In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Mike Enzi (WY), the senior Republican on the Senate labor committee, just revealed some more backstory behind today's seemingly sudden postponement of the confirmation vote on Labor Secretary nominee Hilda Solis.

Turns out that the Solis delay wasn't so shocking to Enzi, who said he and fellow senators knew last night about $6,700 in California tax liens long left unpaid by Solis' husband. Enzi said Republicans knew this morning that the confirmation vote wasn't going to happen, but that it was left on the committee schedule because senators "wanted answers from the White House."

Now that the tax liens have been repaid, then, is the committee ready to take up Solis' nomination -- even if it has to pass with only Democratic support? Enzi said no. "[There is a] joint effort to make sure we have all the information before we vote," he said. "There isn't enough information yet."

And if you thought the tax liens were the only thing standing in the way for Solis, that's not so -- Enzi said Republicans are still raising questions about her role as treasurer for American Rights at Work (ARW), a labor-allied non-profit group. It's not Solis' service on the board necessarily, Enzi explained, but the possibility that as treasurer, she had jurisdiction over ARW's political spending. The anti-union group National Right to Work explains the GOP's line of attack at length.

The sad news that Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is being treated for pancreatic cancer raises the possibility that President Obama may face his first Supreme Court nomination sooner than anyone imagined. Ginsburg, a thoughtful liberal, named to the bench by Bill Clinton in 1993, has many friends and admirers in Washington and people wish her well and hope she can stay in her post.

Still, the speculation has already begun in the Beltway about who could be named to the post. Since there is only one woman on the nine-member panel, the president would be under enormous pressure to make sure the court doesn't become all-male for the first time since 1981 when Sandra Day O'Connor was sworn in. Since Ginsburg was a leading womens rights advocate there would be all the more pressure on Obama to name a woman.

Among the possible female candidates the president could consider are Elena Kagan, the Harvard Law School dean who has been named to be solicitor general. Nancy Gertner, a district court judge in Massachusetts. If Obama's interested in returning to the historic tradition of appointing a politician to the bench, the possibilities include Jennifer Granholm, the governor of Michigan and a Harvard Law School graduate and former state attorney general. Janet Napolitano is the former attorney general and governor of Arizona and now Secretary of Homeland Security. Diane Wood is a federal judge in Chicago. Sonia Sotomayer, a federal judge in New York, if named, would be the first Hispanic justice. The aborted nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court in 2005 suggests that the Senate and public would not settle for a second-class nominee just for gender reasons but there's no reason to think that Obama, a former Constitutional law professor, would be interested in a personal friend over a widely respected figure.

The Coleman legal team is continuing to review the rejected absentee ballots one by one, spending this afternoon questioning Pine County Auditor Cathy Clemmer. One particular ballot came from a man whose ballot was tossed because he was not a resident of the county.

Well, he was a resident of the county -- in the county jail, awaiting trial for an unspecified charge. He requested a ballot from jail, and Clemmer admitted that the application should have been forwarded to his adjacent home county. Instead, the bailiff delivered him a ballot for Pine, which was later rejected because of his home address.

"By the time it was returned, was Mr. Grewe still in--" said Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg, "still in custodia legis?"

The answer: Yes, the voter was still in the joint.

Now it may well be that this individual was legally allowed to vote, if he wasn't a convicted felon at that time. But just imagine the media outcry that would have occurred if a Democrat were waging an election lawsuit and tried to get this one counted.

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Amidst all the debate over the stimulus package, Tom Daschle's limos, and when the White House puppies will arrive, it's worth keeping an eye on TARP, the Troubled Assets Relief Program that was supposed to get us out of this mess in the first place. The TARP's genesis from three-page memo to $700 billion fund is history but not so Neel Kashkari, the 35-year-old interim Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Stability that Henry Paulson appointed to run the program. Kashkari continues to run it having been asked to stay on by the Obama team until a replacement is found. Finding a replacement for Kashkari has not been easy just as it's been difficult to round out all the assistant secretary positions at Treasury because of Geithner's delay in confirmation. (That was when a tax problem led to delay instead of self immolation.) I hear that diversity issues are holding up some of the appointments as well as trying to find people who are both versed in banking but are untainted by the current mess and, most importantly, are not coming directly from firms that are asking for TARP funds. We're still reporting on the names of some of the people who may be coming in. I'm told one Wall Street executive turned the job down several times before the administration took no for an answer. Expect a new TARP head next week when Geithner unveils more comprehensive plans for repairing the financial system.

Meanwhile, at a Senate Banking committee hearing today, the program was lambasted by a Congressional watchdog. The GAO has a report saying the program is poorly run and the public has been misled about how the Treasury priced assets. More here. Neil Barofsky, the independent TARP inspector , told the committee that he wants a criminal investigation. "That's going to be a large focus of my office," he said.

The Senate labor committee has postponed its vote on Hilda Solis' nomination to become Labor Secretary, with no clear date set to reconsider her confirmation.

Solis has been put through the wringer by Republicans aiming to slow up the Employee Free Choice Act, a core priority of the labor movement. But today's sudden postponement had a lot more to do with a USA Today inquiry that prompted Solis' husband to pay $6,400 yesterday in order to settle long-outstanding California tax liens.

Asked how much of the labor committee's move was attributable to the USA Today report, one GOP source said simply: "100%."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters today that "we're not going to penalize [Solis] for her husband's mistakes," but Republicans are unlikely to leave the matter at that. After the jump is the full Solis statement from Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Mike Enzi (WY), the labor committee's chairman and senior Republican.

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Looks like Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) reads TPMDC ... he's now threatening to hold up progress on the stimulus bill today until Democratic leaders allow a vote on 15 of his amendments limiting funding in the bill.

And at the top of Coburn's list is the $2 billion in funding for a "near-zero emissions" coal plant -- money that could go straight to FutureGen, the Illinois-based "clean coal" project that the Obama administration had said it would keep out of the stimulus.

Coburn's office has rustled up yet another reason to put the brakes on the FutureGen cash: impeached former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) has lavished hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists to restart the cash flow to the project since the Bush administration canceled FutureGen funding one year ago.

It's unclear as of now whether Coburn's threat will win him a vote on the FutureGen amendment, but we'll keep you posted.

The working draft of proposed spending cuts to the Senate stimulus bill, obtained by TPMDC, offers a valuable guide to the agencies and programs that are in line for a trim by the time the legislative process is concluded.

The list is constantly changing -- and as an aide to Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) told me, now comes closer to $100 billion in cuts. Senate Democratic leaders suggested during a press briefing this afternoon that they were open to making targeted cuts, although Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) opened his remarks by saying that every $100 billion "we lop off" the bill represents jobs left un-created and un-filled.

Among the areas being eyed for cuts by the centrists, here are the most notable and/or controversial:

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A very strange thing just occurred in the Minnesota election trial, with Al Franken's lawyers trying to raise the possibility that unnamed Coleman workers may have tampered with ballots.

Yesterday, Franken attorney David Lillehaug began presenting a case that a number of ballots had been lost in Washington County during the recount, improperly giving Norm Coleman a net "gain" of ten votes. This is important because a potential remedy for this would be to default to the Election Night totals for affected precincts.

Lillehaug continued to examine county elections officer Kevin Corbid today, and had Corbid narrate a curious story from Election Night. At about 2 a.m., two men showed up who said they were from the Coleman campaign, saying they wanted to observe the process of ballots coming in. Corbid said the men stayed for several hours -- they were still there in the parking lot when he himself left the office at 5 a.m. -- and mostly stayed in the lobby.

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Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have come up with a list of about $100 billion* in programs they want slashed from the stimulus package, according to a working draft of a staff paper outlining the cuts. The linked document includes a list of $77.9B. But an aide to Sen. Nelson tells TPMDC that the latest negotiations come closer to the $100B mark.

Among the biggest cuts under discussion: $24.8 billion in state stabilization money for education, which was intended to plug existing budget holes; $15 billion in state incentive grants for education; and $1.4 billion for the National Science Foundation, which is wracked by a porn-viewership flap. Pell Grants were the biggest program to survive the debate over cuts, with $13.9 billion staying intact.

Senate Democratic leaders are likely to bring this package up for a floor vote today, aiming to achieve a filibuster-proof margin in support of these cuts before pushing to pass the entire stimulus by day's end. Hang onto your hats.

*Late Update: It's important to note that the list is a working draft. Negotiations on which programs to cut or save are moving so rapidly that the list is best viewed as a guidepost for what spending trims are being eyed by Nelson and Collins' centrist alliance, which unofficially includes upwards of a dozen senators at this point.

"They're looking at further cuts in addition to what you see on that," a Nelson spokesman told me, estimating that the current total in sliced spending is now closer to $100 billion. He declined to confirm which elements of the cut list have been removed or increased in size.

With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) aiming to pass the stimulus before tomorrow, the final list of cuts could come to a vote within the next several hours.

Later Context Update: No matter what you think of the worthiness of the programs Nelson and Collins want to slice, their political goal is clear -- getting enough support to bring the stimulus bill out of reach of a GOP filibuster.

After meeting with President Obama, Collins said she has his support for a bill in the neighborhood of $800 billion. Since the stimulus is topping out above the $900 billion mark now, that would mean that the Nelson-Collins cuts have become the best hope for getting the recovery plan over the finish line.

The Minnesota Supreme Court just finished hearing arguments in Al Franken's lawsuit to obtain an immediate certificate of election, and it has become clear that the court faces a very tough choice: Issue an election certificate now, which would have a theoretical chance of being undone later by pending litigation, and to do so against the commonly-understood meaning of state statutes -- or have Minnesota go without two seats in the Senate for months.

The justices grilled everybody involved. Justice Paul Anderson asked lead Franken lawyer Marc Elias whether the certificate is truly necessary, and whether the court has to intervene. "The Senate has plenary authority to seat whoever they want," Elias replied. "They could declare me the next Senator. But like this court, the Senate has rules."

Elias' argument is that the Senate has rules pertaining to certificates of election, as we saw in the Roland Burris case, and that Minnesota is unconstitutionally shirking its obligation to send a certificate in time for the Senate to meet.

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