TPM News

Since the House vote today to refer to the ethics committee the question of what Democratic leaders knew about former Rep. Eric Massa before news of harassment allegations broke publicly, it's worth looking at the timeline of what we know so far.

At some point in or before October 2009, Massa took out to dinner a member of Rep. Barney Frank's committee staff, Frank said in a statement today. The staffer told another Frank staffer, who in turn told Frank's co-chief of staff, Maria Giesta.

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Government watchdog groups who draw a link between corruption and the special project budget requests known as earmarks say Congress "must do more." House Democrats announced yesterday a ban on directing budget funds to for-profit companies. House Republicans followed up with a decision they wouldn't request any earmarks at all, for one year.

The Democratic proposal would strike about $1.7 billion in requests, the House Appropriations committee estimates. The move has potentially large budget implications but hasn't been met with a partner promise in the Senate.

"It's a positive step forward in both cases. Those earmarks are ground zero for pay to play, and is clearly one of the major areas people are trying to turn thousands of dollars in campaign contributions into millions of dollars in taxpayer money in the form of earmarks," Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense said in an interview today.

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Less than two months after Gov. David Paterson selected a politically connected group of investors, including rapper Jay-Z, to build a casino at a Queens race track, the governor's office today canceled the deal, reportedly because the investors didn't release sufficient financial information.

The Times reports:

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The group leading a renewed push for the public option tells TPMDC it's planning to target Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) for saying yesterday that he may urge Democrats against passing a public option.

Durbin told reporters Wednesday that, in order to get health care passed quickly, leadership may ask Democrats to oppose all amendments -- including any with a public option.

"We have to tell people, 'You just have to swallow hard' and say that putting an amendment on this is either going to stop it or slow it down, and we just can't let it happen," Durbin said, according to Roll Call.

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The same Washington lobbyist who led the sub-prime mortgage industry's successful bid to shoot down government efforts to curtail risky lending is now helping pay-day lenders to water down the financial-regulatory reform bill currently before Congress.

Wright Andrews has developed a niche representing some of the least sympathetic and most predatory players in the financial industry. A veteran lawyer-lobbyist and one-time aide to Democratic senator Sam Nunn, Andrews has lobbied extensively of late for a trade association for pay-day lenders -- which offer short-term, high-interest loans to the working poor, often triggering a cycle of debt for their customers. During the last decade, Andrews ran three different trade groups for the sub-prime mortgage industry, whose home loans defaulted in massive numbers to set off the financial crisis.

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A report in Roll Call contains some unwelcome news for Democrats:

"The Senate Parliamentarian has ruled that President Barack Obama must sign Congress' original health care reform bill before the Senate can act on a companion reconciliation package, senior GOP sources said Thursday," the article reads.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's spokesman Don Stewart confirms this to me: "The Senate Parliamentarian's office has informed Senate Republicans that reconciliation instructions require the measure to make changes in law," Stewart said.

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The White House announced the 10 charities where President Obama will donate the winnings from his Nobel Peace Prize. Among them is the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund to help with recovery from the massive earthquake earlier this year.

"These organizations do extraordinary work in the United States and abroad helping students, veterans and countless others in need. I'm proud to support their work." Obama said in a statement.

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The clash between the White House and Supreme Court sparked anew this afternoon as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs challenged Chief Justice John Roberts' criticism of the president's State of the Union address.

"It didn't seem like a pep rally to me," Gibbs said today at his daily briefing with reporters, responding to Roberts telling law students this week he didn't seen the point in the high court attending the State of the Union.

The spat started at the address when President Obama said he strongly disagreed with the court's decision in the Citizens United case on campaign finance. At the time as cameras zoomed in for the rate moment of judicial branch criticism, Justice Samuel Alito mouthed "not true."

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