In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is testifying right now before the Senate Banking Committee on the financial rescue re-modeling he unveiled this morning. Many senior senators are just now getting up to speed on the outlines of the new Treasury plan, but the emerging consensus among Democrats is cautious approval of Geithner's goals (even as Republicans blast those goals as unclear).

"We're in uncharted waters," Chuck Schumer (NY), the third-ranked Senate Democrat, told me. "They're trying their best."

Schumer praised Geithner for adding "some degree of conditionality" to his dealings with individual troubled banks, contrasting the new Treasury Secretary with predecessor Hank Paulson, who "lurched from one plan for every bank to another plan for every bank."

Schumer also said the Federal Reserve's massive program of lending to spur the credit markets, known as TALF, was "the one successful part of the initial plan" and worth expanding under Geithner.

Meanwhile, senators as right-leaning as John Ensign (R-NV) and as left-leaning as Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have pushed the Fed today to be more transparent in disclosing which entities are receiving TALF loans. "I think it's a good idea to ... say to the Federal Reserve, 'Let's see what you are actually doing in the marketplace,'" Ensign told reporters today, "because the American people who are the ones who are on the hook."

But let's return to the Democrats for a moment.

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Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, has been a stalwart skeptic of the Treasury's bailout program since it was first announced in the fall.

But he's particularly savvy on the issue of executive compensation -- Sherman, a certified public accountant, was among the first to challenge the Obama administration's recent CEO pay limits as riddled with loopholes.

Unfortunately, Sherman told me that he believes the executive compensation limits added to the Senate's stimulus are going to get removed during conference talks with the House. The reason: a new Congressional Budget Office estimate that the pay caps will cost the government $10.8 billion in lost tax revenue over the next 10 years.

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Two funny moments today from the Minnesota trial:

Coleman lawyer Tony Trimble was asking Kevin Boyle, the election/records manager in Republican-leaning Dakota County, about the requirement that an absentee voter put his residential address on the ballot envelope, as opposed to a P.O. box where he might actually receive his mail. Quite a few ballots have been thrown out because of this.

So Trimble asked what the county would do if a voter gave his P.O. box for the purposes of paying his property taxes, clearly expecting a simple, common-sense answer that the county would accept the money:

Trimble: Is there any reason you would reject it?

Boyle: I think you're talking about property taxation--

Trimble: That's correct.

Boyle: --and I'm a bit unfamiliar with what their practices are.


Trimble then confirmed that property taxation is the office where Boyle works.

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We wondered last week what would become of the growing House GOP frustration over the White House's plans to direct oversight of the 2010 Census, rather than leave the process to Commerce Secretary nominee -- and Census skeptic -- Judd Gregg.

House Republicans, no matter how ready they are to cry foul over the politicization of the Census, need at least one Senate GOPer to raise the issue during Gregg's coming confirmation hearing. And it looks like they've found that senator.

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One thing worth thinking about in the Senate's compromise bill is that one Senator is really putting his neck out here: Arlen Specter, who may be leaving himself wide open to a challenge in the Republican primary.

Unlike his fellow pro-stimulus Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Specter is up for re-election in 2010. And there exists an active element in the party that is always eager to push him out the door, even if it meant endangering the GOP's hold on the seat -- in fact, Specter just barely survived a conservative primary challenge 51%-49% in 2004, when the Club For Growth threw its weight behind then-Congressman Pat Toomey.

I spoke today with Nachama Soloveichik, the Club's communications director, and she confirmed that they're hearing a lot of anger over the compromise. "Grassroots Republicans are infuriated. They're fed up. They've had it," Soloveichik said, even going so far as to add that for many, "this is the ultimate act of treason."

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Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) may be a freshman member of the Banking Committee, but his fellow GOPers trust his instincts when it comes to financial issues, particularly after the auto bailout debate. And Corker's not always the dyed-in-the-wool conservative that he resembles 23 out of 24 hours each day.

Which is why I sought out his response to this morning's financial rescue speech by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Corker took pains to explain that he hopes to work productively with Geithner, whom he voted to confirm despite a lingering tax flap, before using the same word that Robert Reich did: vague.

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy's (D-VT) call yesterday for an independent "truth and reconciliation commission" to investigate the abuses committed under the Bush administration is meeting with strong support from at least two of his panel's Democratic members.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) just released a statement hailing Leahy's "leadership" on the issue and stressing the need for accountability: "We cannot simply sweep these assaults on the rule of law under the rug." Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) was the first to weigh in with support for the idea yesterday.

But one key question remains unanswered: Will senators follow the lead of their House colleagues and actually offer a bill to set up an independent investigative panel to shed sunlight on the misdeeds of the Bush years, from interrogations to warrantless wiretapping?

As Whitehouse told me today, the answer may be no -- but here's why.

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The Senate has now passed the stimulus plan on a 61-37 vote, with all the Democrats and three Republicans -- Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins -- joining together to pass a package weighing in at $838 billion.

This is not the end of the line, though. Next up, the bill goes to the House-Senate conference committee, where liberals will likely try to restore some of the larger spending increases that were trimmed back in the compromise Senate version, such as education, and to address the Senate package's relatively greater reliance on tax cuts over spending.

Then after that's over, the final version will come up for a whole new round of debate and voting in both chambers. That said, it seems like a safe bet that the stimulus will pass in some form, and that it will happen pretty soon.

The Minnesota election court has now taken some kind of meaningful action, handing down a ruling on a summary judgment motion that will now allow the counting of some -- but not all -- of a group of Franken-voters who filed a motion to have their rejected ballots counted. The ruling gives us some hints as to where things will go from here -- and it's not good news for Norm Coleman.

Out of over 60 voters who filed this motion, the court is ordering just 24 ballots to be counted at this time. The opinion lays out a pretty stringent standard for letting previously-rejected ballots in: It has to be demonstrated that the voter either fully complied with the relevant laws and procedures, and thus the rejection was wholly a clerical error, or that any actual non-compliance was credibly the fault of the election official.

An example of this second category would be if a voter pro-actively asked whether they were registered to vote, were told yes and provided an absentee ballot for a registered voter, but it turned out they really needed to re-register. This is a tough standard to meet, and will mean that the number of people who qualify for it will be a fairly limited number.

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