In it, but not of it. TPM DC

TPM alum Spencer Ackerman points to a genuinely inexplicable revenue-raising move being considered by the Obama administration: charging veterans through their private health insurance companies for injuries suffered during their service.

Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki confirmed yesterday that the administration is weighing whether to start charging veterans for their combat-related injuries -- an admission that got strongly shot down by both Democratic and Republican senators.

It's worth noting that progressives hammered Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) during his presidential bid last year for suggesting that veterans should be able to seek private treatment for health problems unrelated to their service. Should the Obama VA follow through with the plan it's now considering, it would arguably be moving farther right than McCain on the sensitive question of privatizing veterans' health care.

Late Update: The Navy Times offers more background on the private-insurance proposal under consideration by the Obama VA, explaining:

Whether private insurers would pay anything [on service-related claims] would depend on their policies on serving as the second payer on medical expenses. Some insurance policies cover such costs and others do not.

Neel Kashkari, the assistant Treasury Secretary for financial stability who has run the bailout since the Bush administration, took some frustrated questions today from Democratic Reps. Diane Watson (CA) and John Tierney (MA) during his appearance before a House oversight subcommittee.

Watson and Tierney were searching for a way to prevent banks that take bailout money from planning lavish parties and sales conferences before repaying the taxpayers -- an embarrassing pattern that has been seen at Northern Trust, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo in recent weeks.

Kashkari said the Obama administration would seek approval from bailed-out banks' boards of expense standards that would govern spending on resort conferences, private jets, office re-decorations, and other goodies.

Those standards will be made "clear and public for the world to judge," Kashkari told the lawmakers -- though he acknowledged that the new standards would be in effect going forward as opposed to retroactively. There is one exception, he said ...

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The Democratic polling/strategy firm Democracy Corps, James Carville and Stan Greenberg's outfit, is continuing to push the message that Rush Limbaugh is a political winner for Democrats -- and an inescapable loser for Republicans.

When asked if they agree with the statement, "Rush Limbaugh shares my values," or the opposite statement that he does not share their values, all voters break out at 32% yes, to 57% no. Among independents, it's 30%-58%.

But here's the thing: Limbaugh scores 60%-29% with Republicans. "There is a reason why," the polling memo says triumphantly. "Limbaugh ranks very high as a leader of the Republican Party's ideas and direction."

When asked if Limbaugh has too much influence over the Republican Party, too little influence or about the right amount, all voters put it at 49%-15%-26%. Republicans, however, weigh in at 27%-20%-43%, and independents are at 50%-12%-29%.

There is one silver lining: Voters do not agree with the idea that Republicans are following Limbaugh's lead because they want to see Obama fail, with only 32% agreeing.

The memo concludes: "With Rush Limbaugh's vision and values so strong among the conservative Republicans who are the heart of the party's base, Republican leaders carry a heavy weight when they attempt to position themselves to act for the broader electorate."

TPMDC has obtained a letter from the leading players in American public broadcasting -- National Public Radio (NPR), PBS Television, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), and the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) -- to White House budget director Peter Orszag.

The letter (read it here) outlines the dire financial straits facing public media and seeks $307 million in additional government funding as part of the president's 2010 budget. In stark terms, the CEOs of the four public broadcasting entities urge the Obama administration to help shield them from a rapid drop in support caused by the economic recession:

Every revenue source upon which our operations depend is under siege. State funding support is in a wholesale free-fall. Financial contributions from foundations and underwriters, at the local and national levels, have declined precipitously. Individual contributions, the bedrock of every public station's annual operating budget, are dropping, reflecting the effects of rising unemployment and declining personal discretionary income.


Looking back to congressional Republicans' failed attempt to cut off their budgets in 2005, the CEOs of the four public broadcasting entities add:

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The Coleman campaign now has another headache to deal with: They are advising contributors to cancel their credits cards, The Hill reports, after an apparent security foul-up in late January.

Last night, Coleman's entire online donor list received an e-mail from a Wikileaks.org e-mail address, notifying them that their private information had been posted in a publicly accessible area of Coleman's campaign site this past January 28, and has circulated out of public view. The e-mail also contained a link to the Minnesota statute requiring organizations to disclose "in the most expedient time possible" to any Minnesotan if they reasonably believe their private information was illicitly accessed, and informed recipients that they were being notified as a courtesy by Wikileaks, in case the Coleman camp hadn't already.

The Wikileaks e-mail also includes a link to an Excel spreadsheet purported to contain all the donors' names, addresses, employers, and the last four digits and CSC security codes on their credit cards.

Coleman spokesman Cullen Sheehan told The Hill that they had contacted federal authorities at the time, and after reviewing the site logs they did not believe that any unauthorized party had downloaded private information. However, he is nevertheless urging some serious precautions -- encouraging supporters who may have donated to cancel their credit cards.

"Let me be very clear: At this point, we don't know if last evening's e-mail is a political dirty trick or what the objective is of the person who sent the e-mail," said Sheehan. "What we do know, however, is that there is a strong likelihood that these individuals have found a way to breach private and confidential information."

Neel Kashkari, the Bush administration holdover who remains assistant Treasury Secretary for financial stability, just told Rep. Dennis Kucinich's (D-OH) House oversight subcommittee that the department does "get calls" from members of Congress as well as governors seeking to weigh in on which banks get bailout money from the government.

Kashkari's admission came in response to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who asked him about a recent report that House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ohio lawmakers interceded with Treasury to help win aid for their home-state banks.

"It's important for us to get feedback" from politicians on their local businesses, Kashkari said. But he underscored that a process has been put in place to ensure that political concerns don't influence the disbursement of bailout money, adding: "I feel confident that there is no undue influence at Treasury ... I'm concerned that these stories are out there because they undermine confidence."

This morning, Matt Lauer continued the meme by asking Council of Economic Advisers Chair Christina Romer whether the president had "bitten off more than he could chew." Romer responds here:



Most of the he's too-busy meme has been absurd. But the always-smart Bill Galston, over at The New Republic, raises a more nuanced proposition here.

Galston notes that, unlike FDR, Obama doesn't have the same clout in a more divided Congress and that FDR really did keep things focused on the economic emergency in his first months. Galston notes:

Roosevelt delayed most of the structural reforms that did not bear directly on the economic emergency. For example, he did not even propose a commission to consider social insurance until June of 1934. Social Security legislation was introduced six months later, in January 1935, and was not signed into law until August of that year, after the provisions relating to health care had been stripped out.

Roosevelt organized his first term around two principles that the Obama administration would do well to ponder. First, he kept his (and the country's) attention firmly fixed on a single task: ending the crisis of confidence and restarting economic activity. While he was more sensitive than previous presidents to the links among seemingly disparate issues, these interconnections in his view did not warrant trying to move on all fronts at once. The people and the Congress had to be brought along with an agenda and a narrative that they could understand.


Fair enough, but I think there's a response to that, too.

First, distraction is a two-way street. Congress is constantly deviating from the economic emergency to deal with other stuff. I watched a fulsome debate on the transportation of chimpanzees and other primates the other day on C-SPAN. The House was taking up a bill in the wake of that chimp attack. It's not reasonable to focus just on one branch of government.

Second, Obama is talking about a lot of things but he's not sending up a torrent of legislation. There was the stimulus bill but everyone agreed there needed to be some kind of stimulus. He's encouraged Congress to come up with a health care plan but he hasn't forced a bill on them to consider. And besides is health care really a distraction? The facts show that you can't get entitlement reform or any control over future red ink without it. Why wait?

Third, Congress is a much bigger institution than it was in 1933 or even 1977, the other example the Galston cites. Staffs are bigger, there's more capacity to deal with more issues. If we have more of a logjam these days, it's owing to the partisan redrawing of districts, the culture of lobbying and so on but not an innate inability of Congress to handle more than a few things at a time.

As I said originally, if Obama suddenly decides to immerse himself in an obscure border dispute or something truly far afield, he ought to be called out on it. But green energy, health care, education, and other things he's pursuing all seem germane to the economy. You can disagree with them individually but it's hard to chide their relevance to the crisis at hand.

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.

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