In it, but not of it. TPM DC

As it happens, we're not the only ones noting that that the fight to add mass transit money to the stimulus bill is far from over.

Senate Democratic Vice Chairman Chuck Schumer (NY) just mentioned on a conference call with reporters that he'll be introducing a version of Rep. Jerrold Nadler's (D-NY) amendment to add $3 billion in public transportation cash to the economic recovery pot.

That would bring the total mass transit funding in the Senate's bill to more than $15 billion, if you include a $5.5 billion competitive transport grants program that can be accessed by rail or road projects. That's still half as much money for mass transit as for highways.

Michael Steele is back in the lead for RNC Chairman, after Ken Blackwell dropped out and endorsed him -- but he's still just short of a full majority. On top of that, third-place finisher Saul Anuzis dropped out and endorsed nobody.

Here are the fifth-ballot numbers, compared to the fourth:

• Steele 79 (+19)

• Dawson 69 (+7)

• Anuzis 20 (-11)

As mentioned above, Anuzis dropped out after the vote, but didn't make an endorsement. "We've got two great people still running," said Anuzis, wishing the best of luck to the eventual winner.

Steele at this point should be regarded as the most likely to win, as he is only six votes short of the magic number 85.

As this slow news day moves on, it's a good time to prepare for the Senate stimulus debate that will begin on Monday -- it's shaping up an only slightly more genial cage match than we saw in the House.

One possible X factor arising today is the sideline maneuvering of Sen. Ben "Gang of 14" Nelson. He's staying true to form by trying to build a bipartisan coalition of senators to support major changes to the House bill.

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Ken Blackwell, who has been in last place in all four ballots that have been held so far in the RNC chair race, has just withdrawn his candidacy -- and he's endorsed Michael Steele.

Blackwell had the support of many movement conservative activists and bloggers, but it just wasn't meant to be.

Blackwell won 15 votes on the fourth ballot, compared to 62 for Katon Dawson, 60 for Steele, and 31 for Saul Anuzis. If Blackwell's supporters were to all go to Steele, that would put the former Maryland Lt. Governor at 75 votes, just ten shy of the 85 needed to win.

We now know where the RNC chairmanship race is going: The black candidate versus the white Southerner candidate.

Here are the vote totals from the fourth round of voting, compared to the third round held right before incumbent Mike Duncan dropped out:

• Dawson 62 (+28)

• Steele 60 (+9)

• Anuzis 31 (+7)

• Blackwell 15 (+0)

So Michael Steele has lost the lead he achieved on the third ballot, and is now narrowly trailing South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson.

This is now pitting Steele, an African-American conservative who has criticized the GOP for failing to reach out to minority voters, against Dawson -- who until recently belonged to an all-white country club, and has said he got involved with politics as a teenager in opposition to busing programs.

The House GOP's tax-cut-heavy alternative stimulus plan may have failed this week, but they've become addicted to erroneously using past research by Dr. Christina Romer, the chair of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and his crew have been claiming that Romer's math proves their plan creates 6.2 million jobs -- a crafty blurring of a 2007 paper by Romer and her husband, Berkeley economist Dr. David Romer. And Mitt Romney was at it again today during his speech to House Republicans at their retreat in Hot Springs, Virginia:

First, there are two ways you can put money into the economy, by spending more or by taxing less. But if it's stimulus you want, taxing less works best. That's why permanent tax cuts should be the centerpiece of the economic stimulus. Even Christine [sic] Romer, the President's own choice to lead the Council of Economic Advisors, found in her research that tax cuts are twice as effective as new spending.


Sorry, Mitt -- as Brad DeLong has pointed out, Romer's paper never found that. You're actually citing former George W. Bush economic adviser Greg Mankiw, who drew his own wacky conclusions by comparing two totally different studies, with different methodologies.

But if you want to use Christina Romer's 2007 research as a model, that's cool. Since she also found that "tax increases to reduce the deficit appear to have little negative impact on output," can we roll back the Bush tax cuts now?

Mike Duncan has withdrawn from his race for re-election as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Duncan came in second place on the third ballot with only 44 votes, or 26% of the total. It was very clear that he could not win re-election. Duncan said he was proud of his accomplishment heading up the party over the last two years: "Obviously, the results that we wanted weren't there. And I think our results going forward will be better."

Though he was officially talking about how the party's numbers just weren't there in 2008, he could have just as easily been referring to his own race today.

The big question now is where his support will go. Will the current leader Michael Steele pick up enough votes from Duncan and other candidates, to take him from his present 51 to the 85 needed for a win?

Another thing: One committee member asked for an extra recess period to sort out the voting, now that Duncan is out -- and was roundly booed by others there, with no recess as a result. The strong objection to a recess could be a sign that one campaign felt they could win it right now, and doesn't want to blow it.

In a press conference outside the courtroom held just a short while ago, Norm Coleman announced that if he gets back into the Senate, he'll work on ways to make it easier for young people to vote online.

Coleman was saying this while advocating for Peter DeMuth, a young college student and Coleman-voter who filled out his absentee ballot application on his computer, using the mouse to "sign" his initials. He later filled out the physical absentee ballot that he received in the old-fashioned way, resulting in his ballot being disqualified because of a mismatch because of the appearance of his moused initials versus his physically signed out name.

"The world of these young people is a world of computers," Coleman said. "More and more folks are gonna be doing that, that's the next generation. And we have to look at the whole use of technology to accommodate people who are gonna vote that way."

Coleman said that if he's fortunate enough to win this thing, he'll be using his role as a policy-maker to better enfranchise young people like DeMuth, or his own 22-year old son, whose first instincts are to work with computers.

(Special thanks to The Uptake for carrying the presser.)

The RNC has announced the third round of ballot results for the RNC chair race -- and it shows incumbent Mike Duncan going down as Michael Steele takes the lead. The numbers, compared to the second round:

• Steele 51 (+3)

• Duncan 44 (-4)

• Dawson 34 (+5)

• Anuzis 24 (+0)

• Blackwell 15 (-4)

It's hard to imagine how Duncan comes back from here, as an incumbent with only 26% of the vote. The most likely scenario now is that Michael Steele or another non-Duncan candidate will end up emerging as the winner.

This just makes me cringe. In an interview this afternoon with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), a CNN reporter practically snickered at the idea of spending $75 million on smoking cessation programs as part of an economic stimulus bill. The anchor introduced the segment this way:

HARRIS: You know, just about every line of the huge stimulus bill contains millions for what most Democrats are calling job creation and many Republicans are calling waste, arguments based on differing political philosophies perhaps. But who could argue that spending millions to help people quit smoking will create jobs?


No one is arguing that. But as Harkin tried to explain, small investments in preventative care measures, such as smoking cessation, have a hugely beneficial effect on overall health care costs. And he was mocked for attempting it:

GRIFFIN: Senator, it just seems like this is not the bill. We're trying to get the economy moving, we're trying to get people back to work, and I'm having a hard time understanding how $75 million to tell people to stop smoking is going to put anybody back to work.

HARKIN: Well, first of all, I would tell you, we put -- we put over $5 billion in this bill on prevention so that we can get ahead of the curve and start cutting health care costs.

GRIFFIN: Senator, I've got to be skeptical, because what I think I'm hearing from you is, yes, we want to get people off of smoking, but here you go, Joe, you're out of work, but, by golly, at least you're not smoking.


Did this approach come straight from Rep. John Boehner's (R-OH) cigarette-adorned mouth?

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