TPM News

Ken Melson, the embattled acting head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), told Congressional investigators that he became "sick to his stomach" after learning details of the troubled anti-gun-trafficking program called Fast and Furious.

Melson on Tuesday testified for the first time before investigators for the House Oversight and Government Reform and Senate Judiciary Committees, which have been pummeling the administration with questions about controversial tactics to stop the flow of weapons from the U.S. to Mexican drug cartels. Melson, who appeared in a private meeting before the panel with his own personal counsel rather than Justice Department attorneys, said DOJ officials had prevented him from cooperating with Congress' investigations thus far.

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The Democrats' vote-counter in the House of Representatives says the GOP will need his help to raise the national debt limit -- but they won't get it if they don't put everything on the table, including tax revenues.

"Speaker Boehner needed Democratic votes to pass keeping government running, even at minimal levels," Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told reporters at his weekly Capitol briefing, in response to a question from TPM. "So my presumption is [Senator] Schumer is right."

Schumer was the first Democratic leader to argue that the GOP can't raise the debt limit without agreeing to new tax revenues -- something they've thus far refused. Hoyer says he won't pitch in Democratic votes unless Republicans relent.

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The Republican National Committee has a new TV ad for national cable, likening President Obama's economic record to a roller-coaster, and a speeding car -- and to a fiery car-wreck. And just in case you didn't get the message...another car crash, a train-wreck, and a car speeding off a dock into the water.

"He promised to change direction," the announcer says, as visuals begin of a roller-coaster climbing a big incline, and a car speeding up, all from a passenger's-eye view. "800 billion in stimulus, trillions for government health care. Two million jobs -- gone. Left turn after left turn, America's headed the wrong way fast. Six million foreclosures, 14 trillion in debt, 500 billion in higher taxes, and the worst long-term unemployment in generations.

Then comes the pyrotechnics of the various vehicular disasters listed above: "Don't let Obama drive us to disaster -- change direction."

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Algae holds great promise as a source of biofuel: it's rich in oil like corn, but it can be cultivated without competing for land with food crops, and researchers are developing energy-efficient ways to process it.

Recent tests have demonstrated that algae is a viable fuel for long-distance flights, and for use in naval helicopters. But questions still loom over the private sector's ability to produce sufficient quantities for widespread, routine use.

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For months, the high-stakes stand-off over raising the debt ceiling and cutting the deficit has proceeded from two basic premises -- that Republicans would take their toys and go home the minute Democrats proposed significant new tax revenues, and that Social Security's long-term shortfall would not be on the table in this round of negotiating.

Two weeks ago, that first assumption proved true: Democrats proposed a few hundred billion in new tax revenues (a small fraction of the trillions of dollars in spending cuts Republicans are demanding) so GOP principals threw up their hands and abandoned the discussions. But the second assumption isn't built on bedrock. And in recent weeks, congressional aides, strategists, and advocates have been floating, or warning of, a stealth change to the Social Security benefit structure that has quietly been placed on the negotiating table.

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Easily moving to the front of the GOP pack, Mitt Romney raised $18.25 million over the last quarter for his presidential campaign.

While Romney, whose team now has $12.6 million cash left on hand, is in a strong position, the latest numbers were somewhat below expectations. At this point in 2007, Romney had collected $23 million despite being less established as a top tier candidate. But he's essentially competing against himself at this point: none of his rivals are expected to even crack the $10 million barrier.

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National Democrats are playing hardball in the Wisconsin recall elections in the run up to the first election since Republicans eliminated some state worker collective bargaining rights at the urging of Gov. Scott Walker (R).

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the arm of the national party charged with boosting Democratic numbers in state houses, is going up with a TV ad defending one of their own in a Wisconsin recall contest. The spot takes no prisoners when it comes to the Republican candidate's long court record, a tone that's likely music to the ears of Walker's opponents in the Badger State.

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Minnesota lawmakers took the holiday weekend to cool off from the heated budget negotiations that led to the state's government shutdown last week.

But the time apart hasn't eased the deadlock. Lawmakers are grappling over how to close a $5 billion projected budget deficit. Republicans -- who control the state's legislature -- want to balance the budget with spending cuts, while Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is looking to combine spending cuts with a tax increase on Minnesota's millionaires.

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