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In addition to his work on executive compensation limits, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) has also earned a reputation for pinning down government officials on touchy issues stemming from the financial bailout.

Today was no exception, as Sherman pressed Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on the central bank's ostensibly unlimited ability to lend money "in unusual and exigent circumstances." With the Obama administration today proposing $1 trillion more in Fed lending backed by an infusion of TARP bailout money -- on top of an existing Fed balance sheet that tops out at $1.8 trillion -- Sherman asked Bernanke whether he was willing to accept any limits on his lending.

The answer was yes. But Bernanke's limit might be higher than some Americans can believe: $12 trillion. That's more than the entire debt limit of the U.S. government (now $11.3 trillion), from which the Fed is independent.

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I'm told old friends, Joe Biden and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, had a good private meeting yesterday, one of many meetings the vice president and senior administration officials have been having and will have with top labor leaders. (If the labor movement wasn't so atomized they might have all gone in together.) "No real news coming out of the meeting," one person with knowledge of the session said. "It was more of a general, and ongoing discussion. They discussed a whole variety of things," and part of a continuing and ongoing dialogue" between Labor and the Obama White House.

Among the topics discussed were the Employee Free Choice Act, which the administration has assured labor leaders it still wants to push for in late Spring, and the nomination of Hilda Solis to be Labor Secretary. Republicans seem to be softening in their opposition to Solis but it now looks like there won't be a committee vote on her nomination until after Congressional recess, February 23rd, making it likely to be the last cabinet seat to be filled.

On another front, TPM Alumnus Greg Sargent now of whorunsgov.com quotes David Axelrod downplaying the New York Times reported rift between him and Tim Geithner, something he downplayed in the Times story itself.

My nugget to add to this is that no one on the economic team, so far as I can tell, was pushing for the kind of showy, punitive measures that might have made today's ugly roll out of the new bailout plan at least more appealing to those who want to see banks punished. It echoes what I said last week about Summers and Geithner. People who expected to see fireworks between those two are ignoring their decades of friendship and how ideologically sympatico they are. Future fireworks, if there are any in the land of no drama, are likely to come between the economic team and otherson the periphery. In any event, the bailout plan such as it is, is now out there. It was a half-built house when it was unveiled this morning and given the market reaction today to the thing it's probably going to get revamped even more.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is testifying right now before the Senate Banking Committee on the financial rescue re-modeling he unveiled this morning. Many senior senators are just now getting up to speed on the outlines of the new Treasury plan, but the emerging consensus among Democrats is cautious approval of Geithner's goals (even as Republicans blast those goals as unclear).

"We're in uncharted waters," Chuck Schumer (NY), the third-ranked Senate Democrat, told me. "They're trying their best."

Schumer praised Geithner for adding "some degree of conditionality" to his dealings with individual troubled banks, contrasting the new Treasury Secretary with predecessor Hank Paulson, who "lurched from one plan for every bank to another plan for every bank."

Schumer also said the Federal Reserve's massive program of lending to spur the credit markets, known as TALF, was "the one successful part of the initial plan" and worth expanding under Geithner.

Meanwhile, senators as right-leaning as John Ensign (R-NV) and as left-leaning as Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have pushed the Fed today to be more transparent in disclosing which entities are receiving TALF loans. "I think it's a good idea to ... say to the Federal Reserve, 'Let's see what you are actually doing in the marketplace,'" Ensign told reporters today, "because the American people who are the ones who are on the hook."

But let's return to the Democrats for a moment.

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Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, has been a stalwart skeptic of the Treasury's bailout program since it was first announced in the fall.

But he's particularly savvy on the issue of executive compensation -- Sherman, a certified public accountant, was among the first to challenge the Obama administration's recent CEO pay limits as riddled with loopholes.

Unfortunately, Sherman told me that he believes the executive compensation limits added to the Senate's stimulus are going to get removed during conference talks with the House. The reason: a new Congressional Budget Office estimate that the pay caps will cost the government $10.8 billion in lost tax revenue over the next 10 years.

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Two funny moments today from the Minnesota trial:

Coleman lawyer Tony Trimble was asking Kevin Boyle, the election/records manager in Republican-leaning Dakota County, about the requirement that an absentee voter put his residential address on the ballot envelope, as opposed to a P.O. box where he might actually receive his mail. Quite a few ballots have been thrown out because of this.

So Trimble asked what the county would do if a voter gave his P.O. box for the purposes of paying his property taxes, clearly expecting a simple, common-sense answer that the county would accept the money:

Trimble: Is there any reason you would reject it?

Boyle: I think you're talking about property taxation--

Trimble: That's correct.

Boyle: --and I'm a bit unfamiliar with what their practices are.


Trimble then confirmed that property taxation is the office where Boyle works.

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We just talked to an Alaska state legislator to get a handle on the news that Attorney General Talis Colberg, a key Sarah Palin ally during Trooper-Gate is resigning.

"The weight of Trooper-Gate finally got to him," said the lawmaker, a Democrat, who made clear that they weren't speaking from direct knowledge of Colberg's decision, but rather on the basis of involvement in the issue as a legislator.

The lawmaker said that Colberg's decision, during Trooper-Gate, to sue to quash subpoenas issued by the legislature to key Palin administration witnesses was now widely viewed as "a bad call." That move helped delay the witnesses' testimony, and limit its scope, meaning that the legislature's report on Trooper-Gate, released just before the election, remained incomplete.

"The advice he gave to members of the Palin administration not to appear was very bad advice," said the lawmaker. "He's gotten a lot of bad press over that, and so has the governor."

"You can't ignore a legislative subpoena," the lawmaker went on. "By doing so they had some short term gain ... now, the elections over and the chickens have come home to roost on that issue."

The lawmaker, who stressed that they wished Colberg well, and bore no ill will toward him, continued: "Everyone was caught up in the moment of the presidential election, and there were some political decisions that were made that people are ultimately regretting today."

The lawmaker said that after the nine witnesses, including Todd Palin, were found in contempt last week, many in the legislature publicly expressed the view that Colberg needed to answer more questions. Colberg had appeared before a contentious House committee, but might well have been forced to appear before the Senate as well.

"He's hoping that by stepping down, he'll be able to put the whole issue behind him," concluded the lawmaker.

Talis Colberg, who was plucked from the obscurity of a small-town Alaska law practice by Sarah Palin to become the state's Attorney General, has resigned, reports the Anchorage Daily News.

Colberg, who had been a GOP assemblyman and Palin backer, was criticized during the Trooper-Gate scandal last fall for often appearing to represent the interests of his patron, the governor, rather than the Alaskan people. Although he himself had led an internal investigation designed to help Palin get out in front of Trooper-Gate, Colberg ultimately dismissed calls to recuse himself from any involvement in the matter. He then helped Palin stifle the probe into the matter by trying to block subpoenas, issued by the legislature, to state officials.

It's unclear as yet what prompted Colberg's move. He said in a statement:

I determined that it was in the best interest of the state of Alaska to move on and pursue other opportunities.


Something tells us there's more to this story...

We wondered last week what would become of the growing House GOP frustration over the White House's plans to direct oversight of the 2010 Census, rather than leave the process to Commerce Secretary nominee -- and Census skeptic -- Judd Gregg.

House Republicans, no matter how ready they are to cry foul over the politicization of the Census, need at least one Senate GOPer to raise the issue during Gregg's coming confirmation hearing. And it looks like they've found that senator.

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So Miguel Tejada, the shortstop for the Houston Astros, has been charged with lying to Congressional investigators about the use of steroids in baseball.

That news put us in mind of someone two other people who are suspected of lying to Congress, but so far, unlike Tejada, have escaped legal jeopardy. We refer, of course, to Alberto Gonzales and Bradley Schlozman.

A report released last July by the Justice Department's inspector general indicated that Gonzales may have lied to Congress about politicization at the department. And there have also been credible suggestions, including from Senate Judiciary chair Pat Leahy, that Gonzales perjured himself during his testimony on the US Attorneys firings scandal. A special prosecutor, Nora Dannehy, has been appointed to look into whether crimes were committed in connection with the firings, and the issue of Gonzales' possible perjury appears to be at the center of her probe. But as yet, Gonzales hasn't been charged (though he's certainly not in the clear).

As for Schlozman, a former top DOJ voting-rights official, another report by the department's IG, this one released last month, found that Schlozman lied to a Senate committee about his own role in politicizing hiring at the department. But the US Attorney's office for the District of Columbia declined to bring charges against Schlozman (a decision that Attorney General Eric Holder has said he will review.)

Meanwhile, Tejada is set to go before a DC judge tomorrow. And Roger Clemens is also under investigation for lying to Congress about steroids.

And consider this: Tejada isn't accused of lying about this own possible steroid use. Rather, prosecutors say he lied when he told Congressional investigators, during an interview in a Baltimore hotel room, that he didn't know about any other players using steroids. Gonzales and Schlozman, by contrast, are suspected of lying to conceal their own involvement in politicizing DOJ.

It's hard not to conclude that if federal investigators went after former DOJ officials as hard as they went after ball players, the world would be a better place.

One thing worth thinking about in the Senate's compromise bill is that one Senator is really putting his neck out here: Arlen Specter, who may be leaving himself wide open to a challenge in the Republican primary.

Unlike his fellow pro-stimulus Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Specter is up for re-election in 2010. And there exists an active element in the party that is always eager to push him out the door, even if it meant endangering the GOP's hold on the seat -- in fact, Specter just barely survived a conservative primary challenge 51%-49% in 2004, when the Club For Growth threw its weight behind then-Congressman Pat Toomey.

I spoke today with Nachama Soloveichik, the Club's communications director, and she confirmed that they're hearing a lot of anger over the compromise. "Grassroots Republicans are infuriated. They're fed up. They've had it," Soloveichik said, even going so far as to add that for many, "this is the ultimate act of treason."

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