In it, but not of it. TPM DC

When an early copy of the agenda for today's White House fiscal summit leaked out on Friday, I half-jokingly questioned the wisdom of choosing Bill Lynn -- a former senior lobbyist for defense giant Raytheon who had to get a waiver from administration ethics rules to join the Pentagon -- to help lead a session on responsibility in contracting and procurement.

Now the final list of speakers at today's summit has been released, and guess who mysteriously disappeared from the list? Instead of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Transportation Secretary (and earmark fan) Ray LaHood, and Lynn, the Procurement session will now be led by Napolitano, Rahm Emanuel, and Jacob Lew.

Lew, incidentally, comes to the administration from Citigroup, where he headed an alternative investments unit that "ran up hundreds of millions of dollars in losses last year on [an] esoteric collection of investments ... even as they collected seven-figure salaries and bonuses," as the New York Times reported earlier this month.

I hate to ask the same question twice, but on a day when Citigroup is generating headlines like this one, is Lew the best choice to replace Lynn on this "fiscal responsibility" panel?

There are plenty of reasons liberals should like today's entitlement summit. My colleague, Elana Schor, notes them here and TAP's Ezra Klein here. Bob Greenstein, head of the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, made the liberal case for alarm in his remarks. He notes that the problem is primarily a health care problem If health care costs could just be brought in line with economic growth we'd be largely okay. "We will need to act before mounting debt and interest payments make this problem worse than it already is. The mere fact that Greenstein has such a prominent role addressing the conference ought to be of comfort to liberals. If that wasn't enough, OMB Director Peter Orszag made it clear that "health care reform is entitlement reform."

The New York Times reports this morning that the White House had abandoned plans to unveil a Social Security "task force" at today's fiscal summit, raising the question of whether the Obama administration is ready to conduct separate debate over the long-term health of Social Security and Medicare -- or whether the tired canard of "dangerous entitlement spending" will continue to rule the political roost.

One liberal activist who weighed in against the proposed task force told me that some within the administration are ready to attempt "one more fix" for Social Security, thinking of the 70-year-old benefits program "as an equation to be solved" and the Obama team as the mathematicians on the case.

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Now this is funny. In the Minnesota Senate trial, the Coleman campaign is now accusing the Franken team of cherry-picking votes.

Coleman spokesman Mark Drake told Minnesota Public Radio that Franken's revised list of rejected absentee ballots, which are being submitted for review and potential counting, is skewed towards Franken-supporters. "The time has come for all the valid votes of Minnesotans to count, not just the ones that favor one candidate over another," said Drake, projecting a high-minded image of small-d democracy.

Keep in mind that the Coleman camp insisted early on in this trial that they weren't cherry-picking, and for all they knew they might have been advocating on behalf of unopened votes for Franken. But during the trial, they've been very clearly revealed to have cherry-picked their own votes. And local newspapers have shown how tilted his own list is.

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We told you last week about a growing note of discord between House and Senate Republicans' political message on mortgage aid. While House conservatives lambaste the Obama administration's $75 billion foreclosure plan as too pricey, their Senate counterparts are continuing to back a $121 billion-plus mortgage proposal from Columbia University professor and former Bush economic adviser Glenn Hubbard.

Now the intra-party tension over housing is becoming harder and harder to mask, as Roll Call reports (sub. req'd):

The [Senate GOP's] plan would potentially cover trillions of dollars of real estate and cost taxpayers up to $300 billion in subsidies. It's the sort of big-government spending plan that House Republicans have been railing against -- at least when they come from the lips of Democrats.

But House Republican leaders have avoided criticizing their more centrist Senate brethren, preferring to focus their fire on Democratic plans to bail out struggling homeowners instead, like Obama's $275 billion proposal announced last week to rework distressed mortgages to prevent foreclosures.

As President Obama's "fiscal responsibility summit" consumes much of Washington's oxygen today, a critical question is being largely ignored in the mainstream media: Will this administration dispense with the notion of an overall "entitlements" crisis and begin treating Social Security and Medicare like the separate issues they are?

The New York Times raises the issue, in a back-handed fashion, by reporting that congressional Democrats are warning Obama against attempting to shore up Social Security's long-term fiscal health. Per the Times:

Those who oppose action said Mr. Obama must focus on his bigger priority -- health care legislation to expand access to insurance and reduce the costs of care. They argue that success there would help control the unsustainable growth of Medicare and Medicaid, the government's other major benefit programs, which together pose a far greater fiscal problem.

It's not clear which Capitol Hill Democrats helped quash the idea of announcing a "Social Security task force" during today's fiscal summit -- but Obama would be well-served to heed their advice.

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A new polling analysis from Gallup shows a very interesting piece of data within the slight decline of President Obama's approval rating, down from its 68% honeymoon rating when he took office, to 63% now. Not only is the dip fueled solely by a fall in Republican support -- in fact, his ratings have gone up slightly among everyone else.

Between the polling sample from January 21-25, compared to February 9-15, Obama's ratings went from 90% to 94% among self-identified liberal Democrats, from 87% to 88% among moderate Dems, from 80% to 84% with conservative Dems, and from 47% to 50% among independents. On the other hand, his approval fell from 53% to 47% moderate Republicans, with a plummet of 36% down to 22% with conservative Republicans.

Obama's ratings are still very strong, and it appears the dip in his ratings is coming from people who were unlikely to have approved of him in the first place, but for the honeymoon factor. Everyone else, on the other hand, is either staying the same or approving even more.

Obama To Pick Interior Dept. Inspector General To Oversee Stimulus President Obama will reportedly appoint Earl Devaney, the Interior Department inspector general responsible for investigating the Abramoff scandal, to be the chairman of the new Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board, overseeing the economic stimulus program. Obama is expected to announce the pick today.

Obama And Biden Speaking to Governors, Addressing Fiscal Summit President Obama and Vice President Biden are speaking at 10:15 a.m. ET to the National Governors Association, where they will discuss what governors can do to implement the economic stimulus program. At 1 p.m. ET they will be delivering opening remarks to the Fiscal Responsibility Summit, with closing remarks at 4 p.m. ET.

Biden Meeting With George Clooney To Discuss Darfur Conflict Vice President Biden is holding a closed-door meeting tonight with George Clooney, to discuss the Darfur conflict and Clooney's recent travels there.

GOP Looks Back To Early 90's For Opposition And Comeback Strategies The Politico reports that Republicans are quite consciously looking back to the strategies employed during the first two years of Bill Clinton's presidency, in their opposition to President Obama's policies now. Grover Norquist said there are two choices: "One is 1990, [President George H.W.] Bush gets together with the Democrats at Andrews Air Force Base, raises taxes and loses the next election. The other is 1993, Democrats have a series of proposals to spend and tax. Republicans vote no and regain the House and Senate."

Feingold And Dreier Pitch Special Senate Elections To Illinois Russ Feingold and Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) have co-authored an op-ed piece for the Chicago Tribune, finding a likely positive audience in the push for a constitutional amendment to end gubernatorial appointments to Senate vacancies in the wake of the recent controversies. "In the age of the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, the backroom dealing isn't staying in the backroom anymore," the two write.

Bunning Predicts Ginsburg's Death, Blasts GOP For Lack Of Support In explaining his commitment to ensuring the appointments of conservative judges, Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) told a local Republican dinner on Saturday that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has nine months to live. "Bad cancer. The kind that you don't get better from," Bunning said. He also criticized his national party for not giving him sufficient financial support, also claiming a lack of support for conservatives Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn and...David Vitter.

George P. Bush Attacks Pro-Stimulus Republicans On Fiscal Responsibility George P. Bush, the son of Jeb Bush, spoke to a national conference of Young Republicans over the weekend and criticized certain unnamed Republicans -- understood to be Florida Gov. Charlie Crist -- for supporting the stimulus package. "We as conservatives have to ultimately balance the federal government's checkbook," the younger Bush said -- possibly unaware of certain events over the last eight years.

Oh, brother. The conspiracy-mongering that Barack Obama is secretly a Kenyan citizen who has hidden his real birth certificate has now found its way into the utterances of a United States Senator: Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama.

"Well his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven't seen any birth certificate," Shelby said on Saturday, in response to a constituent's question at a public event. "You have to be born in America to be president."

Click here for's debunking of this whole business.

Late Update: Shelby's spokesman has responded to the story, telling Ben Smith that it's a "distortion." The spokesman says Shelby mentioned the birth certificate as a "throwaway line" in explaining the qualifications for office, and that Shelby "doesn't have any doubt" of Obama's eligibility.

Obama Plans To Cut Deficit -- From Enormous Down To Huge President Obama is reportedly planning a budget policy that would cut the deficit in half by cutting the budgets for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and by ending the Bush tax cuts for individuals making over $250,000. But here's some math to show just what a tough job he has ahead of him: The deficit would still be $533 billion by the end of his first term, down from the $1.3 trillion he inherited from George W. Bush.

Obama Hosting Governors At The White House Tonight President Obama and the First Lady are hosting the National Governors Association for dinner at the White House tonight, with entertainment by Earth, Wind and Fire. Expect this to be a huge, momentous gathering -- and that's just Earth, Wind and Fire.

Sanford: Clyburn's Accusation About Stimulus Money "Is Absurd" Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) fired back at House Majority whip James Clyburn (D-SC) for saying his potential refusal of stimulus money was a "slap in the face" to his African-American constituents. "I think that any of us as governors -- and we do have 50 different incubators of different ideas and trying to get it right within our respective states, trying to make the judgment as best they can," said Sanford. "But the idea that color would filter into that decision-making process is absurd."

Barbour Accuses Obama Of Waging Permanent Campaign In an interview with CNN, Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS), a former RNC chairman, noted that President Obama has been promoting the stimulus plan in swing states like Colorado, Indiana and Florida. "He's going to those places for a reason," Barbour said, attributing this development to the campaign skills of David Axelrod. "And so this is what we've become accustomed to, the perpetual campaign."

Feds Question Burris About Blago The Chicago Sun-Times reports that federal authorities questioned Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) at his lawyer's office on Saturday, regarding the Blagojevich case and the circumstances of his Senate appointment. He has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Franken Camp Files New Ballot List The Franken campaign has filed an amended list of 1,585 rejected absentee ballots that they say should be reconsidered for counting. Quite interestingly, nearly half of them were already on Norm Coleman's list of 4,800 -- but the conventional wisdom has been that both sides pick ballots that they believe will skew towards themselves. Does the Franken campaign know something that Team Coleman doesn't?

Schwarzenegger: GOP Is Creating Insecurity, Should Work With Obama Appearing on This Week, Arnold Schwarzenegger criticized the Republican Party in Washington for being overly ideological, and not working constructively with President Obama. "They should make an effort to work together and to find what is best for the people," said Arnold, "because by derailing everything, it's not going to help anybody, and it creates instability and insecurity."