In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Remember last week, when Republicans were beating their chests over a Congressional Budget Office report that showed 64% of the money in the House stimulus bill would be spent during the first 18 months after its enactment?

After all, the GOP told us in no uncertain terms, the Obama administration had vowed to spend 75% of the stimulus in 18 months -- so the 64% spend-out rate of the House bill represented total failure.

Given that agita, one wonders how the GOP will respond to the CBO's newest report on the Senate stimulus bill. The budget office found that $694 billion of the bill's total $884 billion cost would be spent during the first 18 months after enactment, or a spend-out rate of 78%.

By the Republicans' own metric, that makes the bill a smashing success! Does that mean you'll promise not to filibuster it, guys?

At the moment, you have to think Tom Daschle is going to pull this out. It's possible that his failure to pay taxes on a limo rides and other benefits he accrued from a New York financier may yet do in his nomination to be Secretary of Health and Human Services. But several things have turned Daschle's way today.

First, he apologized which is a necessary but not sufficent precondition to surviving these things. Second, Max Baucus, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee which has jurisdiction over Daschle's nomination, came out for him despite a history of tension between the two. Third, Obama stood by Daschle--a sentiment echoed by Robert Gibbs at his press conference although Gibbs used the slightly miffed phrase, "a report we heard this weekend," about the Daschle contretemps. Fourth: Silence. The blogs are not on fire--yes, there's Greenwald, I know--but there's not pitchfork mob calling for his head of the size and scope usually needed to kill a nomination. The optics of the thing are terrible but it's not deadly

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The Coleman team appears to be laying out a continued strategy of casting doubt on the legitimacy of the Minnesota election result by pointing to a fundamental underlying idea of this dispute: The margin of error is simply too big in a race this close.

"Is there some point at which the margin of error is just too wide compared to the difference in votes to determine who truly won?" Coleman lawyer John Rock asked Ramsey County (St. Paul) elections director Joe Mansky. Mansky replied that there is absolutely such a point, with accuracy topping out at over 99.9%.

"All of which is pretty good," Mansky said. "But remember that one in every thousand is not an issue when somebody wins by 200,000 votes. When they win by 200 votes, the margin of error in our computation is likely large enough to have an impact on our result, and I think that's the situation that we find ourselves in here."

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While questioning Ramsey County (St. Paul) elections director Joe Mansky, Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton just got a confirmation that a friendly Coleman witnesses who said his ballot was improperly rejected was in fact tossed out properly -- and he also appears to have broken a serious law.

Hamilton reviewed the matter of Douglas Thompson, the Coleman witness whose girlfriend forged his signature on his absentee ballot application. Thompson later signed his own absentee ballot itself, and the ballot was rejected because of the mismatched signatures.

Hamilton asked Mansky if his office would in any way be able to verify the provenance of a ballot if someone else, "just to maybe pick an example, his girlfriend," had signed the application. Mansky confirmed that it would not only be impossible to verify such a ballot, but also that someone having his girlfriend falsely sign his application is a felony, outside of a set of specific exemptions for people who are unable to sign for themselves.

"If just anybody could request a ballot in someone else's name, that would be a problem ,wouldn't it?" Hamilton later asked, specifically referring back to Douglas Thompson.

"It would be a big problem," said Mansky, appearing to smile at the absurdity of this whole situation. Mansky then confirmed that Thompson's ballot was properly rejected.

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Friends of the Earth has put together a new analysis of 19 states' requests for transportation projects to be funded as part of the coming stimulus bill. (Hat tip to the excellent Streetsblog network.)

As the FoE analysis shows, states are wildly divergent on the key political question of whether to spend transportation stimulus money on building new roads or repairing existing ones. The House has nothing in its version that would require states to use stimulus cash only on repairs, despite strong sentiments in that direction from Democratic leaders and the American public.

Of the 19 state transportation proposals examined by FoE, Utah is the worst offender, with 97% in proposed spending on new capacity and 3% on repairs. Massachusetts, by contrast, scores a perfect 100% in seeking only stimulus money for road maintenance.

Does anyone think this will make Congress think twice about requiring states to first spend the money on improving existing infrastructure before building shiny new highways?

Are in for some real political fireworks in Florida?

Roll Call reports that lame-duck Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) is considering an early resignation, rather than serve out the rest of his term through 2010. Meanwhile, the potential Republican field is all waiting on word from Governor Charlie Crist, who is said to be seriously considering a run.

The rub here is that Crist might then be presented with the opportunity appoint himself to the seat - either doing it directly or by resigning and having his Lt. Governor do the job for him -- which sounds just a little too good to be true. The history of governors appointing themselves to the Senate is almost entirely negative. The last person to do this was Governor-turned-Senator Wendell Anderson (D-MN), whose move into Walter Mondale's Senate seat in December 1976 resulted in a Republican landslide all across Minnesota in 1978.

If Martinez does end up deciding that he'd like to leave the Senate early, Crist would be well-advised to pick someone else to keep the seat warm.

Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton has been laying out a very biting case against Norm Coleman in today's proceedings: That Coleman is now complaining about absentee voters being wrongly rejected, but his own campaign has personally taken part in throwing out ballots unfairly.

Hamilton had Ramsey County (St. Paul) elections director Joe Mansky go over a list of nearly 20 ballots that the local officials in the county decided were wrongly rejected, but the Coleman camp objected to under the controversial decision by the state Supreme Court that gave the campaigns an effective veto power over improperly-rejected absentees.

And some of these seemed to be obvious calls: Ballots that were initially rejected because the election officials didn't see their names in the registration database, but then spotted the names on this second review of the registration lists. The Coleman campaign vetoed them by insisting that the voters were still not properly registered.

Hamilton then proceeded to build even further on the case that Coleman can't justify a claim that he'll win by opening up this process again.

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President Obama has been a longtime supporter of "clean coal," the still-illusory concept of coal-fired power plants that can capture and store the carbon emissions that they generate.

The environmental movement tends to view "clean coal" with skepticism at best and derision at worst -- and few projects epitomize the contentious debate over clean coal more than FutureGen, the $1.8 billion dollar plant slated to be built in the downstate town of Mattoon, Illinois.

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From a CNBC interview this morning with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA):

LANDRIEU: A lot of fat cats have gotten a lot of money. We want to get some of these little Main Street cats getting some money down in our part of the town. And that's what we want to do.

REPORTER: Senator Landrieu, we all love Main Street cats. But there's a role for fat cats, too. Let's not punish successful entrepreneurs.

Al Franken's legal team been cross-examining Ramsey County (St. Paul) elections director Joe Mansky, making up some solid ground after Coleman's lawyers scored some points this past Friday.

Franken attorney Kevin Hamilton went over Mansky's opinion on Friday, affirming the likelihood of absentee ballots being double-counted thanks to a duplication process for damaged ballots, and a failure to label some of them properly. This error, to the extent that it might have happened, would result in an unfair gain for Al Franken because of his own overall edge in absentee ballots -- and the fact that the Coleman campaign has confined this line of inquiry to a handful of deep-blue precincts in the Twin Cities.

But Hamilton was able to secure from Mansky an agreement that any number of other factors can cause an apparent surplus of votes.

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