In it, but not of it. TPM DC

There was minimal rancor yesterday over House and Senate changes to President Obama's budget proposal. In fact, there was almost no rancor at all. Instead, the administration and Harry Reid and conservative Democrats in the Senate seemed all too thrilled with one another.

That will please some liberal grassroots organizations, and should be of particular interest to a campaign called Rebuild and Renew America Now, comprised of over 40 progressive interest groups aligned to usher Obama's budget through the Congress largely unmolested.

David Elliot, communications director for the group USAction, a member of the campaign, says the members (or as many as possible) convene for a daily 10:30 a.m. conference call to discuss budget issues and strategy.

Among their considerations is the crucial role Blue Dogs and conservative Democrats will play in the passage (or blockage) of Obama's agenda. For its part, USAction began airing ads in the districts of conservative Reps. Marion Berry, (D-AR), Allen Boyd, (D-FL), Charlie Melancon (D-LA), Bob Etheridge, (D-NC), and Chet Edwards (D-TX) urging them to "resist special interests and vote for [Obam's budget]. All of them serve on the House Budget Committee. Four of them officially belong to the Blue Dog Caucus.

Similarly, the labor-backed group Americans United for Change (also part of the Renew and Rebuild campaign) went live with ads today in 11 states and Washington D.C. to pressure critics like Kent Conrad and the newly christened Moderate Dems Working Group to support Obama's budget.

These efforts might seem bold and risky, but Elliot says there's little discord within the campaign itself over tactics and organizing. By contrast there is some disagreement within the ranks of a different (somewhat overlapping) umbrella group called Unity '09, which is also dedicated to moving Obama's agenda through Congess. Some Unity participants are much less suspicious of the Blue Dogs and their Senate peers, and have been heavily critical of efforts to pressure them.

As it happens, Conrad released his proposed tweaks to Obama's budget yesterday, and, despite making relatively few substantive changes, he seems to have won for now the support of many of its critics.

Full list of Renew and Rebuild America Now member organizations below the fold.

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Vice President Joe Biden is now wading into this Tuesday's special election for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat, with this new radio ad for Democratic candidate Scott Murphy:

Biden plays up the issue that has become Murphy's signature approach, support for the stimulus package: "He knows people have to work together to get things done, and he'll work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to get things done for Upstate New York. That's why Scott supports our economic recovery plan, because it means 76,000 jobs for Upstate and funding for schools, which helps keep property taxes down. We have a lot of work to do, and Scott will help get it done."

Yesterday, President Obama sent out an e-mail officially endorsing Murphy, and asking his own supporters in and around the district to help out.

Consider this your meta-meta-post for the day: Obama took a jab at beltway media culture last night in a speech he gave at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, and by all accounts, he knows what he's up against. But unfortunately he can't seem to get away from it.

I know that in Washington sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day cable chatter, and be distracted by the petty and the trivial, and everybody is keeping score -- are they up, are they down? You know, one day I'm a genius; one day I'm a bum. Every day there's a new winner, a new loser.

Sounds right. And knowing the deaf and recursive world of D.C. media so well, he shouldn't be too surprised that Politico's Alexander Burns was there to turn an aside in a speech about the economy into a blog post about Obama taking aim at political Washington. And he shouldn't be too surprised either that Mike Allen cited the post in his daily playbook of news-driving events--that now his critique of the daily winners and losers chatter will be used by the people he was critiquing to determine if he won or lost the day.

Obama's made this point before, and to the same effect (or lack there of). Just as in months past, everyone's writing about it and nobody's taken Obama's critique to heart and if he speaks up and makes the same argument again, we'll all go down the rabbit hole once more.

Dem Ad Promotes Obama Budget, Door To Door Campaign The DNC and Organizing For America have released this new TV ad promoting President Obama's budget plan:

Interestingly, the ad focuses on OFA's recent door to door canvassing efforts to sign up supporters for the budget, utilizing the same grassroots appeal in government as Obama used on the campaign trail. The ad will run on national cable and in the D.C. media market -- essentially aimed at the political class and higher-information voters.

Obama Holding Online Town Hall Today President Obama is holding a live "Open for Questions" online town hall at 11:30 a.m. today, focused on the economy. The White House will be taking questions here, but submissions and voting close at 9:30 a.m. ET -- so if you want to pitch something, now is your chance.

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Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the number two Democrat in the House has put out a fairly suggestive flyer hammering Republicans in both bodies for their sudden and hypocritical aversion to passing controversial legislation via budget reconciliation. It reads in part:

The budget reconciliation process has been used most years since it was first used in 1980, including in recent years when Republicans controlled Congress and considered the following legislation:
  • 2005 - Legislation That Reduced Spending on Medicaid and Raised Premiums on Upper-Income Medicare Beneficiaries
  • 2003 - President Bush's 2003 Tax Cuts
  • 2001 - President Bush's Signature $1.35 Trillion Tax Cut
  • 2000 - $292 Billion "Marriage Penalty" Tax Cut (VETOED)
  • 1997 - Balanced Budget Act
  • 1996 - Legislation to Enact Welfare Reform
  • 1995 - "Contract With America" Agenda

And then it names names. Specifically, it calls out such influential Republicans as John Boehner, Judd Gregg, and Charles Grassley, who as recently as three years ago were singing the praises of the reconciliation process as a way to circumvent Democratic filibuster efforts. But now, in an unsurprising twist, they strongly oppose it. Just last week, in a somewhat melodramatic episode, Gregg compared the maneuver to "running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River."

This all occurs against the backdrop of a brewing controversy over the possibility that Democrats will try to pass several aspects of Obama's agenda via reconciliation. And whether they genuinely intend to go that route, or are trying to pressure Republicans into crossing the aisle on issues like climate change and health reform, Hoyer's move is more fuel for the fire.

The whole flyer can be seen here.

Michael Steele just doesn't know how to stop.

Steele appeared on CNN this afternoon, and was asked by host Don Lemon whether he's ever considered running for president, and right off the bat he managed to give the sensible, correct answer: "No. I'm telling you, I'm looking you in the eye honestly and telling you that, without blinking and without hesitation. Straight up."

But then he was asked if he would ever consider doing it, and he kept the door open should the opportunity arise -- even speaking in an optimistic, cheerful tone. "But, you know, God has a way of revealing stuff to you, and making it real for you, through others," he said. "And if that's part of the plan, it'll be the plan. We may have this conversation in eight, ten, 12 years and you'll sit back and you'll play the tape back and say, 'Oh, look at what you said!' But it'll be because that's where God wants me to be at that time."

Steele then gave a monologue about the nature of politics today, and how he would need to have a long discussion with his family if this ever came up. But he said no party officials have ever approached him about this: "No. I think they kind of look at me and scratch their head and go, 'Okay, what is this?'"

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House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) was asked by NBC this morning if President Obama "said anything last night that you and your colleagues will support."

And Cantor answered in great detail ... which must mean he caught Obama's press conference on TiVo during breakfast. Because the rising GOP star went straight from a campaign fundraiser to Britney Spears' sold-out D.C. concert last night.

Here's how Cantor's office explained it to Wonkette, which first reported this fact today:

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The New York State Board of Elections is nearing a final resolution with the Justice Department in a lawsuit over this Tuesday's special election for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat, a board spokesman tells TPM.

The DOJ filed a lawsuit yesterday, complaining that the state didn't allow enough time under federal law for overseas voters to get their ballots in. The ballots were sent out about two weeks ago, and the election is this Tuesday, while the federal government is calling for at least 30 days.

Board spokesman John Conklin informs TPM that the state is now hammering out a consent decree with the DOJ to extend the window of time for accepting overseas ballots, which under New York law are normally required to arrive by up to one week after the election. Six additional days will be added on to that window, though voters must still mail their ballots by this coming Monday.

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Jon Cannon, President Obama's nominee to become deputy chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, withdrew from consideration today with a veiled reference to "scrutiny" of his association with America's Clean Water Foundation (ACWF) -- a group that the EPA inspector general cited in 2007 for steering federal grant money to the livestock industry.

ACWF has not made the news or attracted congressional criticism for any recent misdeeds. In fact, its attorneys told the EPA in 2006 that the entire group had abruptly dissolved, disappearing into thin air as the inspector general advised the government to claw back more than $21 million in federal grant money that had gone from ACWF into the hands of the National Pork Producer Council.

What did Cannon have to do with that shady move on ACWF's part? Nothing, according to his statement, released today through EPA:

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A new poll of North Carolina from the Civitas Institute (R) confirms that GOP Sen. Richard Burr is in serious danger for 2010. When matched up against possible Democratic candidate Roy Cooper, the state Attorney General, Burr is trailing by a 41%-38% margin, within the ±4% margin of error.

Last week, a survey from Public Policy Polling (D) put Burr narrowly ahead of a generic Democrat, though PPP didn't test Cooper specifically.

The pollster's analysis from Civitas shows that both of these candidates remain largely unknown to the general public -- even though Burr is the incumbent U.S. Senator. Burr's favorables are actually a little better than Cooper's, but he's trailing in a direct match-up. The analysis concludes that Burr in and of himself polls well, compared to Cooper, but putting it on a partisan ballot is a different scenario.

On the one hand, this shouldn't be too surprising after last fall, when Kay Hagan won a landslide Senate victory and Barack Obama narrowly carried the state. On the other hand, things sure have changed when the inherent advantage is in being a Democrat in a race for federal office in North Carolina.

Late Update: It's worth noting that PPP did test Cooper against Burr back in December, and also showed him narrowly ahead with a high undecided number.