In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) just released a letter to White House budget director Peter Orszag that makes a pretty eyebrow-raising claim: The special inspector general charged with overseeing the $700 billion in TARP funds for Wall Street is getting the run-around from the administration as he seeks more information from banks getting bailout money.

According to Grassley, Orszag's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) originally gave Neil Barofsky, the TARP inspector general, freedom to seek information from bailout-participating banks without being subject to the requirements of a law called the Paperwork Reduction Act that aims to limit government agencies' ability to collect third party information.

But then, for reasons unbeknownst to Grassley or Barofsky, it seems that OMB went back on its decision. As Grassley states in his letter:

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Today's courtroom proceedings in the Minnesota election trial ended a little while ago, and looking back on the day something is becoming clear: After a week of one comedic misstep after another, the Coleman legal team seems to have finally gotten its act together and managed to score some points -- and take some interesting risks, too.

While examining Ramsey County (St. Paul) elections director Joe Mansky this morning, Coleman attorney John Rock was able to secure an expert opinion that the most likely reason for some of the voting discrepancies that Coleman has complained about is that a number of absentee ballots were accidentally counted twice, thanks to a duplication process for damaged ballots and a failure to label them properly.

The Coleman camp has maintained that Franken has netted about 110 votes out of this process, using about two-dozen specifically picked Democratic precincts. Winning this claim would cut Franken's 225-vote lead in half -- though the Franken camp's legal filings have also shown they could play this game, too, and subtract a net 34 votes for Coleman. But obviously this is not a place the Franken camp wants to go.

The Franken camp will have the opportunity on Monday to cross-examine Mansky, at which time they will be exploring alternative explanations and the difficulties in calculating this stuff.

Now, let's take a look at the calculated risk they also took.

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Meet the new chairman of the Republican National Committee: Former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele, who defeated South Carolina party chairman Katon Dawson by a 91-77 margin on the sixth ballot.

"As a little boy growing up in this town -- this is awesome," Steele said bluntly in accepting his victory.

Steele came six votes shy of the magic number 85 on the fifth ballot, and was able to get over the top after Michigan chairman Saul Anuzis dropped out to make it a clear two-man race. Steele is now the first African-American chairman of the RNC.

The Republicans might have realized just how awful it would have been for the GOP's image if Steele hadn't won. The alternative was Dawson, who until just recently belonged to an all-white country club and has said he got involved in politics as a teenage opponent of busing programs in the 1960s -- not exactly the best face to oppose Barack Obama's agenda. Dawson briefly took the lead on the fourth ballot, and after that the movement to Steele very quickly put him on top.

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.

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