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl's (R-AZ) amendment to this week's 2009 spending bill, which appears to be directly inspired by a debunked internet rumor about plans to resettle Palestinian refugees in America.

Earlier today, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) gave a refreshingly candid speech urging rejection of the amendment and comparing today's everyday Palestinian citizens to his Irish ancestors, who were "hunted because they wouldn't renounce their religion" and concluding: "Thank goodness the United States had open arms for them."

A brief excerpt of Leahy's remarks is after the jump.

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The Coleman camp is reacting to the discovery of only 89 "3-A" rejected ballots -- absentee ballots that contained registration forms inside the inner secrecy envelope, rather than immediately within the outer envelope a -- and insisting that the real number is much bigger.

The short version: In order to win, Coleman needs to expand the universe of countable ballots. But this expansion was much smaller than some expected, out of the 1,500 ballots that were searched. At his post-court press conference, Coleman legal spokesman Ginsberg boasted that the search "found between 100 and 150 that were wrongly rejected and should be put in. so that gives you an increasing idea that the universe of ballots with which we're dealing continues to fluctuate."

What Ginsberg is relying on is the addition of 72 more envelopes that had incomplete registration cards, and are unlikely to be included under the court's strict standards for letting in new ballots -- a point that the Coleman camp seems sure to appeal.

Two-thirds of the 89 came from pro-Coleman counties, but the sample of votes is by itself too small to provide much of a swing for him -- and that's assuming they do break for Coleman. It's also likely that some of these envelopes will have other flaws with them, thus shrinking the pool even further.

So obviously, Ginsberg wants to be able to expand the universe of votes as much as possible, declaring: "89 plus 72 with -- apparently have some deficiencies in them, whatever that may mean."

(Ginsberg presser c/o The Uptake.)

On a day when President Obama struck a blow for truth-based science by reversing his predecessor's restrictions on stem cell research, it's unfortunate to report that two of Obama's top science advisors remain in limbo as anonymous Senate holds slow their confirmation.

I reported on Friday that John Holdren, nominated to become chief White House science adviser, and Jane Lubchenco, nominated to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, were being slowed by multiple GOP objections. But TPMDC is on the case quizzing potential culprits, and we can rule out two likely suspects: Sens. David Vitter (R-LA) and Mel Martinez (R-FL), both members of the Commerce Committee with jurisdiction over the nominees.

A Martinez spokesman confirmed today that he has no hold on Holdren and Lubchenco, while Vitter told me that "I've expressed concerns about Dr. Holdren in particular, but I do not have a hold."

The search continues ...

Late Update: To answer those wondering about Sen. Robert Menendez's (D-NJ) reported hold on Holdren and Lubchenco, per the WaPo, his spokesman confirmed on Friday that Menendez is not standing in the nominees' way as of now. Other unnamed senators still are holding them, however, according to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).

National Journal has assembled an excellent graphic that details which senators have crossed party lines the most frequently on the $410 billion 2009 spending bill. That measure is expected to become law by mid-week but has sparked nagging questions about Democratic party unity from the Beltway media.

It may not surprise many political junkies, but Sen. Evan Bayh (IN) is the Democrat who has crossed party lines most often on the spending bill, voting with the GOP eight times since debate on the legislation began last week. (Sen. Olympia Snowe [R-ME] mirrors him on the Republican side, voting alongside Democrats eight times during the process.)

But that's not the only National Journal study that deems Bayh his party's most conservative senator. When the magazine's annual vote rankings came out a few weeks ago, Bayh was ranked 51st in the Senate on a composite score of liberalism -- placing him ahead of former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who placed 43rd, as well as Snowe, who was No. 47, and Collins, who was No. 50.

Now, the National Journal rankings are no ordinary congressional vote study. After then-candidate Barack Obama was ranked the most liberal senator for 2007, the GOP had a field day using the statistic for attack lines on the presidential campaign trail.

It appears that Bayh is emerging as his party's most vocal centrist ... and just in time for the budget debate to heat up.

TPMLivewire