In it, but not of it. TPM DC

During an interview with TPMDC yesterday, a senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee delivered troubling news: His party could remove the Senate's strong executive pay limits from the stimulus bill in an attempt to keep the measure's costs down.

"The plan is to take out the executive compensation provisions ... and blame the Republicans for setting out the level [of $800 billion]" for the final version of the stimulus, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) told me.

The Senate's limits on compensation for executives receiving government bailout money -- a welcome sign after President Obama's CEO pay caps were revealed to be riddled with loopholes -- were scored as a $10 billion money-loser by the Congressional Budget Office. Because of pressure to limit the size of the stimulus in order to retain GOP senators' support, Sherman's prediction about the executive pay caps is looking likely to come true.

But why would Democrats want to send such a bizarre signal about their commitment to reining in corporate excess? When MoveOn.org has gotten more than 300,000 signatures on a petition calling for even stronger salary caps at bailed-out companies, why would Congress want to water down its proposed pay limits?

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As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) jockeys with the Senate to preserve elements of her chamber's economic recovery plan, health insurance benefits are one of the major issues that need to be reconciled.

The House stimulus provides $40 billion to create a 65% government subsidy for COBRA, the health insurance program for unemployed Americans -- but the Senate centrists sliced that in half for their stimulus, cutting COBRA to $21 billion or a 50% subsidy.

The worthiness of maintaining the House's 65% COBRA subsidy is clear to anyone who's ever paid to maintain employer-sponsored health benefits after leaving a job. COBRA is prohibitively expensive for even those in two-income families, and slicing the subsidy would put the coverage out of many people's financial reach.

But how many people would get health care under the 65% subsidy? Pelosi asked the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that question, and she got her answer last night.

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Congressional Dems Ironing Out Stimulus Plan Congressional Democrats worked hard last night to negotiate differences between the House and Senate stimulus plans. Nancy Pelosi downplayed the idea of restoring the greater spending increases in the House version: "You cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the effective and of the necessary, and we will not."

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama is hitting the trail again to promote his stimulus package, this time holding an 11 a.m. ET visit to a construction site in Springfield, Virginia, accompanied by Governor Tim Kaine. Then at 3 p.m. ET he'll be meeting in the Oval Office with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Biden Promoting Stimulus Package In Pennsylvania Vide President Biden is visiting Pennsylvania today, where he'll be campaigning for the stimulus package alongside Governor Ed Rendell. First up is a 1:10 p.m. ET photo opportunity at the Route 34 Bridge in Carlisle, to promote the need to improve existing infrastructure. Biden and Rendell will then speak in Harrisburg at 2:10 p.m. ET.

Crist: "I'm Trying To Be Practical" About Stimulus Governor Charlie Crist (R-FL) told The Hill that he's not trying to undercut Congressional Republicans with his appearance alongside President Obama to promote the stimulus plan. However, he also says: "obviously, this bill's passing, so I'm trying to be practical and pragmatic and make sure Florida gets its share."

Franken And Coleman Both Visiting Washington Al Franken and Norm Coleman are both spending time in Washington today. Franken is in D.C. in order to prepare for being a Senator, while Coleman is in town for an NRSC fundraiser for his legal effort.

Dingell Is Longest-Serving House Member Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) has now become the longest-serving member of the House, beating the record of 53 years and two months that were previously set by conservative Democrat Jamie Whitten of Mississippi. In an interview with the Washington Post, Dingell brushed off the recent loss of his chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee: "I'll be up again, don't worry. And I'll find things to do."

Hoekstra Defends Himself After Twittering Overseas Trip Rep. Pete Hoekstra is defending himself from criticism after he Twittered during his trip with a Congressional delegation to Iraq and Afghanistan, thus making public the movements of the delegation in the middle of a conflict zone. A spokeswoman told CQ that Hoekstra did not harm the delegation's security, and that he had not signed on to any agreement to not discuss details of the trip.

Palin Skipping CPAC Sarah Palin will not be attending this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, apparently because the schedule conflicts with Alaska's legislative session. Other potential 2012 Republican candidates, including Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, will be in attendance.

Memo To Virginia GOP Chairman: Some Things You Don't Twitter We usually don't cover obscure state politics, but this is too much. Virginia Republican chairman ruined a bid by the party to get a Democratic state Senator to switch parties and flip control of the chamber. How did he ruin it? By Twittering the secret negotiations!

On a conference call just now with reporters, lead Franken lawyer Marc Elias declared that the campaign isn't done yet with the voters whose ballots weren't counted under the election court's ruling today, which allowed two-dozen Franken backers' previously-rejected votes in.

Elias explained that some of the petitioners will simply have to go back and provide further affidavits and information to the court, in order to demonstrate the validity of their case. "We think that all 61 of them should be counted," said Elias. "We're pleased that the court was as careful as it was in parsing through these voters one at a time."

Elias also expressed some confidence that the world of ballots from Coleman will be shrinking, noting that ballots are being withdrawn at a faster clip as the court's rulings serve as guideposts for where things will be going, and also that both sides have agreed to drop their complaints on behalf of absentee ballots that were rejected because they arrived by mail after the election.

Elias did have one regret, though, when a reporter asked if he would do anything differently. "Packed more winter clothes," Elias said. "I didn't expect to be in Minneapolis as long as when I first came out here. But no, I don't think there's anything else that I would have done differently."

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Coleman lawyer/spin-man Ben Ginsberg made a stunning announcement at this evening's press conference: Stearns County now reports that they've found seven new ballots.

"That's another significant development, showing the inaccuracy of the canvassing board total," Ginsberg said, "and we feel good about the votes that will be coming in."

This comes after two other pro-Coleman counties, Washington and Anoka, were finding similarly small numbers of missing ballots late last week, events that the Coleman campaign cheered. (Stearns voted 46%-34% for Coleman.)

These ballots could all indeed be legitimately lost and now found. Unfortunately, there's always room for human error in a recount involving 2.9 million ballots. But think for a second about what the spin would be on Fox News if the roles were reversed -- if Franken's team was currently behind, and boasting about newly-found votes coming in dribs and drabs.

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In addition to his work on executive compensation limits, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) has also earned a reputation for pinning down government officials on touchy issues stemming from the financial bailout.

Today was no exception, as Sherman pressed Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on the central bank's ostensibly unlimited ability to lend money "in unusual and exigent circumstances." With the Obama administration today proposing $1 trillion more in Fed lending backed by an infusion of TARP bailout money -- on top of an existing Fed balance sheet that tops out at $1.8 trillion -- Sherman asked Bernanke whether he was willing to accept any limits on his lending.

The answer was yes. But Bernanke's limit might be higher than some Americans can believe: $12 trillion. That's more than the entire debt limit of the U.S. government (now $11.3 trillion), from which the Fed is independent.

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I'm told old friends, Joe Biden and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, had a good private meeting yesterday, one of many meetings the vice president and senior administration officials have been having and will have with top labor leaders. (If the labor movement wasn't so atomized they might have all gone in together.) "No real news coming out of the meeting," one person with knowledge of the session said. "It was more of a general, and ongoing discussion. They discussed a whole variety of things," and part of a continuing and ongoing dialogue" between Labor and the Obama White House.

Among the topics discussed were the Employee Free Choice Act, which the administration has assured labor leaders it still wants to push for in late Spring, and the nomination of Hilda Solis to be Labor Secretary. Republicans seem to be softening in their opposition to Solis but it now looks like there won't be a committee vote on her nomination until after Congressional recess, February 23rd, making it likely to be the last cabinet seat to be filled.

On another front, TPM Alumnus Greg Sargent now of whorunsgov.com quotes David Axelrod downplaying the New York Times reported rift between him and Tim Geithner, something he downplayed in the Times story itself.

My nugget to add to this is that no one on the economic team, so far as I can tell, was pushing for the kind of showy, punitive measures that might have made today's ugly roll out of the new bailout plan at least more appealing to those who want to see banks punished. It echoes what I said last week about Summers and Geithner. People who expected to see fireworks between those two are ignoring their decades of friendship and how ideologically sympatico they are. Future fireworks, if there are any in the land of no drama, are likely to come between the economic team and otherson the periphery. In any event, the bailout plan such as it is, is now out there. It was a half-built house when it was unveiled this morning and given the market reaction today to the thing it's probably going to get revamped even more.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is testifying right now before the Senate Banking Committee on the financial rescue re-modeling he unveiled this morning. Many senior senators are just now getting up to speed on the outlines of the new Treasury plan, but the emerging consensus among Democrats is cautious approval of Geithner's goals (even as Republicans blast those goals as unclear).

"We're in uncharted waters," Chuck Schumer (NY), the third-ranked Senate Democrat, told me. "They're trying their best."

Schumer praised Geithner for adding "some degree of conditionality" to his dealings with individual troubled banks, contrasting the new Treasury Secretary with predecessor Hank Paulson, who "lurched from one plan for every bank to another plan for every bank."

Schumer also said the Federal Reserve's massive program of lending to spur the credit markets, known as TALF, was "the one successful part of the initial plan" and worth expanding under Geithner.

Meanwhile, senators as right-leaning as John Ensign (R-NV) and as left-leaning as Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have pushed the Fed today to be more transparent in disclosing which entities are receiving TALF loans. "I think it's a good idea to ... say to the Federal Reserve, 'Let's see what you are actually doing in the marketplace,'" Ensign told reporters today, "because the American people who are the ones who are on the hook."

But let's return to the Democrats for a moment.

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Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, has been a stalwart skeptic of the Treasury's bailout program since it was first announced in the fall.

But he's particularly savvy on the issue of executive compensation -- Sherman, a certified public accountant, was among the first to challenge the Obama administration's recent CEO pay limits as riddled with loopholes.

Unfortunately, Sherman told me that he believes the executive compensation limits added to the Senate's stimulus are going to get removed during conference talks with the House. The reason: a new Congressional Budget Office estimate that the pay caps will cost the government $10.8 billion in lost tax revenue over the next 10 years.

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Two funny moments today from the Minnesota trial:

Coleman lawyer Tony Trimble was asking Kevin Boyle, the election/records manager in Republican-leaning Dakota County, about the requirement that an absentee voter put his residential address on the ballot envelope, as opposed to a P.O. box where he might actually receive his mail. Quite a few ballots have been thrown out because of this.

So Trimble asked what the county would do if a voter gave his P.O. box for the purposes of paying his property taxes, clearly expecting a simple, common-sense answer that the county would accept the money:

Trimble: Is there any reason you would reject it?

Boyle: I think you're talking about property taxation--

Trimble: That's correct.

Boyle: --and I'm a bit unfamiliar with what their practices are.


Trimble then confirmed that property taxation is the office where Boyle works.

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