In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Michael Steele's back-and-forth flirtation with possible primary challenges to the party's pro-stimulus Republicans is now causing him to catch some real flak. And it's not just from those same Republican, but also from conservatives concerned about winning elections -- perhaps indicative of internal strains in the GOP between a hard-line conservative agenda, versus the basic electoral goal of winning office.

Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), a pro-stimulus Republican who will be up for re-election in 2012, told Roll Call that she approached Steele about his comments and asked him bluntly: "You didn't really mean that, did you?" She said that Steele has agreed to set up a meeting with the three pro-stimulus GOPers to discuss this.

Snowe pointed out that the loss of GOP moderates, and the view that they don't belong in the party, has contributed to the party's overall decrease. "When we were in the majority, there were more of us. Now that we're in the minority, there are less of us," Snowe explained, also adding: "If that's what they want to be, well that's their choice."

And NRSC chairman John Cornyn, a right-winger whose job description right now is quite simply to elect more Republicans, said that while Steele has backed off a bit, Republicans should focus on attacking the Democrats and not each other: "We need to be finding candidates that can win in different parts of the country ... not forming circular firing squads, especially when our numbers are so small."

Obama's Day Ahead -- Introducing His Budget President Obama is giving a speech at 9:30 a.m. ET this morning from the White House, at which he will lay out his proposed federal budget. At 2 p.m. ET he will be meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus. Then he and Vice President Biden will meet with Tim Geithner at 3 p.m. ET, and then Hillary Clinton at 3:45 p.m. ET. Finally, the president will hold perhaps the most crucial event of the day at 4:45 p.m. ET: A meeting with members of the Chicago Bulls.

Biden Meeting Kosovar Leaders Later today, Joe Biden will be meeting with a delegation from Kosovo: President Fatmir Sejdiu, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, and Foreign Minister Skender Hyseni.

Report: Deficit To Hit $1.75 Trillion The first Obama budget will reportedly have a projected federal budget deficit of $1.75 trillion, thanks in part to the one-time mass spending/tax-cutting from the $787 billion stimulus bill.The deficit is expected to stay at about $1 trillion for the next two years, before falling to $533 billion in 2013, after the Bush tax cuts on top-earners would have been allowed to expire.

Obama Seeks Tax And Premium Hikes On Top-Earners To Fund Health Care President Obama will reportedly seek $634 billion over the next ten years to fund health care for the uninsured. This would be funded by allowing the Bush tax cuts on top-earners to expire, as well as taking other measures such as charging upper-income beneficiaries higher premiums under the Medicare drug plan, which was passed in 2003 without a thorough plan for how to pay for it.

Bill Clinton Gives Thumbs-Up To Obama Speech In an interview with Greg Sargent, Bill Clinton praised President Obama's Congressional address from Tuesday night, saying it struck the right balance between optimism and realism about the current economic crisis. "I think people appreciate the fact that he's not jerking them around and [is] just telling them the way it is," said Bill. "But they do wanna know that we are gonna get out of this."

Obama's Congressional Address Gets More Than 52 Million Viewers More than 52 million people watched President Obama's speech to Congress on Tuesday -- effectively his first State of the Union -- according to Nielsen Media Research. Note that this is only the measure of how many people watch on TV, and doesn't include people who watched it online. For comparison, then-President George W. Bush's first Congressional address in early 2001 attracted 39.8 million viewers.

Poll: Public Backs Surge For Afghanistan A new ABC/Washington Post poll says that about two-thirds of Americans support the recently-announced increase of 17,000 troops for Afghanistan, a sharp contrast to the opposition to then-President Bush's Iraq surge in polling at the time. On the other hand, the public is split evenly on whether the Afghanistan War has been worth its costs, and only say by a 50%-41% margin that winning in Afghanistan is essential for success in broader efforts against terrorism.

Black Caucus Wants White House Involved In Census CQ reports that the Congressional Black Caucus wants the White House to stay closely involved in the census, a direct counter-point to Republican charges that the Administration might politicize it, due to the importance the program has in allocating federal funds for various programs. Said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA): "I think the census is extremely important, and support for avoiding the undercount takes leadership, and the president has to provide that leadership."

Coleman spokesman/lawyer Ben Ginsberg is really stepping up the rhetoric about how the entire vote count in Minnesota is tainted and unreliable -- and he is quite conspicuously not ruling out the idea of asking for a do-over election.

Ginsberg just held a dramatic press conference in the hallway of the court building, with six easels containing photocopies of absentee ballot envelopes that were already accepted and counted on Election Night. Ginsberg said he had 300 examples of ballots from St. Louis County (Duluth), a Democratic stronghold, where the voters clearly didn't follow instructions and the ballots should not have been accepted.

Ginsberg said this didn't just impugn the reliability of the recount -- it showed the illegality of Election Night totals, too, with the number of illegal votes far greater than the "erstwhile margin" of the race: "It also means with this sort of overwhelming evidence that were the court to certify the Election Night results they would be including illegal votes. And the court's charge is to count legal votes, and that would be a clear contradiction."

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The Minnesota election court just laid down some serious punishment against Norm Coleman's legal team, granting Team Franken's motion to strike the testimony of a key witness involved in Coleman's claim that absentee ballots had been double-counted.

This came about because the witness, election worker Pamela Howell, had typed up some personal notes weeks ago and gave them to the Coleman campaign, who then failed to properly share them with Franken. Without Howell's testimony, the Coleman camp's efforts to show double-counting have been unambiguously damaged.

"The court will issue a written order with further explanation," said Judge Elizabeth Hayden. That further explanation should be interesting to read.

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The Wall St. Journal reports that John Boehner made an interesting observation about the Republican Party's problems: It's simply harder to sell their own ideas to the public, compared to the easy answers offered by the Democrats.

"We have a tougher job than our friends across the aisle. They've been offering Americans a free lunch for the last 80 years, rather successfully," Boehner said, at a lunch hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "Those of us that believe in a smaller, more accountable government, we have a tougher time making our principles relevant to the American people. But it's our challenge, and we've got to do it."

A note about free lunches and small government: Boehner voted in 2003 for the Medicare drug bill, a mega-expensive expansion of entitlement spending with no method laid out on how to pay for it. And the modern GOP's platform is based largely on tax cuts, with the constant claim that they'll result in even more revenue.

Norm Coleman's lawyers just had a very awkward moment in court, in their attempt to prove that absentee ballots were double-counted -- it turns out they've failed to share evidence with the Franken camp, involving a key witness.

The Coleman camp called Pamela Howell, a Republican election worker in Minneapolis, who said she heard another election judge exclaim that they had forgotten to properly label duplicates of absentee ballots that had been too damaged for the machines to count. She also said she did not recall whether they had made a note of this in the precinct incident logs.

Franken lawyer David Lillehaug then got up, setting out to impugn Howell as an unreliable, partisan witness. She admitted that she called up Coleman's legal team during the recount, informing them of the problem. Lillehaug then asked her if she'd spoken to the lawyers before her testimony today. "Not today," she said. He then asked if she ever spoke to them about her testimony. Yes, she did.

It was then revealed that several weeks ago she made notes on her computer, taking down the information she would need to know for her testimony. She gave a copy to the Coleman side -- and the Franken camp had never received it.

(By the way, this exchange included a fun bit where Lillehaug asked if her notes had a file name, and she said no. After some more direct questions, she said it was saved on her machine under the name "testimony.")

There then followed a contentious sidebar, after which Judge Elizabeth Hayden confirmed with lead Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg that he would be willing to serve a copy to Franken. They then went into a brief recess.

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After a series of rulings that have seriously hurt his ability to get new votes into the count, the Coleman campaign is now trying to pull off something of a Hail Mary pass to get ballots in -- and of course, the Franken camp wants to stop them.

Yesterday, the Coleman camp sent e-mails to county officials, asking them to certify that selected absentee voters whose ballots have been rejected did in fact meet all the legal requirements pertaining to voter-registration. The Franken campaign jumped on this immediately, sending messages to the counties to not respond, and filing a motion with the court to forbid it.

This morning's arguments got pretty heated. Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton argued that this violated all the basic rules of evidence -- officials are being asked to phone it in, rather than testify in court and be subject to cross-examination.

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Reuters picked up TPMDC's story from yesterday on the union federation Change to Win's request to deny bailout money to Principal Financial Group.

Curiously, Principal executives told Reuters that they have "not taken a position on the Employee Free Choice Act, nor do we plan to take such a position."

The company did not deny lobbying on the union-organizing legislation in its statement, so we can only presume that spent money last year to tell Congress it took no position on the Secret Ballot Protection Act, which appears on its public disclosure reports. That Secret Ballot plan was intended as a direct counter-attack on the union-backed Employee Free Choice push, as this statement from a supportive conservative group makes clear.

A response to Principal from Change to Win's Michael Garland, director of value strategies for the union's investment group, follows after the jump.

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At the request of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently examined the impact of three alternative "policy scenarios" on our current budget deficit, expected to hit $1.5 trillion for 2009. Their conclusions were fascinating -- or troubling, depending on your degree of fiscal hawkishness.

Pelosi Scenario One can be defined as the nation's real status quo, assuming that the stimulus bill remains a one-off law that does not change future budgetary estimates. The alternative minimum tax is also assumed to be indexed for inflation every year -- something Congress never fails to do -- and current spending on Medicare doctors' fees as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are assumed to continue at their current rates. The result is unnerving:

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The substance of health care reform is on everyone's mind in the Capitol these days, as Republican senators examine just how much cooperation is possible with the president's party. But what's been less clear is the timeframe for consideration of a major health bill ...

... until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) just cleared it up. "I'd like to get health care started before the August recess," he told reporters today. Started, but not necessarily finished -- when leaders give themselves a deadline, they tend to choose their words carefully. Sounds like GOP hopes for "regular order" might become reality.

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