In it, but not of it. TPM DC

A new poll for NPR, conducted jointly by GOP firm Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, finds a clear majority of Americans preferring Democratic positions over the Republican ones on the various issues surrounding the federal budget.

The poll presented likely voters with a statement of what Republicans will say about budget issues pertaining to taxes, health care, energy and the deficit, rotated with Democratic statements about those same topics. The Dem positions were ahead 52%-43% on taxes, 53%-42% on energy, 53%-42% on health care, and 51%-45% on the deficit.

And when respondents were asked whether they favored President Obama's plans on the budget, it was 50% approval to 41% opposition.

But it's still a center-right country, right?

As a member of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) has had a front-row seat for the fireworks over the financial bailout -- and he's not convinced that the new administration has changed the Treasury Department.

"I want change I can believe in," he told me in an interview late yesterday. "I don't think I have change I can notice."

Miller's chagrin over Treasury's lack of responsiveness and transparency signals a distressing trend for the Obama administration. As the nation seethes with anger over lavish spending at bailed-out banks -- particularly AIG's $450 million in bonuses to the same executives who bankrupted the company -- a number of lawmakers from both parties are pointing out that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's team could have clamped down on the excess earlier.

And Miller is no gadfly; he has worked with colleagues on predatory lending and mortgage bankruptcy measures that have become top-tier priorities thanks to the financial crisis. He was candid in calling out Geithner for failing to fully inform Congress about his management of the bailout: "I don't feel a lot of confidence in all of this, because I don't have much idea what they're doing ... I'm a fairly conscientious member of the Financial Services Committee, and I haven't found out."

One thing Miller is sure of is that Goldman Sachs, the alma mater of Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, "had a lot of influence over" the decision to rescue AIG's counterparties (among which Goldman was No. 1).

"I don't want to sound like a right-wing conspiracy theorist who thinks the Trilateral Commission controls the world, but it seems [Goldman] had a lot of influence over this," he said, citing the Obama administration's decision to waive ethics rules to bring in a former Goldman lobbyist as Geithner's chief aide.

Miller was particularly aghast at AIG's suggestion that its Financial Products employees would sue if they were denied their retention bonus payments. "I've been wracking my brain thinking of ways we can sue them," he quipped.

Miller's not alone. After the jump, you can read more skeptical reaction to the Obama administration's sudden -- and likely ineffective -- change of heart on AIG's bonuses.

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Three words seem to be on the minds of Senate Republicans, looking for a way to get a Norm Coleman victory: "Bush v. Gore."

This all comes from the case made by the Coleman campaign that Minnesota's county officials committed a constitutional violation by varying in different ways from the state's official uniform standards of admitting or rejecting absentee ballots. Indeed, the Coleman legal team alleges that the counties violated the equal protection clause, and that the judges violated the due process clause by imposing strict standards for any additional ballots during the trial.

The Politico reports that NRSC chairman John Cornyn said: "The Supreme Court in 2000 said in Bush v. Gore that there is an equal protection element of making sure there is a uniform standard by which votes are counted or not counted, and I think that's a very serious concern in this instance." Other Senate Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, Jeff Sessions and Lindsey Graham, have also spoken approvingly of a Bush v. Gore approach.

This is actually different from the cited issue in Florida in 2000 -- which involved a lack of uniform standards to determine voter intent on disputed ballots -- because Minnesota law already solved that problem by sending challenged ballots to the state canvassing board for adjudication last December. And on top of that, this issue goes back to Election Day itself, not just the recount. On the other hand, though, it does provide an opening for more litigation.

Another fun thing about the Bush v. Gore ruling is that the majority opinion contains the following: "Our consideration is limited to the present circumstances, for the problem of equal protection in election processes generally presents many complexities." In plain English, the five Supreme Court Justices declared that their ruling was not to be taken as a precedent for interpreting the law in the future. We may well find out just how binding that statement was.

Biden: Obama Inheriting Tougher Problems Than FDR Faced Speaking last night at a DNC event, Vice President Biden said: "This president has inherited the most difficult first 100 days of any president I would argue including Franklin Roosevelt - let me explain what I mean by that. It was clear the problem Roosevelt inherited. This is a more complicated economic [problem]. We've never ever been here before - here or in the world. Never ever been here before."

Obama's Day Ahead: The Budget, Defense, And St. Patrick's Day President Obama and Vice President Biden are meeting at 9:20 a.m. ET with with Senate Budge Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) and House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-SC). At 9:40 a.m. he will give a statement to the press. At 10:50 a.m. Obama and Biden will meet with the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland Brian Cowen. At 11:35 a.m. the three of them will attend the Shamrock Ceremony, at 11:45 a.m. Obama will meet with officials from Northern Ireland, and at 12:30 p.m. ET the president will speak at Nancy Pelosi's St. Patrick's Day Lunch. At 4:30 p.m. ET, Obama will meet with Robert Gates. And Obama will attend St. Patrick's Day receptions at 7:45 p.m. ET and 8:10 p.m. ET.

Biden's Day Ahead Vice President Biden will be attending Obama's various meetings mentioned above. He will also be meeting in the afternoon with Treasury Secretary Geithner and White House Economic Advisory Larry Summers, to discuss financial institutions.

WaPo: AIG Bonuses A Threat To Obama's Political Capital The Washington Post warns this morning that the AIG bonuses pose a serious danger to President Obama's political standing: "President Obama's apparent inability to block executive bonuses at insurance giant AIG has dealt a sharp blow to his young administration and is threatening to derail both public and congressional support for his ambitious political agenda."

Poll: More Americans Fear Return Of Great Depression A new CNN poll finds that 45% of Americans think another Great Depression will likely occur in the next year, compared to 38% who thought so this past December. The poll described the conditions of the Great Depression to respondents -- and a good number of them thought that situation was on its way back.

NYT: Obama To Make Appeals Court Appointment The New York Times reports that President Obama is poised to make his first appointment to a federal appeals court, picking federal trial court Judge David Hamilton of Indiana for the appeals court based in Chicago. Hamilton is a former counsel to Evan Bayh, and nephew of Lee Hamilton, and will have the support of both Bayh and GOP Senator Dick Lugar.

CQ: Obama Administration Begins Outreach To Evangelical Groups CQ reports that Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, will hold a meeting today with representatives of the Family Research Council, Concerned Women of America and other evangelical groups, part of the White House's outreach to conservative Christian groups.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the chairwoman of the Joint Economic Committee, has a novel solution to the AIG bonuses flap: levy a 100% tax on the company's senior executives for every bonus payment that's not related to a commission.

Maloney is introducing legislation that would institute the tax, and apply it to any recipient of bailout money where the U.S. government has become the majority shareholder. After the jump, you can read her letter to fellow lawmakers urging them to sign on to her effort.

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During the Senate's heated debate over Cuba policy changes in the 2009 spending bill, TPMDC reported that Florida Democrat Bill Nelson was prepared to support the legislation after working out a compromise with the Obama administration on the bill's changes to the trade embargo against Havana.

So it's worth noting that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Nelson's partner in frustration over the Cuba provisions, was also prepared to vote yes on the spending bill before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pulled it from the floor 10 days ago.

Menendez clarified the point in an interview yesterday with

Jim Tedisco, the Republican candidate for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat, has now stated his position on the stimulus bill: He's against it.

"I'm going on the record now to say I would have voted no," Tedisco said at a press conference that he'd called to talk about the AIG bonuses. Tedisco explained to reporters that he thought there was too much spending on pork projects, money that could have gone toward tax cuts.

Democrats had been attacking Tedisco for not saying one way or the other how he would have voted. A recent poll gave Tedisco only a four-point lead over his Democratic opponent Scott Murphy, down from a 12-point lead three weeks ago, with a sharp turnaround of support among independents.

So now this race could potentially turn into a question of whether it pays to be an anti-stimulus Republican -- whether Tedisco can successfully mobilize his own base, or whether he alienates swing voters by being a down-the-line Republican House candidate.

Late Update: Democratic candidate Scott Murphy has a press release pouncing on Tedisco, and touting his own support for President Obama's plan:

"On the defining issue in this special election, I have repeatedly made clear my support for President Obama's jobs and economic recovery package, which will put shovels in the ground and people back to work all across the 20th Congressional District," said Murphy. "It's just shameful it took well over a month for Assemblyman Tedisco to finally admit that he'd vote 'No' on saving or creating 76,000 jobs in Upstate New York, and 'No' on providing the largest middle class tax cut in American history. During these tough economic times, we can't afford a career politician in Congress like my opponent who plays games with voters on the economy to hide the fact that he'd vote against saving and protecting their jobs and against middle class tax cuts."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), after issuing a statement on Sunday vowing that Congress would examine ways to claw back AIG's $450 million-plus in questionable bonus payments, isn't letting go of the issue.

In a second statement released this afternoon, Pelosi urged the Treasury Department to do "use whatever tools at its disposal" -- legal or otherwise -- to reclaim the bonuses. And she reminded the rest of official Washington that Congress is already on the case.

The American people do not want their tax dollars spent on bonuses for AIG executives who have mismanaged their company into near bankruptcy. AIG executives should voluntarily forgo their excessive retention payments, but if they refuse, the U.S. Treasury should use whatever tools at its disposal to make AIG repay taxpayers.

AIG has turned on its head the basic principle that bonuses and retention payments are rewards for outstanding performance. No taxpayer funds should be used to pay bonuses or other unjustified compensation to AIG executives whose irresponsible risk-taking brought our financial system to the brink of collapse.

This week, Congress will demand further answers from AIG on the steps the government-controlled company will take to repay taxpayers. Congress and the Obama Administration are working to protect taxpayers from such irresponsible misuse of taxpayer funds.

After the jump, you can read more congressional reaction to today's unfolding AIG flap.

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Rep. Brad Sherman (CA), a senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, told TPMDC today that the Obama administration could have prevented excessive bonuses from being paid out at AIG -- but it missed the chance.

Sherman told me in an interview today that the Treasury Department wouldn't have to be withholding $30 billion in aid from AIG until the company restructures its bonus payments, because Congress already had given Treasury the authority to prevent those bonuses from being paid.

Referring to the original bailout Congress passed in October, Sherman told me:

We had a provision in there that said Treasury was supposed to establish, by regulation, standards for executive compensation. We required that to be done -- had it been done, it would have been binding, whether [or not] these contracts had been signed earlier. It's entirely within the power of the federal government to have contracts modified [at companies receiving public aid]. Nixon had contracts modified by the federal government. We gave a similar power to Treasury.

Sherman voted against the bailout, he explained, because he didn't believe that Treasury would use the power given to it by Congress. As it turned out, the department ultimately exercised its executive compensation powers last month, but the final regulations were riddled with loopholes -- and only applied to companies receiving "extraordinary" assistance from the government in the future, a standard that no company has officially met so far.

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Chuck Ardo, the press secretary for Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA), reaffirms to TPM that Rendell has been trying to get GOP Senator Arlen Specter to switch parties -- and has not succeeded.

"The governor has had both public and private conversations with Senator Specter about switching parties," Ardo told TPM via e-mail. "The Senator's response has been a resounding 'no!'"

When asked about Rendell's statement that both Joe Biden and Dem Senator Bob Casey are also lobbying Specter to switch, Ardo said he does not have any personal knowledge of that.

A Biden spokesperson told TPM that they are not commenting on his private conversations with Specter, while Casey's spokesperson denied that Casey has had any discussions with Specter about this.