TPM News

The budget reconciliation flame wars continue today, with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad reiterating once again his aversion to using the process as a vehicle for health care reform legislation. In a conference call with reporters, Conrad, for the first time, moved beyond simply reiterating his aversion to the tactic and addressed the fact that reconciliation may be the only hope for reform. But he still hasn't addressed the merits of the plan proposed by reconciliation supporters.

Here's what he said:

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In the highly competitive race for the title of "Stupidest Recent Financial Decision Made By A Government Official", this one's got to be a strong contender....

The Boston Globe reports:

Just months before the start of last year's stock market collapse, the federal agency that insures the retirement funds of 44 million Americans departed from its conservative investment strategy and decided to put much of its $64 billion insurance fund into stocks.

Switching from a heavy reliance on bonds, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation decided to pour billions of dollars into speculative investments such as stocks in emerging foreign markets, real estate, and private equity funds.

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President Obama is about to administer tough medicine to GM and Chrysler, giving them 60 days and 30 days, respectively, to formulate workable plans for financial survival -- in addition to securing the resignation of GM CEO Rick Wagoner.

Wagoner's departure hardly comes as a shock, given that the once-mighty General Motors began its current swoon under his stewardship. But Michiganders and Wall Street analysts alike are pointedly asking the same question Josh raised last night at the TPM mothership: Why did the Obama administration call for Wagoner's head but allow ineffectual banking CEOs to stay on the job and the government dole?

Here's how Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (MI), the third-ranked House Republican leader, put it to Reuters:

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Kirsten Gillibrand has recorded a new robocall getting out the vote for Scott Murphy, the Democratic candidate in tomorrow's special election to fill her old House seat:



"Scott Murphy will work with me and President Obama to get our economy moving again," said Gillibrand. "This is going to be a very close election, and Scott needs your support."

This past Friday's Siena poll, which showed Murphy taking a four-point lead after having trailed throughout the campaign, gave Gillibrand a favorable rating of 76% to only 18% unfavorable, and Obama had a favorable of 65%-28%. So as much as robocalls are normally pretty annoying things, having Gillibrand call and name-drop Obama might not be such a bad idea.

The Minnesota election dispute has now lasted for almost five months, with the seat vacant for the last three of them -- but that might just be the beginning, with NRSC chairman John Cornyn telling the Politico that it could take "years" to resolve.

Cornyn, of course, is promising Republican resistance to any potential effort to seat Al Franken while Norm Coleman continues to challenge the result. And Cornyn is clear that this means Franken can't be certified the winner if Coleman takes it to the federal courts, not just at the state level. But Cornyn seems to be going into new territory when he says it could take "years" to fix this thing.

TPM asked DSCC communications director Eric Schultz for comment. "Republicans have made it clear they will hold this Senate seat hostage in order to pursue their political agenda - at the hefty expense of Minnesota having full representation in Congress," said Schultz. "We're all awaiting the three-judge panel to return its verdict, and once they do, we will have yet another confirmation that Al Franken won the election - and hopefully he can get to Washington to do the job he was elected to do."

Immigration courts are too backed up to provide speedy trials for tens of thousands of immigrants, according to a USA Today study released this weekend. Based on a review of court cases between 2003 and 2008, the study found that almost 90,000 accused illegal immigrants had to wait at least two years to have their case heard before a judge and 14,000 had to wait nearly five years. A spokesman for the American Immigration Lawyers Association said that U.S. immigration courts, which only employ 224 judges, simply do not have enough resources. San Francisco immigration judge Dana Marks told USA Today, "you could have a case that would take an hour (to hear). But I can't give you that hour of time for 14 months." (USA Today)

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Obama Rolling Out Restructuring of Auto Industry -- And Boardrooms President Obama is set to roll out his new terms for aiding the auto industry, with some big changes already in the works -- most notably, the administration has demanded and received the resignation of General Motors CEO Richard Wagoner. The government is also calling for Chrysler to partner with Italian automaker Fiat, and for GM to come up with a new business plan, after the government has rejected the proposals from both companies.

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will be speaking at 11 a.m. from the Grand Foyer of the White House, delivering remarks on the new plan for the auto industry. At 12:15 p.m. ET he will meet with Robert Gates. At 3 p.m. he will sign the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, and at 5:30 p.m. ET he will meet with the House Democratic Caucus.

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The media has quickly coalesced around a consensus that this Tuesday's special election for Kirsten Gillibrand's old House seat is the first real electoral test for President Obama.

Indeed, there are many important issues here, like the stimulus bill and the Republican case that the AIG bonuses can be blamed on the Dems. But the White House's own clout is now in the mix, thanks to the recent endorsement by President Obama of Democratic candidate Scott Murphy, and the radio ad from a few days ago starring Vice President Biden.

So here are some recent updates:

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Obama: Afghanistan Is "America's War" In his interview on CBS' Face The Nation, President Obama was asked whether the Afghanistan War was now his war. "I think it's America's war," said Obama. "What we want to do is to refocus attention on al Qaeda. We are going to root out their networks, their bases. We are gonna make sure that they cannot attack U.S. citizens, U.S. soil, U.S. interests, and our allies' interests around the world."

Petraeus: "I Wouldn't Necessarily" Agree With Cheney That Obama Is Making Us Less Safe Appearing on CNN's State of the Union with John King, Gen. David Petraeus was asked his opinion of Dick Cheney's comments that President Obama's decisions were increasing the risk of a terrorist attack. "Well, I wouldn't necessarily agree with that, John. I think that, in fact, there is a good debate going on about the importance of values in all that we do," said Petraeus, outlining his own opposition to torture.

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Obama Reaches Out To Flood Victims In Video Address In this weekend's YouTube address, President Obama discussed the support the federal government is giving to people in flood-damaged areas of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota:



"For at moments like these, we are reminded of the power of nature to disrupt lives and endanger communities," said Obama. "But we are also reminded of the power of individuals to make a difference."

Gregg In RNC Address: Obama's Budget An Extraordinary Move To The Left In this weekend's Republican YouTube, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) -- who very nearly became President Obama's Secretary of Commerce -- lays out the Republican case against Obama's proposed budget:



"These are staggering numbers and represent an extraordinary move of our government to the left," said Gregg.

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