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President Obama's budget, released last week and downloadable here, is almost ten times shorter than the economic recovery law passed last month, but it packs just as big an ideological punch as the stimulus.

Both the presidential and congressional budgets set frameworks for future spending without instituting binding new policies, but the dense documents are considered important "statements of priorities" for the party in power. In the case of Obama and his Democrats, one priority emerges most clearly from the budget: spreading wealth around for the common good (apologies for the Joe the Plumber reference).

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DNC chairman Tim Kaine just appeared on Fox News, and took the opportunity to dig in against Rush Limbaugh's "leadership role" in the Republican Party, and how this is endangering the country in a time of crisis.

See more at FoxNews.com.

Fox host Jon Scott brought up the recent Limbaugh-Steele flap, and asked Kaine: "Democrats are sort of enjoying this, aren't they?"

"Well you know, yeah -- in a way, yes," said Kaine. "But it's a lot at stake when somebody who is in a leadership role -- as Rush Limbaugh clearly is -- states that he wants for the president to fail, and he is followed in that by members of Congress voting against the Recovery Act. That's pretty dire, given our situation right now."

Kaine then went after Michael Steele's apology for having offended Rush, and Steele's having backed down from what Kaine said was a "courageous" comment. "You know, it left a lot of us wondering, who's really in charge? Kaine said. "It seems like Rush Limbaugh is kind of the He Who Must Be Obeyed these days in the Republican Party."

Finally, Kaine played up the national interest: "Again, we're in a time of national crisis. And the shouters aren't gonna get us through it. It's gonna be problem-solvers who will, and that's what we need from both parties right now."

There's an interesting detail buried in those OLC memos released yesterday, that perhaps hasn't gotten the attention it deserves.

In the January 15, 2009 memo written by then-acting OLC head Steven Bradbury -- in which he repudiated many of the previous OLC memos that articulated an expansive view of presidential power in the war on terror -- there's a footnote stressing that the memo is not "intended to suggest in any way that the attorneys involved in the preparation of the opinions in question did not satisfy all applicable standards of professional responsibility."

Why would Bradbury have gone out of his way to make this point -- especially in the context of repudiating those opinions?

Perhaps because the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility has been working on a report on whether OLC lawyers violated standards of professional responsibility when they approved harsh interrogation tactics like water-boarding. And, as Newsweek revealed last month, a draft of the report is sharply critical of three senior OLC lawyers in particular -- John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury.

The report's release was delayed after then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy Mark Filip objected that responses from Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury should be included. As of February 6, Attorney General Eric Holder had not yet reviewed the report, and it had not yet been turned over to Congress.

So the fact that the earlier memos have been repudiated could potentially still affect the OPR report's conclusions about the lawyers' actions. As a result, Bradbury would have had good reason to explicitly state in his recent OLC memo that the repudiation of the original opinions did not bear on issues of professional responsibility.

It'll be interesting to see, when the OPR report is released, whether its authors agree with that take.

The new Marist poll has some truly horrible news for David Paterson, saying that he could lose both primary and general elections in landslides.

In a primary against Andrew Cuomo, Paterson is behind by an amazing 62%-26% margin. In a general election match-up with Rudy Giuliani, Paterson gets crushed by 53%-38%, while Cuomo beats Rudy by 56%-39%.

The poll is a whole lot better for newly-appointed Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, though it's not great. Gillibrand edges former GOP Governor George Pataki 45%-41%, and is ahead of GOP Congressman Peter King 49%-28%. In a Democratic primary, Gillibrand is in a near-tie with pro-gun-control Congressman Carolyn McCarthy, with 36% for Gillibrand and 33% for McCarthy.

Here's a sign of just how awful Paterson's ratings are: His approval numbers are worse than Eliot Spitzer's were, when he was in the middle of the prostitution scandal that forced his resignation. Just before he resigned, Spitzer had a 30% excellent/good rating and 64% fair/poor in the Marist poll. By comparison, Paterson is at only 26%-71%.

Another person to feel sorry for here is former Congressman Rick Lazio (R), who ran against Hillary Clinton for the Senate in 2000 -- he actually manages to trail Paterson in a possible gubernatorial match-up by a 47%-35% margin.

So what to make of those Bush administration legal memos, formulating counter-terrorism policy, that the Justice Department released yesterday?

The key news seems to be that at least ten of the opinions issued by the department's Office of Legal Counsel in the early years of the War on Terror -- outlining an expansive view of executive power -- were later deemed flawed and ordered withdrawn. We had previously known that this had occurred with just two such opinions.

In one memo, John Yoo argued that during wartime, the president could ignore free speech protections and could order warrantless searches. In another, the Bush DOJ claimed that detainees could be sent to countries that commit human rights abuses, as long as the US did not intentionally seek their torture. Five days before Bush left office, both of these opinions and several others were repudiated in a separate "memorandum for the Files" by Stephen Bradbury, then the acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel. That document was also released yesterday.

Other Bush administration memos that were later withdrawn argued that the president could unilaterally abrogate foreign treaties; could ignore guidance from Congress in dealing with terrorist suspects being detained; and could conduct warrantless wiretapping.

Since the release of the memos yesterday, expert opinion has essentially been united in denouncing the opinions.

Walter Dellinger, who ran OLC during the Clinton administration tells the New York Times that the Bradbury memo "disclaiming the opinions of earlier Bush lawyers sets out in blunt detail how irresponsible those earlier opinions were."

Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch speaking to the Washington Post, singles out the memo that allowed the administration to send detainees to countries that commit human rights abuses. "That is [the Office of Legal Counsel] telling people how to get away with sending someone to a nation to be tortured," Daskal said. "The idea that the legal counsel's office would be essentially telling the president how to violate the law is completely contrary to the purpose and the role of what a legal adviser is supposed to do."

Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington, focuses on the memo that gave the administration the power to conduct warrantless wiretapping. Writing on the blog The Volokh Conspiracy, Kerr calls the argument that FISA doesn't apply to national security issues -- which appears to be the memo's argument -- "an extremely lame analysis." He continues: "Much of the point of FISA was to regulate that."*

And Salon's Glenn Greenwald is particularly outraged by an opinion arguing that the president can deploy the US military inside the US, directed at both foreign nationals and US citizens. Greenwald calls this "nothing less than an explicit decree that, when it comes to Presidential power, the Bill of Rights was suspended, even on U.S. soil and as applied to U.S. citizens."

He concludes:

If this isn't the unadorned face of warped authoritarian extremism, what is?


* This paragraph has been corrected from an earlier version which reported incorrectly that the blog post was written by Eugene Volokh.

When the new Democratic Congress passed a sweeping ethics bill in 2007, controversy erupted over the proposed new "revolving-door" ban on ex-lawmakers and aides lobbying their former colleagues. Senators wanted to double the ban to two years, while House Democrats pushed for keeping a one-year ban that would allow them to nail down lucrative lobbying gigs after leaving the Hill.

But no matter the length of the revolving-door ban, both Republicans and Democrats have long taken advantage of its enormous loophole. Let's call it the "senior adviser" route -- instead of lobbying current lawmakers directly, defeated members of Congress are flocking in droves to become behind-the-scenes consiglieres to the lobbyists that are allowed to contact sitting members.

The "senior adviser" club got another member just this morning ...

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DSCC communications director Eric Schultz just sent TPM this statement in response to the Coleman legal team's suggestion that the election court throw out the whole election result:

"I'm sure Senator John McCain would like to throw out the results of November 4, 2008 as well. I applaud the Coleman campaign for their candor: at least after five weeks in court the Coleman camp is admitting they lost the election, and I also applaud them for their creativity - maybe next they'll suggest aliens from Mars come down to make Norm Coleman Senator again - because that's as far-fetched as asking for a revote when you lose an election. If Senator Coleman wants a revote, he can have one: in 2014 when Senator Franken's first term expires."

The Democrats are clearly more than happy to see leading Republican politicians bow down before Rush Limbaugh, with a new Democratic National Committee press release attacking the GOP for siding with Rush on ... transportation and infrastructure.

Specifically, the release from DNC chairman Tim Kaine praises the infrastructure improvements contained in the stimulus bill, and then lambastes Congressional Republicans for voting No on the bill at Rush's urging:

Today, President Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood unveiled new job-creating infrastructure projects that were made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These projects are helping put Americans back to work while also investing in repairing our crumbling infrastructure. But, instead of joining Democrats in supporting the President's economic recovery plan, almost every single Republican in Congress chose to follow Rush Limbaugh by voting against a plan that will create or save 3.5 million jobs.


And of course, Kaine reminds us that Michael Steele apologized for offending Limbaugh: "Now, instead of the denouncing Limbaugh's claim that he is rooting for the President to fail, my counterpart at the Republican National Committee proved who is really leading their party -- calling Rush Limbaugh to apologize after courageously criticizing him just this weekend."

In short, the Democrats' new message is that the Republican Party is dominated by an obnoxious bully who wants the country to tank -- and the GOP politicians aren't brave enough to stand up to him.

John Sununu has denied the charge that he has a conflict of interest in regard to his work on the Congressional Oversight Panel for the TARP funds.

Over the weekend, we reported that the former New Hampshire GOP senator has joined the board of a firm that's an affiliate of Bank of New York Mellon -- which, in addition to receiving bailout funds itself, has contracted with the Treasury Department to help administer the program.

Yesterday, the Associated Press picked up the story, and got a response out of Sununu.

"ConvergEx Group is an independent company," Sununu said in an e-mail Monday. "It is not eligible to apply for or receive funds through any programs established under TARP." He pointed out that the bank "holds a minority position only" with ConvergEx.


That's a 33.8 percent stake to be exact, the AP reports. Not enough for Bank of New York to control ConvergeEx, but perhaps enough so that ConvergeEx's interests are at least somewhat affected by the TARP program.

Separately, a spokeswoman for the COP told TPMmuckraker that the panel has not yet formally addressed the issue, since it not met since Sununu's appointment to ConvergeEx's board was announced last week. We'll keep you posted if and when it does.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), a strong supporter of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, is launching a full-on battle this week to remove several provisions from the 2009 government spending bill that would open a small crack in the slammed door of relations with Havana.

Menendez fired a broadside at the Obama administration yesterday for backing a provision buried in the $410 billion spending bill, which must become law by next week in order to keep the government running. The New Jersey senator, a Cuban-American, objects to language in the bill that would allow Cuban-Americans to visit relatives on the island once a year and end limits on the sale of American food and medicines in Cuba.

Menendez even suggested yesterday that he might oppose the spending bill if the Cuba provisions were not removed, saying in a floor speech that they "[put] the omnibus appropriations package in jeopardy, in spite of all the other tremendously important funding that this bill would provide.''

Polls suggest that the majority of Cuban-Americans side with the administration, rather than Menendez -- an influential poll of the community, conducted in Florida every year since 1991, found in December that 55% of Cuban-Americans supported lifting the embargo against Havana.

But regardless of where public opinion stands, Menendez's effort is no longer confined to the spending bill. The WaPo reports today that the senator has held up two Obama science nominees in an attempt to twist the arms of his fellow Dems:

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