In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The Senate is poised to approve its $827 billion version of the stimulus bill tomorrow after a procedural test vote tonight, with three GOP senators putting the legislation over the 60-vote mark needed for passage.

Republicans had forced the stimulus vote to be pushed until today in order to examine the $100-billion-plus package of cuts negotiated by a group of centrist senators last week.

The question facing Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) now is whether he'll have to work around similar delays from Republicans once stimulus talks with the House are completed -- ideally by Friday. If the GOP wanted to be a thorn in Reid's side, it could delay a final vote on the recovery bill until a week from today, imperiling President Obama's deadline for passage.

But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters today that he doesn't expect further delays will happen this week. The timeline for final passage of the stimulus, he said, "depends on how quickly the conference functions and resolves the differences among the majority in the House and the majority in the Senate."

You know about his predilection for the services of the "D.C. Madam," the late Deborah Jeane Palfrey -- but that's the tip of the iceberg for the anti-woman Sen. David Vitter (R-LA). He's also fought to restrict abortion rights for Native Americans, force AIDS prevention money to be spent on unworkable abstinence-only education, and voted against Hillary Clinton's State Department nomination (but it was her husband's fault, according to Vitter).

Vitter would seem to be the perfect candidate for a challenge in 2010, but the lack of a viable Democratic candidate has ensured that his only real political threats next year come from possible conservative challengers.

So what's a good Vitter foe to do? Support Stormy Daniels. As Daniels put it to CNN today, "I might be a porn star" -- but unlike Vitter, "I haven't done anything illegal." We're pulling the interview for you now, but here's why Daniels' candidacy makes sense.

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No matter how many times you tell Norm Coleman's legal team that it's generally illegal to sign somebody else's name on a legal document, they're just not giving up on it.

Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg is going over rejected ballots one by one with Dakota County elections manager Kevin Boyle. And again we've come to the matter of a fake signature on an absentee ballot application -- though at least this time the person signing the name was admitting it up front.

A voter's mother signed his name to the absentee application, writing "mother" right next to it in parentheses. Thus the signature on the ballot envelope itself -- possibly the voter's -- didn't match the one of the application. Friedberg couldn't let it go:

Friedberg: Now, is it your position that if somebody signs the application with the permission of the voter, that does not make it a lawful application, or it does make it a lawful application?

Boyle: In the case of the regular absentee ballot applications, we would need the mark or the signature of the applicant, not the applicant's mother.

Friedberg: Is that because you would need it to compare to the voter's signature on the ballot, on the envelope?

Boyle: That's one of the reasons.


At this point Friedberg quietly moved on to the next ballot in his stack.

It could have been worse. A while ago, Friedberg was declaring that he didn't care about the rules forbidding this.

From Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's appearance today on Fox News:

REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, you know, it wasn't too long ago that you were in the House as a Republican. All of your colleagues last week voted against this. Would you have voted for it?

LAHOOD: Well, look, I'm -- I am not in the House anymore. I didn't get elected to anything last November and I'm a part of the President Obama team.

While we're discussing the devastating effects of the Senate stimulus compromise on state budgets, it's worth pointing out that the centrist negotiators didn't just cut $40 billion in state aid.

The stimulus deal cut over the weekend also restricted states' use of stabilization money, requiring governors to use all of their share on education. Under the original Senate stimulus, states could use 61% of their aid from Washington on education and the remaining 39% on public safety or other pressing needs.

By no means am I suggesting that education isn't a worthy use for that cash. But if the centrists had left aid to the states intact, rather than cutting it in half, perhaps California could avoid furloughing government workers without pay. And maybe North Carolina could avoid shutting down mental hospitals and a major prison.

Ben Smith raised an interesting question this morning: Why did Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), whom President Obama has singled out as a valuable mentor, pass up the chance to ride to Indiana on Air Force One today?

Lugar's absence looked a bit amiss to Mike Tomasky and other wise heads, particularly since Rep. Fred Upton (MI) -- another Republican whose vote on the final stimulus bill is still within reach for the president -- did join Obama on today's trip. But as a Lugar spokesman explained to me, the senator had a pretty good reason to decline the Air Force One invitation.

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Back in January, TPM crowned its first Sleeper Bill of the Month, praising a proposal by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) that would set up an independent panel -- with subpoena power -- to probe civil liberties and human rights abuses committed during the Bush years.

The measure has yet to receive a hearing, but it's slowly amassing support from connected Democratic lawmakers, with the biggest breakthrough coming about an hour ago. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), in a speech at Georgetown University, endorsed the creation of an independent "truth and reconciliation" commission. Here's what Leahy said:

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Washington has a way of blurring the human impact of a major policy debate -- such as the one going on right now over the stimulus -- by using vague and dense terminology to describe certain programs. Take, for instance, this talk of "state stabilization funds" that were cut back by $40 billion this weekend in the deal cut by Senate centrists.

The term sounds bone-dry, but the stabilization funds are a crucial bulwark against budget deficits that are already forcing layoffs, cutbacks, and higher taxes and fees in 39 states, 21 of which have at least one GOP senator. You heard right: Senate Republicans are insisting on cutting federal aid to their own states in the name of fiscal responsibility -- while some of these state governments are actually pulling back on tax breaks in response.

"If you take a combination of the [budget] gaps for the rest of the current fiscal year, the gaps for the next fiscal year, and the gaps for 2011, [when] unemployment is still going to be high ... we estimate that the [total state budget] gap is $350 billion to $370 billion," Nick Johnson, director of the state fiscal project at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), told me.

Compare that two-year deficit to the $79 billion in state stabilization funding that was included in both the House and Senate's original stimulus bills; then consider that the Senate's compromise left states with only $39 billion to close their budget gaps. Better yet, consider the plights of Maine and Arizona ...

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The White House has just announced that President Obama will be campaigning for the stimulus plan tomorrow in Fort Myers, Florida -- where he'll be introduced by Republican Governor Charlie Crist.

It's odd to think that Crist -- who hit the campaign trail in a big way for John McCain last year, and has been courted to run for the open Senate seat -- has now broken ranks in such a conspicuous manner as to publicly appear with Obama.

It's not just that, but his official statement praises Obama in language that one would normally use for a political ally: "I am eager to welcome President Obama to the Sunshine State as he continues to work hard to reignite the US economy."

Yet another poll, this time from CNN, shows that President Obama is viewed very positively in the legislative battles over the stimulus bill, while the Republican Party remains the unpopular player in this game

Obama has a 76% overall job approval and 23% disapproval. On the economy specifically, his rating is 72%-28%. Meanwhile, Congress has a very poor rating of 29%-71% -- but it quickly becomes clear that this should be not be simply laid at the feet of the majority Democrats, and is instead the GOP's fault.

The Democratic leadership in Congress has a solid rating of 60%-39%, while the Republican leaders are at 44%-55%. Furthermore, respondents said by 74%-25% that Obama is doing enough to cooperate with Republicans, while they say by a 60%-39% margin that Republicans are not doing enough to cooperate with him.

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