TPM News

The White House fiscal responsibility summit and the recently passed economic stimulus law continue to take up much of the capital's attention today -- but don't forget the $410 billion spending bill that the House is slated to approve by Thursday. The government is technically only funded until the first week of March, meaning that time is short to wind up the 2009 appropriations cycle.

Want to know what's in the massive spending measure? You can download each section of the bill right here.

But a more important question might be what's not in the 2009 spending bill. The Medicaid family-planning aid that was removed from the stimulus amid Republican attacks, for one, is nowhere to be found in the Health and Human Services title of the 2009 spending measure.

One wonders if that absence will draw fire from women's health advocates, some of whom believed the family-planning provision could make a quick comeback after it got dumped earlier this month. When GOP governors such as Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty are using Medicaid family-planning money as an excuse to cut their budgets, how can congressional conservatives get away with slamming the program as taxpayer-funded abortions?

Five years after that whole mess over forged documents about then-President Bush's service in the National Guard, CBS News sure seems to be trying awfully hard to convince the GOP that they aren't a Dem outlet.

Here's a very interesting piece of information about Jeff Ballabon, the Republican lobbyist and political strategist who was just hired by CBS News to be the new CBS News senior vice president for communications. During the 2008 election, Ballabon wasn't shy about courting Jewish voters and telling them just how dangerous Barack Obama is when it comes to Israel.

Here's what he told the Orthodox paper Hamodia:

Obama is incredibly dangerous. Not because he is evil, but because he is naive. Agreeing to meet -- without any pre-conditions -- with the terror-supporting president of Iran shows his naivete. And even his Jewish advisors want to pressure Israel to divide Yerushalayim and to make sacrifices of defensive positions against the will of the military and security experts in Israel. They want desperately to appease the UN, the Europeans, the Arabs.


On the bright side, Ballabon is denying an allegation that he called Democrats evil. Greg Sargent reports:

"I never said Democrats are evil," he told me by phone just now. "My mother is a Democrat."

Asked whether he would have any impact at all on editorial content at CBS, Ballabon said: "No."

But Ballabon wouldn't comment further, and he declined to say whether he still thinks Obama is "incredibly dangerous."

So today was the day that Karl Rove was supposed to appear before the House Judiciary committee to testify about the US Attorney firings. And of course, Rove didn't show.

That wasn't a surprise. After getting the deadline pushed back, Rove had already publicly indicated he didn't plan on being there, citing President Bush's claim of executive privilege. Rove's lawyer had then asked for a second postponement, a request that Judiciary chair John Conyers had declined to grant.

It's a bit unclear where things go now. The next key date is March 4th -- the new deadline for the Obama administration to weigh in on the Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten case, in which President Bush also asserted executive privilege. The new administration's stance on that case could well also determine how a judge would rule on the Rove case, should the issue go to court.

And given Rove's continuing failure to cooperate, it looks like that's where we're heading.

When an early copy of the agenda for today's White House fiscal summit leaked out on Friday, I half-jokingly questioned the wisdom of choosing Bill Lynn -- a former senior lobbyist for defense giant Raytheon who had to get a waiver from administration ethics rules to join the Pentagon -- to help lead a session on responsibility in contracting and procurement.

Now the final list of speakers at today's summit has been released, and guess who mysteriously disappeared from the list? Instead of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Transportation Secretary (and earmark fan) Ray LaHood, and Lynn, the Procurement session will now be led by Napolitano, Rahm Emanuel, and Jacob Lew.

Lew, incidentally, comes to the administration from Citigroup, where he headed an alternative investments unit that "ran up hundreds of millions of dollars in losses last year on [an] esoteric collection of investments ... even as they collected seven-figure salaries and bonuses," as the New York Times reported earlier this month.

I hate to ask the same question twice, but on a day when Citigroup is generating headlines like this one, is Lew the best choice to replace Lynn on this "fiscal responsibility" panel?

There are plenty of reasons liberals should like today's entitlement summit. My colleague, Elana Schor, notes them here and TAP's Ezra Klein here. Bob Greenstein, head of the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, made the liberal case for alarm in his remarks. He notes that the problem is primarily a health care problem If health care costs could just be brought in line with economic growth we'd be largely okay. "We will need to act before mounting debt and interest payments make this problem worse than it already is. The mere fact that Greenstein has such a prominent role addressing the conference ought to be of comfort to liberals. If that wasn't enough, OMB Director Peter Orszag made it clear that "health care reform is entitlement reform."

The New York Times reports this morning that the White House had abandoned plans to unveil a Social Security "task force" at today's fiscal summit, raising the question of whether the Obama administration is ready to conduct separate debate over the long-term health of Social Security and Medicare -- or whether the tired canard of "dangerous entitlement spending" will continue to rule the political roost.

One liberal activist who weighed in against the proposed task force told me that some within the administration are ready to attempt "one more fix" for Social Security, thinking of the 70-year-old benefits program "as an equation to be solved" and the Obama team as the mathematicians on the case.

Read More →

John Thain is staying mum about the billion-dollar bonuses he approved just weeks before Merrill Lynch came under the control of Bank of America.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is investigating the controversial Merrill bonuses, has filed a motion in court, seeking to compel Thain to talk about the subject, reports Reuters. Cuomo's office says that during his sit-down with investigators last week, Thain refused to do so, claiming that Bank of America has told him to keep quiet.

Cuomo's office is alleging that B of A is "obstructing and interfering" with his investigation.

That probe is seeking to determine what Bank of America knew, and when, about Merrill's decision to award the bonuses, and about the massive losses that Merrill absorbed in the fourth quarter of last year, before it was formally taken over by B of A, but after the takeover had been announced.

B of A CEO Ken Lewis was subpoenaed last week, and another company exec was subpoenaed, along with Thain, before that.

Late Update: A spokesman for Thain told the Associated Press that Thain "would answer questions about individual bonuses if compelled by the court order."

Relatively few Americans had heard of Allen Stanford until the last week or so. But it turns out that, over the last decade, the Texas billionaire had attracted the scrutiny of a range of government authorities, and been the subject of several civil suits -- so much so that it's hard to believe it took until last week for him to be formally charged.

Let's recap what we know about the various inquiries, investigations, and lawsuits focused on Stanford's sprawling financial empire over the last decade:

Circa 1998

- Stanford writes in a letter to the US ambassador to Antigua that he has been investigated by numerous agencies over the years, and none had found evidence of wrongdoing.

1999

- After Stanford finds that a former Mexican drug lord had used his bank to hide or launder money, he voluntarily makes out a cashier's check worth $3.1 million, and gives it to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

- The Treasury Department places Antigua -- where Stanford's business is based, and with whose government he is cozy -- on its money-laundering watch list.

Circa 1999

- Texas securities regulators find evidence of potential money laundering involving Stanford. They refer it to the FBI and the SEC, because it involves offshore banks. Texas securities commissioner Denise Voigt Crawford later tells the state legislative committee: "Why it took 10 years for the feds to move on it, I cannot answer." She added: "We worked with the FBI and the SEC and basically gave them the case. We told them what we'd seen and they were going to run with it."

2005

- A lawsuit filed in Florida accuses Stanford of aiding a Ponzi scheme.

2006

- The SEC's Fort Worth office opens an investigation into Stanford's business, but is asked by another agency to "stand down," and complies. (Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who chairs the House Domestic Policy subcommittee, asked late last week that the agency turn over documents related to that sequence of events.)

2006

- A second Florida lawsuit, this one filed by a former employee, accused Stanford of being involved in a Ponzi scheme.

2007

- Two former employees sue Stanford, alleging fraud.

- The SEC finds, during a routine exam, that Stanford's Houston-based broker-dealer operation is violating net capital requirements. The firm pays a $20,000 fine.

- Stanford Financial pays a $10,000 fine to FINRA in response to allegations that it gave out "misleading, unfair and unbalanced information" about its certificates of deposit.

2008

- Stanford Financial pays a $30,000 fine to FINRA in response to allegations that it didn't adequately disclose in its research reports its method for valuing certain securities, among other information.

- FBI opens an investigation into whether Stanford laundered drug money for Mexico's violent Gulf Cartel. Mexican authorities detained one of Stanford's private planes after officials found checks inside believed to be connected to the cartel. (The DEA also at some point probed Stanford for laundering drug money.)

- That inquiry into Stanford by the SEC's Fort Worth office is reopened, in the wake of widespread criticism of the agency for failing to catch Bernard Madoff's alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme, and for de-emphasizing enforcement in recent years.

2009

- SEC files charges against Stanford, alleging "massive ongoing fraud."

As we reported last week, there's strong reason to believe that the SEC should have pushed harder on Stanford sooner. The long history of inquiries that failed to uncover Stanford's alleged $8 billion fraud only strengthens that notion.

Now this is funny. In the Minnesota Senate trial, the Coleman campaign is now accusing the Franken team of cherry-picking votes.

Coleman spokesman Mark Drake told Minnesota Public Radio that Franken's revised list of rejected absentee ballots, which are being submitted for review and potential counting, is skewed towards Franken-supporters. "The time has come for all the valid votes of Minnesotans to count, not just the ones that favor one candidate over another," said Drake, projecting a high-minded image of small-d democracy.

Keep in mind that the Coleman camp insisted early on in this trial that they weren't cherry-picking, and for all they knew they might have been advocating on behalf of unopened votes for Franken. But during the trial, they've been very clearly revealed to have cherry-picked their own votes. And local newspapers have shown how tilted his own list is.

Read More →

We told you last week about a growing note of discord between House and Senate Republicans' political message on mortgage aid. While House conservatives lambaste the Obama administration's $75 billion foreclosure plan as too pricey, their Senate counterparts are continuing to back a $121 billion-plus mortgage proposal from Columbia University professor and former Bush economic adviser Glenn Hubbard.

Now the intra-party tension over housing is becoming harder and harder to mask, as Roll Call reports (sub. req'd):

The [Senate GOP's] plan would potentially cover trillions of dollars of real estate and cost taxpayers up to $300 billion in subsidies. It's the sort of big-government spending plan that House Republicans have been railing against -- at least when they come from the lips of Democrats.

But House Republican leaders have avoided criticizing their more centrist Senate brethren, preferring to focus their fire on Democratic plans to bail out struggling homeowners instead, like Obama's $275 billion proposal announced last week to rework distressed mortgages to prevent foreclosures.

TPMLivewire