In it, but not of it. TPM DC

As the Los Angeles Times' report yesterday observing liberals' frustration with President Obama echoes elsewhere in the mainstream media, it's worth noting that some groups on the left are maintaining a healthy independence from the administration.

One good example: Obama announced today that he will send upwards of 10,000 troops to Afghanistan before the conclusion of his internal strategy review on the state of the so-called "forgotten war" in South Asia.

Former Maine Democratic congressman Tom Andrews, now the chair of the Win Without War coalition, thoughtfully asked Obama today to consider whether adding more troops amounts to "digging an even bigger hole" in Afghanistan despite diplomatic urging to reconsider a military escalation. Here's Andrews' statement in full (followed by Obama's statement on the troop increase):

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The much-touted website, Recovery.gov, is up and running. I got some (somewhat deserved) grief for dissing the site, designed to track stimulus spending, when President Obama first mentioned it. The site was blank, reflecting the fact that the stimulus bill had yet to pass. My point, which I didn't articulate very well, is why waste the valuable, president-touted real estate with a blank page when you could use it to promote the bill before it becomes a lens into how the money is spent after the bill becomes law. That said, it's up and running now and meeting mixed reviews. Nancy Scola at techPresident has a take on what's working and what's not on the site.

The larger question of transparency in government and whether technology can bring a real change is being pursued by a lot of smart people including Ellen Miller at the Sunlight Foundation, Micah Sifry at techPresident, and Craig Newmark of Craigslist fame. Will be following all of this in the coming weeks because it's so essential to Obama's promises of changing Washington.

If you read the major news media's reporting this week on the executive compensation limits that were included in today's newly-signed stimulus law, you'd think the pay caps were one of those sneaky, dark-of-night maneuvers on the part of Senate Democrats.

The Chicago Tribune says the compensation rules were "inserted at the last minute" into the stimulus. USA Today goes with "thrown in at the last minute," while CBS News makes the dramatic claim that Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) "slipped in [the] little-noticed provision."

Incredible! If only it were true. Dodd's CEO pay limits were added to the Senate's stimulus plan by voice vote, with no objection from either party, more than 10 days ago.

It was only the fact that the pay caps survived an attempt to slice them from the bill that was at all unexpected. Two other strong proposals to limit compensation at bailed-out banks were yanked from the stimulus at the last minute -- not added.

In fact, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), the House Financial Services Committee member who first blew the whistle on the attempts to scrap the pay caps, reminded Fox Business Channel of the truth during a weekend interview. We've got the video for you after the jump.

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Some new figures out on the surge in the number of Americans losing health insurance: 14,000 a day, according to new post at The Wonk Room . On one hand this is not surprising because the number moves up pretty much in tandem with the unemployment rate but it is surprising in another sense because COBRA law which provides for health insurance for up to 18 months after being laid off should have kept the uninsured from surging. COBRA, though, is impossibly expensive. You have to pick up your health insurance cost and what your employer was providing and this is clearly too much for most of the newly unemployed. Some good news: The stimulus package being signed today includes $87 billion in health care related spending and a big COBRA subsidy, at least for now.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) -- who shares TPMDC's affinity for Aerosmith -- was at it again yesterday during an interview with CBS. Cantor strongly suggested that he would oppose President Obama's mortgage aid plan, slated for unveiling tomorrow. Cantor slammed the $50 billion price tag as too high:

We just cannot continue to pay for the kind of things that this administration thinks that we can. So, I'm very concerned about the direction I see us going ...


Hmm, maybe Cantor should bring this up with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) GOP crew at their next bicameral mixer. The Senate Republicans have spent much of this month touting their alternative stimulus, which would have provided government subsidies for lower mortgage interest rates -- the same broad concept as Obama's plan -- at an initial cost of $121 billion.

Unless the minority wants its new talking point to be 'we voted for billions of dollars for mortgage aid before we voted against it.' At least that's better than lying about a salt marsh mouse.

I suspected last week, when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, rolled out his incomplete bank bailout plan that he did so because it was on the schedule and nothing was going to move it. Today's much lauded piece in the Washington Post confirmed my suspicion. I spoke with a former Clinton Treasury official who was amazed that the Geithner thing got dumped just at the time when Obama could have been taking a victory lap for getting the stimulus deal all but closed. (This was before the Judd Gregg withdrawal but that's another matter.)

The larger point here is the administration's deeply ingrained habit of sticking to the schedule. That instinct served them well during the campaign when they didn't respond to every idiotic event and stuck with their plan. Pressure to attack Hillary Clinton more viscerally or to sign on to the gas tax holiday? Fuggedaboutit. Stick with the plan. But the tendency to stick with the plan has it's downside as we saw with Geithner's less-than-stellar roll out. Over the weekend, David Axelrod said that the stimulus signing was long scheduled to be out of town but was there really a need to give the right ammunition for delaying the signing of a bill that Obama said was urgent? The right's point is goofy. The money couldn't have gone out the door over a federal holiday. Still, the optics aren't great.

Back to my original point, sticking to the schedule isn't always wise.

Here's another fun moment this morning from Minnesota: The Coleman legal team was literally unprepared for a speedy trial.

Earlier this morning lead Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg called as a witness Robert Hiivala, the county auditor of deep-red Wright County, to review recount procedures and ballots from his area. Friedberg conducted his direct examination, Franken lawyer David Lillehaug did his cross-examination, and then Friedberg did a re-direct.

And then...that was it. Hiivala was excused, making this the first time that a local official was excused in the court of a single morning -- in fact, all the others have gone for more than one day.

Then the judges asked Friedberg to call his next witness. He didn't have anybody ready until after lunch. A very nonplussed Judge Elizabeth Hayden called a recess "with great reluctance," and admonished Friedberg to make sure he would have additional witnesses ready at that point, and to have more witnesses on tap for tomorrow.

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More stories this week about the delay in Treasury appointments, most notably someone to run the Troubled Assets Relief Program or TARP.

As I noted a couple of weeks ago, a prominent Wall Street executive was approached about the job--I'm now told a number of times--because he was that rare fit. He'd been at a big firm but he left to start his own boutique investment house before the s**t hit the fan financial troubles last fall and thus wasn't tainted by the most recent problems on Wall Street. He turned Geithner down and so Neel Kashkari, the Bush holdover, continues to hang on.

At this point, something will have to give. Either the administration and Congress and the public will have to accept people coming straight from the tainted financial firms or give the jobs to the Christina Romers of the world, academics who don't have the Wall Street taint and don't consider making less than $200K to be a dramatic lifestyle change.

Academics are fine but it would help to have some financial types in there who know the firms and where the bodies are buried. Lee Sachs, a Clinton veteran remains over there at Treasury, but more ex-Wall Streeters are going to have to come in at some point. Obama bent his lobbying rules to allow Mark Patterson, the former Goldman Sachs lobbyist, to become Geithner's chief of staff. More rule bending is on its way.

The stimulus bill is about to be signed into law, but debate continues to rage over the executive-pay limits that were inserted into the measure by Senate Democrats.

As we reported yesterday (and Politico follows on today), the Obama administration has several options to slow down or revise the new compensation caps. Issuing a signing statement to invalidate enforcement of the limits are the most unlikely outcome -- purely due to the political blowback that would result if Obama borrowed such a famous Bush-era tactic.

Which leaves the year-long window for the Treasury Department to release rules implementing the new pay caps. That certainly sounds like a long enough time to devise a way around the limits, but the financial industry is calling for Treasury to step in much more quickly ... in fact, before the week is out.

"The next step is to go to Treasury, so that's where we're going to focus on," Scott Talbott, senior vice president of government affairs at the Financial Services Roundtable, told me. "They have a year to write the regulations, [but] we need guidance now ... ideally by the end of the week."

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Norm Coleman's legal team is clearly getting an early start on a very important task: Laying the groundwork for an appeal.

Yesterday they asked the court to reconsider their ruling to not count certain categories of rejected ballots. And today they've continued to submit evidence from one of those categories into the record, ballots for which the voter failed to sign the application form.

The reason you would continue to submit evidence in a rejected category, to put it simply, is to make an appeal much easier. Coleman's team is building up the evidentiary record that can be used in an appeals court -- or perhaps the Senate itself -- and the evidence will be assembled in case a higher judge rules with them as a matter of law that they should be counted.

So there you go.

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