Stung by their stereotyping as the "party of no," House Republicans eagerly promoted the unveiling of their alternative to President Obama's budget today -- but when they finished speaking, reporters had one big question: Where's the actual budget? You know, the numbers that show deficit projections and discretionary spending?
There certainly was no hard budgetary data in the attractively designed 18-page packet that the House GOP handed out today, its blue cover emblazoned with an ambitious title: "The Republican Road to Recovery." When Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) was asked what his goal for deficit reduction would be -- President Obama aims to halve the nation's spending imbalance within five years -- Boehner responded simply: "To do better [than Obama]."
When pressed further by reporters, Boehner promised that Republicans would release their actual budget within the next few days and pointed a finger back at the president.
Michele Bachmann's office is now clarifying her proposed legislation to require that the dollar remain the currency of this country, rather than switching to some kind of global money.
This comes after Bachmann questioned Tim Geithner over China's proposal to adopt a global currency -- more accurately, an exchange unit made up of a basket of individual countries' currencies -- rather than relying on the dollar as a reserve currency. You might recall that Bachmann interpreted this to mean the United states could abandon the dollar.
So is Bachmann trying to legislate against other countries and the global economy adopting different exchange mechanisms or reserve currencies? The answer is no. "She's talking about the United States," Bachmann spokesperson Debbee Keller told Greg Sargent. "This legislation would ensure that the U.S. dollar remain the currency of the United States."
Of course, nobody was even remotely pitching the idea of replacing the U.S. dollar here in the United States.
Now this is odd. After Quinnipiac came out with a poll showing Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) losing his 2010 primary to likely challenger Pat Toomey, now Franklin & Marshall College has a survey showing...Specter ahead?
The numbers: Specter 33%, Toomey 18%, plus Peg Luksik, a right-wing activist who has already declared her candidacy, at two percent. By contrast, Quinnipiac had Toomey up 41%-27%.
One possible cause of the difference could be that Quinnipiac didn't include Luksik, so the addition of a third candidate's name could cause anti-Specter voters to shift to the undecided column -- and it's not a great sign that an incumbent is stuck in the 30s in a good poll. Either that, or one or both of these polls are just totally wrong.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettereports that Specter is sounding out GOP state Senators back home, about the idea of the state switching from a closed-primary system to an open primary that allows independents in. This would greatly benefit Specter by creating a Republican primary electorate that goes beyond just the conservative base. And a bunch of legislators are strenuously opposed to it.
The very tight special election for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat ran into another wrinkle yesterday, with Libertarian candidate Eric Sundwall getting kicked off the ballot with only days to spare, after the State Elections Board ruled that he didn't have enough valid petition signatures under the law's strict requirements.
The complaint was brought by two voters who were registered with New York's Republican and Conservative parties.* As such, some Democrats believe this was really engineered by the GOP side. As one Dem source told us: "The only reason the Republicans fought to keep Eric Sundwall off the ballot is because they knew he was stealing from their flawed candidate's fading support."
Adam Kramer, the spokesman for Republican candidate Jim Tedisco, denied that their campaign had any involvement. "Jim welcomed Mr. Sundwall to the race," said Kramer. "Our campaign was not involved in the complaint against Mr. Sundwall's petitions."
One Republican source told TPM that the board's decision was probably helpful to their side, but on the other hand there are people who would have voted for a third-party candidate because they didn't like either of the major two.
(*Note: New York uses a fusion voting system, leading to the proliferation of smaller parties who supplement and often work within the big two.)
Earlier in the hearing (i.e. before the Bachus query), Geithner had an interesting exchange with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) about what regulatory requirements the Geithner plan would impose on Hedge funds.
Ellison: Could you discuss in greater detail how a capital adequacy regime would work for [hedge funds]?
Geithner: We did not propose to establish capital requirements for hedge funds. What we are saying, though, is that the large institutions, principally the banks and the major large complex regulated financial institutions, are held to a set of requirements on capital, liquidity, reserves, risk management, that are commensurate with the risk they pose. And because their risks are greater and because the consequences of their failure is greater they need to be subject to a higher set of standards and greater constraints on leverage. But we're not proposing to establish cap requirements for the broad universe of hedge funds and private pools of capital that exist in our markets. We want them to register with the SEC if they reach a certain scale and in the future if some of them individually reach a size where they may be systemic, then at that point we believe they should be brought within a regulatory framework that's similar to that which exists for banks.
There were obviously a lot of reasons Bernie Madoff got away with his Ponzi scheme for as long as he did. But it's probably fair to say that if he'd been held to hard capital requirements he'd have had a harder time getting his scheme off the ground, or his jig would likely have been up much more quickly.
Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) just raised a new objection to the AIG counterparty payments--specifically that while AIG used government money to pay off their CDS obligations dollar-for-dollar to major (sometimes foreign) financial institutions, it repaid smaller U.S. institutions that made secured loans to AIG subsidiaries at a rate of only about 20 to 30 cents on the dollar.
Video forthcoming, but Geithner had no immediate answer to the query, which, to amateur ears anyhow, sounds like an interesting one. We'll follow up.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is back before the House Financial Services committee today to argue the case for greater federal regulatory power over non-bank financial institutions. In many members' minds, though, he's still on the line for the AIG bonus flap and for allowing bad financial actors to take too big a role in shaping bailout policy.
The outline of the Treasury's new regulatory reform framework is here. We'll keep a close eye on his testimony.
Some mid-level civil servant in the Office of Management and Budget must be getting a lot of flack. To recap, according to OMB director Peter Orszag, a bureaucrat in his agency communicated to the Pentagon that the administration wanted to scrap the term Global War on Terror (GWOT) and replace it with the term Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).
The only problem is, the administration had no such plans. Or so they say. But the memo went out anyhow, and now it seems to be causing, if not confusion, then at least minor head aches for government spokesmen and other officials.
At yesterday's Pentagon news briefing, a reporter asked Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell about this very issue:
Q (Off mike) -- e-mail sent, from the Obama administration to Pentagon officials, about using the phrase the global war on terror, to using overseas contingency operations....
MR. MORRELL: I've never received such a directive. I think the White House and OMB for that matter have been very clear about this as well, that they have never issued such a directive. I think they've explained that perhaps somebody within OMB may have been a little overexuberant and done so. But I can just tell you, I'm the one who speaks publicly about these matters. And I have never been told which words to use or not to use. So I don't think there's anything to the story....
Q What's your preferred nomenclature?
MR. MORRELL: I don't really have one....
Q (Off mike) -- GWOT, global war on terror, lumps together an entire -- you know, the entire Muslim faith and an entire region. Do you see that as a concern?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I don't think there's anything in that term that identifies any particular faith or ethnicity. I mean, there are terrorists of all faiths, of all colors, of all races and ethnicities. And so perhaps a better -- another way to refer to it would be, you know, a campaign against extremists who wish to do us harm.
Emphasis mine. So the new term is "Campaign Against Extremists Who Wish To Do Us Harm. CAEWWTDUH. That's not quite as economical as GWOT, or OCO, but it's better than George Bush did when he tried to rename his war on terror on the fly.
My colleague Eric noted this story in the Morning Roundup, but it's worth noting that the Congressional Progressive Caucus still doesn't appear to be waking up to its potential to influence the Obama administration's agenda.
As Roll Call notes, the president has given White House face time to all manner of Democratic klatsches, from the business-friendly Blue Dogs and New Democrats to the Congressional Hispanic and Black Caucuses. But the Progressives' request for a meeting with Obama -- which TPMDC noted a long while back, right here as well as here -- has fallen on deaf ears.
Anyone who thinks progressives don't need to assert themselves, that they can best help Obama advance his priorities by being supportive and avoiding the appearance of nitpicking or spotlight-chasing, should read the call-to-arms that TNR's John Judis delivered to the left last month.
By allowing Republicans to define Obama's goals (his budget in particular) as the most liberal option on the table, Judis explains, progressives risk standing pat while the president gets pigeonholed as a debt-hungry lefty. Unfortunately, the Congressional Progressives have yet to speak with the unified, assertive voice that Ble Dogs and New Dems use. From Roll Call's report:
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.