In it, but not of it. TPM DC

I just came from an appearance by House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) and New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg to promote the $16 billion in school-repair money that Senate centrist negotiators had zeroed out of the stimulus bill last week.

Democrats were optimistic yesterday about keeping the school-building aid, particularly after President Obama referred to it directly in his Monday night news conference. But even as Miller was describing himself as "cautiously optimistic" that the money could be largely restored, the AP was reporting that only $6 billion of the construction money -- sorely important in urban areas such as New York -- would be added back to the stimulus.

Meanwhile, the Journal was reporting a school-building aid level double that size, at $12 billion. Such is the tricky state of the Capitol Hill media ... the prominence of leaks, oftentimes coming from people who stand to benefit by disseminating misinformation, make the truth hard to come by.

But one thing's for sure: that $16 billion for school repairs is getting diminished, at a time when local districts can use every penny of it.

During the Minnesota trial this morning, the Franken legal team has continued to hammer Norm Coleman for reversing his position on counting rejected absentee ballots -- so much so that he's asking for specific envelopes to be counted that he had successfully thrown out before.

Franken lawyer David Lillehaug has been cross-examining Dakota County elections manager Kevin Boyle, using the questioning as a vehicle to make this larger point. Lillehaug reviewed a Web page that the Coleman campaign has put up, posting the names and home counties of all the thousands of rejected absentee voters for whom they're now advocating:



The page declares: "Check below to see if you are one of the thousands of Minnesotans the Franken campaign is seeking to disenfranchise."

Lillehaug then had Boyle confirm that there are ten individuals on the Dakota County list alone whose ballots were deemed by Boyle's office to have been wrongly rejected and would have been counted -- except the Coleman campaign vetoed them, under the decision by the state Supreme Court that gave the campaigns a veto over improperly-rejected absentees.

"And according to this exhibit, these are the people that Norm Coleman is suggesting the Franken campaign is seeking to disenfranchise?" Lillehaug asked rhetorically.

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Last night, it seemed as though the Solis nomination would get put off until after recess. It looks like there will be a Solis vote today, a labor source emails me. (Of course, Congress being Congress delays are always possible.) This comes just in time as the Service Employees International Union along with Latino, environmental and other groups will drop more than 10,000 petitions at the committee's door to advocate for Solis's confirmation. Not surprisingly they have a video along with the petition that you can see here.

Have three thoughts on all of this:

1. Solis did not help herself at the confirmation. By being hesitant on the Employee Free Choice Act and otherwise slightly Palinesque, she didn't do herself or the administration a favor. People who know Solis don't have a good explanation for her performance. Usually, she's nobody's pushover but for whatever reason she seemed weak and that gave the Republicans an in.

2. Tax woes run amok. The law of Washington scandals is that they tend to spread out until they become unwieldy and absurd. Thus the Tom Daschle failure to pay taxes on limo rides became Solis's problem when it was revealed her husband had a tax lien. At a certain point, the scandal gets defined in such a large way that everyone gets caught up in it. I can think of two other instances of this. The first was when Zoe Baird's nomination to be attorney general was derailed in 1993 because of failure to pay taxes for domestic help. A second Clinton nominee, Kimba Wood, also fell for a problem with taxes on domestic help. Janet Reno, not one to use domestic help, was the third and final nominee. Eventually the collective DC zeitgeist declared the once insurmountable problem, to not be a problem as long as you paid up and a slew of nominees were confirmed.

In 1987, Douglas Ginsburg was nominated for the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan after Robert Bork's nomination was rejected by the U.S. Senate. Ginsburg's nomination had to be withdrawn after it was revealed that he'd smoked pot as a student and as a law professor at Harvard. (Hey, it was a different time.) In the days after Ginsburg's withdrawal a slew of aspiring politicians including Al Gore, Bruce Babbitt, and others admitted their marijuana use and the once prohibitive crime of joints smoked as an adult was rendered, at most, a misdemeanor. Solis got caught up in a smaller version of that dynamic.

3. The fight over Solis is really just a precursor of the looming battle over the Employee Free Choice Act. A person with knowledge of the meeting earlier this week between AFL president John Sweeney and Vice President Joe Biden noted that they discussed EFCA and the administration's continued commitment to it. When the battle is joined--probably in late Spring--Solis's nomination will look like a skirmish.

Late Update: Solis' nomination will get a committee vote at 5pm today. The timeline for consideration by the full Senate, however, remains unclear. --e.s.

During the Bush years, Republicans displayed a particular fondness for fomenting anxiety over comparisons made between the former president's administration and the Nazi party.

But now that a Democratic president is in charge, the right-wing media has no qualms about comparing President Obama's initiatives to Nazism. Witness this morning's Washington Times editorial, which runs a photo of Hitler alongside a wildly off-base attack on the health information technology (IT) provisions in the stimulus.

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During an interview with TPMDC yesterday, a senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee delivered troubling news: His party could remove the Senate's strong executive pay limits from the stimulus bill in an attempt to keep the measure's costs down.

"The plan is to take out the executive compensation provisions ... and blame the Republicans for setting out the level [of $800 billion]" for the final version of the stimulus, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) told me.

The Senate's limits on compensation for executives receiving government bailout money -- a welcome sign after President Obama's CEO pay caps were revealed to be riddled with loopholes -- were scored as a $10 billion money-loser by the Congressional Budget Office. Because of pressure to limit the size of the stimulus in order to retain GOP senators' support, Sherman's prediction about the executive pay caps is looking likely to come true.

But why would Democrats want to send such a bizarre signal about their commitment to reining in corporate excess? When MoveOn.org has gotten more than 300,000 signatures on a petition calling for even stronger salary caps at bailed-out companies, why would Congress want to water down its proposed pay limits?

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As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) jockeys with the Senate to preserve elements of her chamber's economic recovery plan, health insurance benefits are one of the major issues that need to be reconciled.

The House stimulus provides $40 billion to create a 65% government subsidy for COBRA, the health insurance program for unemployed Americans -- but the Senate centrists sliced that in half for their stimulus, cutting COBRA to $21 billion or a 50% subsidy.

The worthiness of maintaining the House's 65% COBRA subsidy is clear to anyone who's ever paid to maintain employer-sponsored health benefits after leaving a job. COBRA is prohibitively expensive for even those in two-income families, and slicing the subsidy would put the coverage out of many people's financial reach.

But how many people would get health care under the 65% subsidy? Pelosi asked the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that question, and she got her answer last night.

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Congressional Dems Ironing Out Stimulus Plan Congressional Democrats worked hard last night to negotiate differences between the House and Senate stimulus plans. Nancy Pelosi downplayed the idea of restoring the greater spending increases in the House version: "You cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the effective and of the necessary, and we will not."

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama is hitting the trail again to promote his stimulus package, this time holding an 11 a.m. ET visit to a construction site in Springfield, Virginia, accompanied by Governor Tim Kaine. Then at 3 p.m. ET he'll be meeting in the Oval Office with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Biden Promoting Stimulus Package In Pennsylvania Vide President Biden is visiting Pennsylvania today, where he'll be campaigning for the stimulus package alongside Governor Ed Rendell. First up is a 1:10 p.m. ET photo opportunity at the Route 34 Bridge in Carlisle, to promote the need to improve existing infrastructure. Biden and Rendell will then speak in Harrisburg at 2:10 p.m. ET.

Crist: "I'm Trying To Be Practical" About Stimulus Governor Charlie Crist (R-FL) told The Hill that he's not trying to undercut Congressional Republicans with his appearance alongside President Obama to promote the stimulus plan. However, he also says: "obviously, this bill's passing, so I'm trying to be practical and pragmatic and make sure Florida gets its share."

Franken And Coleman Both Visiting Washington Al Franken and Norm Coleman are both spending time in Washington today. Franken is in D.C. in order to prepare for being a Senator, while Coleman is in town for an NRSC fundraiser for his legal effort.

Dingell Is Longest-Serving House Member Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) has now become the longest-serving member of the House, beating the record of 53 years and two months that were previously set by conservative Democrat Jamie Whitten of Mississippi. In an interview with the Washington Post, Dingell brushed off the recent loss of his chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee: "I'll be up again, don't worry. And I'll find things to do."

Hoekstra Defends Himself After Twittering Overseas Trip Rep. Pete Hoekstra is defending himself from criticism after he Twittered during his trip with a Congressional delegation to Iraq and Afghanistan, thus making public the movements of the delegation in the middle of a conflict zone. A spokeswoman told CQ that Hoekstra did not harm the delegation's security, and that he had not signed on to any agreement to not discuss details of the trip.

Palin Skipping CPAC Sarah Palin will not be attending this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, apparently because the schedule conflicts with Alaska's legislative session. Other potential 2012 Republican candidates, including Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, will be in attendance.

Memo To Virginia GOP Chairman: Some Things You Don't Twitter We usually don't cover obscure state politics, but this is too much. Virginia Republican chairman ruined a bid by the party to get a Democratic state Senator to switch parties and flip control of the chamber. How did he ruin it? By Twittering the secret negotiations!

On a conference call just now with reporters, lead Franken lawyer Marc Elias declared that the campaign isn't done yet with the voters whose ballots weren't counted under the election court's ruling today, which allowed two-dozen Franken backers' previously-rejected votes in.

Elias explained that some of the petitioners will simply have to go back and provide further affidavits and information to the court, in order to demonstrate the validity of their case. "We think that all 61 of them should be counted," said Elias. "We're pleased that the court was as careful as it was in parsing through these voters one at a time."

Elias also expressed some confidence that the world of ballots from Coleman will be shrinking, noting that ballots are being withdrawn at a faster clip as the court's rulings serve as guideposts for where things will be going, and also that both sides have agreed to drop their complaints on behalf of absentee ballots that were rejected because they arrived by mail after the election.

Elias did have one regret, though, when a reporter asked if he would do anything differently. "Packed more winter clothes," Elias said. "I didn't expect to be in Minneapolis as long as when I first came out here. But no, I don't think there's anything else that I would have done differently."

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Coleman lawyer/spin-man Ben Ginsberg made a stunning announcement at this evening's press conference: Stearns County now reports that they've found seven new ballots.

"That's another significant development, showing the inaccuracy of the canvassing board total," Ginsberg said, "and we feel good about the votes that will be coming in."

This comes after two other pro-Coleman counties, Washington and Anoka, were finding similarly small numbers of missing ballots late last week, events that the Coleman campaign cheered. (Stearns voted 46%-34% for Coleman.)

These ballots could all indeed be legitimately lost and now found. Unfortunately, there's always room for human error in a recount involving 2.9 million ballots. But think for a second about what the spin would be on Fox News if the roles were reversed -- if Franken's team was currently behind, and boasting about newly-found votes coming in dribs and drabs.

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In addition to his work on executive compensation limits, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) has also earned a reputation for pinning down government officials on touchy issues stemming from the financial bailout.

Today was no exception, as Sherman pressed Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on the central bank's ostensibly unlimited ability to lend money "in unusual and exigent circumstances." With the Obama administration today proposing $1 trillion more in Fed lending backed by an infusion of TARP bailout money -- on top of an existing Fed balance sheet that tops out at $1.8 trillion -- Sherman asked Bernanke whether he was willing to accept any limits on his lending.

The answer was yes. But Bernanke's limit might be higher than some Americans can believe: $12 trillion. That's more than the entire debt limit of the U.S. government (now $11.3 trillion), from which the Fed is independent.

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