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Just as a quick addendum to this post: The Senate agreed last night to send Sens. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Judd Gregg (R-NH)--the chair and ranking member of the Budget Committee--and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to the budget conference committee. There they will hash out all the differences between the Senate's budget and the House's.

So what does this mean for reconciliation? Recall that reconciliation is a process that allows Congress to circumvent a filibuster, and, potentially, an avenue for passing major reform with little room for obstruction or debate. It's a potentially huge deal and, at the very least, a tool that could provide Democrats tons of leverage in their pursuit of health reform through the standard legislative process. The House budget includes reconciliation "instructions", but the Senate bill does not, and the crucial question--will the final budget include reconciliation instructions?--will be settled in the conference committee.

Conrad and Gregg have made their opposition to the process known (though according to The Hill, "Conrad told reporters that he doesn't want to use reconciliation rules to pass healthcare reform but that he is feeling pressure to include the option in the budget resolution from House members and the Obama administration").

But what about Murray?

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The DSCC has just unveiled a new online illustration of the Minnesota Senate dispute: The "Coleman Obstruction Timeline," laying out the Senate votes that Minnesota has missed during the time they've been without a full two Senators.



"The people of Minnesota deserve their second Senator and it is time to for Republicans to stop holding the seat hostage to pursue an ideological agenda," DSCC chairman Robert Menendez said in a statement promoting the new Web page. "We have always said Norm Coleman deserved his day in court - he got two months. It is now time to move on, and let Senator-elect Al Franken get to work for the people of Minnesota."

Former Clinton Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, brother of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, has decided that he is not running for the Illinois Senate seat currently held by Roland Burris and formerly held by Barack Obama.

It had been reported a month and a half ago that Daley was likely to run, but he has now changed his mind. "I was gung-ho, and hired pollsters and talked to fund-raisers and planned to make an announcement in mid-April," he told the Chicago Sun-Times. "But I'm getting remarried in June and decided I want to take a new tack in my life."

This appears to leave the Democratic field for now to state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who has raised over $1 million -- and perhaps Roland Burris, who thus far has only raised less than $1,000, and has not made a decision yet.

Via ThinkProgress, I see Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is taking a sanguine and, dare I say, democratic, view of the budget reconciliation process.

"It's their right. They did win the election," said Ryan, R-Wis. "That's what I tell all my constituents who are worried about this. They won the election. They did run on these ideas. They did run on nationalizing health care. So, you're right about that. They have the votes with reconciliation. They nailed down the process so that they can make sure they have the votes and that they can get this thing through really fast. It is their right. It is what they can do."


One can quibble with some of this rhetoric. Democrats won the election on a platform of universalizing health care through a combination of private and public insurance, and government subsidies. But this is certainly a more realistic assessment than that of, say, Ryan's Senate counterpart Judd Gregg (R-NH) who supports the reconciliation process when Republicans use it to pass tax cuts and ANWR drilling, but compares it to "running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River," when the Democrats so much as propose it for health reform.

But has Ryan always been so fair? Let's go to the tape:

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One of the big revelations to come out of the Senate Armed Services Committee report on so-called aggressive interrogation techniques is an early July 2002 training session where officials from the military's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA)--the agency that oversees the SERE training program--provided "assistance to another government agency." Much of this section of the report is blacked out, so I'll connote blacked out sections with asterisks [***], but the report says JPRA was assisting this agency "on topics such as '*** deprivation techniques,' 'exploitation and questioning techniques,' and 'developing countermeasures to resistance techniques.'" According to the report, "[t]he training was intended to "prepare *** officers for rotations in Afghanistan and elsewhere."

Spencer Ackerman reported on this section in detail when the report was first released, noting what has long been reported, but never officially acknowledged. Spencer writes, "a JPRA team assisted a squad from 'another government agency' during the first six months of 2002 that would be 'sent to interrogate a high level al Qaeda operative.'"

"'Another government agency'," Spencer writes, "is a widespread euphemism for the CIA."

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Most of the focus on the obstruction of Dawn Johnsen has been on Republicans. They're the ones who might hold up her nomination, or stage a filibuster (i.e. file for cloture) so there's some good reason for that.

But what about pro-life Democrats? A Congressional Quarterly report this morning suggests that one pro-life Democratic senator--to wit Ben Nelson (D-PA)--might not support her nomination.

"Senator Nelson is very concerned about the nomination of Dawn Johnsen, based on her previous position as Counsel for NARAL. He believes that the Office of Legal Counsel is a position in which personal views can have an impact and is concerned about her outspoken pro-choice views on abortion," said spokesman Clay Westrope.


Ah, but there's an important technical distinction between "not supporting" a nominee and "actively filibustering" her. The question comes down to how Nelson would vote if Republicans subject Johnsen to a cloture vote. I spoke with a Nelson staffer myself just a moment ago and he didn't officially take the option off the table.

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The Minnesota Supreme Court has just issued its order establishing a schedule for Norm Coleman's appeal of the Senate election result -- and even though this schedule has been expedited by the standards of normal civil litigation, it's going to be a while by political standards.

The court adopted the proposed briefing timeline from the Coleman campaign, allowing them more time to formulate their arguments: Coleman's brief is to be submitted by next Thursday, April 30; Team Franken will submit its brief by May 11, and a reply brief from Coleman is to be submitted by May 15.

On top of that, oral arguments have been scheduled for June 1 -- a month and a week from today.

Team Franken had called for a much quicker schedule, on the grounds that greater speed was needed in order to seat a second U.S. Senator from Minnesota, and that Coleman had already had plenty of time to come up with his arguments. But the court didn't go for it.

Indeed, by any normal measure this timeline is itself a quick one for a state Supreme Court to be taking an appeal. But for the political world, this is not a normal case.

Late Update: Lead Franken attorney Marc Elias gives us this comment: "We are grateful that the court has issued an expedited scheduling order, and we look forward to the process continuing to move forward so that Sen.-elect Franken can be seated as quickly as possible."

Late Late Update: Coleman legal spokesman Ben Ginsberg released this statement: "We're pleased with the timetable the court has granted to prepare for this historic and consequential case to enfranchise thousands of Minnesota citizens who still wait for their voices to be heard, and their votes to be counted."

A new Rasmussen poll of Pennsylvania finds that Arlen Specter appears to be in serious trouble going into his 2010 primary against conservative challenger Pat Toomey.

The numbers: Toomey 51%, Specter 30%.

Toomey, a former Congressman, previously ran against Specter in the 2004 primary, and made it into a 51%-49% race. Specter has since provided Toomey a huge opening this time thanks to his vote for the stimulus bill. And Pennsylvania is a closed-primary state, too, meaning that Specter faces a conservative base vote.

From the pollster's analysis: "In another sign that could be troubling for Specter, the current poll finds that 79% of Pennsylvania Republicans have a favorable opinion of the "Tea Party" protests against big government spending and higher taxes held across the nation last week. Thirty percent (30%) know someone personally who took part."

The Obama administration will ask the Supreme Court to reconsider a 1986 ruling that police officers cannot question a defendant with representation unless the lawyer is present. In a court brief, the solicitor general said that the decision in Michigan v. Jackson should be overturned because it "serves no real purpose" and defendants should speak to police if they so choose. The judges supporting the ruling say it is especially aimed at poor or developmentally disabled defendants who could be tricked into giving incriminating information to prosecutors without a lawyer present. In the aftermath of the administration's invocation of the "state secrets" privilege, and support for the imprisonment of enemy combatants in Afghanistan, this position has further alienated civil liberties groups. (AP)

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Al Gore, Newt Gingrich, John Warner To Headline Committee Hearing The House Energy and Commerce Committee will be holding a hearing on climate change at 10 a.m. ET today, featuring an all-star line-up of guests: Former Vice President Al Gore, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and former Sen. John Warner (R-VA). Gore and Warner support various legislation to limit carbon emissions, while Gingrich was added at the last minute, at the request of Republicans, as an individual who is skeptical of the claimed human contribution to climate change.

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will meet with Vice President Biden for lunch at 12:30 p.m. ET. Then at 1:30 p.m. ET, he will speak about higher-education costs, discussing his proposal to end the Federal Family Education Loans program, a government subsidy to banks, in favor of direct government financing.

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