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TPM alum Spencer Ackerman points to a genuinely inexplicable revenue-raising move being considered by the Obama administration: charging veterans through their private health insurance companies for injuries suffered during their service.

Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki confirmed yesterday that the administration is weighing whether to start charging veterans for their combat-related injuries -- an admission that got strongly shot down by both Democratic and Republican senators.

It's worth noting that progressives hammered Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) during his presidential bid last year for suggesting that veterans should be able to seek private treatment for health problems unrelated to their service. Should the Obama VA follow through with the plan it's now considering, it would arguably be moving farther right than McCain on the sensitive question of privatizing veterans' health care.

Late Update: The Navy Times offers more background on the private-insurance proposal under consideration by the Obama VA, explaining:

Whether private insurers would pay anything [on service-related claims] would depend on their policies on serving as the second payer on medical expenses. Some insurance policies cover such costs and others do not.

If at first you don't succeed....

In what looks like a second bite at the apple, Michael Steele's RNC has put out a new Request-For-Proposal for the redesign of its website -- after its original two-page effort was widely panned as sketchy and unprofessional.

That first RFP, which was circulating earlier this week, was so lacking in detail that one prominent right-wing blogger suggested it could mean Steele already had a favored contractor in mind, and was just going thru the RFP process for show. We offered a suggestion for who that favored contractor might be here.

The new RFP, posted by the site Tech President, is a bit longer -- five pages -- and a bit more specific about what the committee is looking for.

One interesting detail: the RNC says it wants a site that, in Tech President's words "functions as the backbone of a distributed network of sites populated by state parties and campaigns -- nonetheless connected back to the mothership at RNC headquarters." It's unclear whether that means it might subsume the state party sites, which currently are independent.

And, unlike before, there's a budget: $250,000 for the main site, plus $200,000 for the network of sites.

Neel Kashkari, the assistant Treasury Secretary for financial stability who has run the bailout since the Bush administration, took some frustrated questions today from Democratic Reps. Diane Watson (CA) and John Tierney (MA) during his appearance before a House oversight subcommittee.

Watson and Tierney were searching for a way to prevent banks that take bailout money from planning lavish parties and sales conferences before repaying the taxpayers -- an embarrassing pattern that has been seen at Northern Trust, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo in recent weeks.

Kashkari said the Obama administration would seek approval from bailed-out banks' boards of expense standards that would govern spending on resort conferences, private jets, office re-decorations, and other goodies.

Those standards will be made "clear and public for the world to judge," Kashkari told the lawmakers -- though he acknowledged that the new standards would be in effect going forward as opposed to retroactively. There is one exception, he said ...

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The Democratic polling/strategy firm Democracy Corps, James Carville and Stan Greenberg's outfit, is continuing to push the message that Rush Limbaugh is a political winner for Democrats -- and an inescapable loser for Republicans.

When asked if they agree with the statement, "Rush Limbaugh shares my values," or the opposite statement that he does not share their values, all voters break out at 32% yes, to 57% no. Among independents, it's 30%-58%.

But here's the thing: Limbaugh scores 60%-29% with Republicans. "There is a reason why," the polling memo says triumphantly. "Limbaugh ranks very high as a leader of the Republican Party's ideas and direction."

When asked if Limbaugh has too much influence over the Republican Party, too little influence or about the right amount, all voters put it at 49%-15%-26%. Republicans, however, weigh in at 27%-20%-43%, and independents are at 50%-12%-29%.

There is one silver lining: Voters do not agree with the idea that Republicans are following Limbaugh's lead because they want to see Obama fail, with only 32% agreeing.

The memo concludes: "With Rush Limbaugh's vision and values so strong among the conservative Republicans who are the heart of the party's base, Republican leaders carry a heavy weight when they attempt to position themselves to act for the broader electorate."

Looks like you can add Elizabeth Warren to the growing list of people who want the federal government to tell us more about that latest AIG bailout.

Warren, who chairs the panel that's monitoring bailout spending on behalf of Congress, went on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show last night, and all but demanded more disclosure from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

Maddow raised the fact that AIG has reportedly passed bailout money onto its counterparties on those credit default swaps, and that it currently has four PR firms on its payroll. In response, Warren, appearing perhaps more frustrated than in any of her other numerous media appearances over the last few most, responded:

It doesn't seem strange to me, and the fact that it doesn't seem strange to me tells you something really awful about what it's been like to be in Washington for the last few months.

These financial institutions have figured out that they're bleeding red ink, and their best solution is to persuade the Treasury Department to give them lots of money. And when the Treasury Department starts to say, there may be some problems here, the American people don't want to go along with this, then lets see if we can spin the American people on it.

The Treasury Department has not asked for the critical information about where this money has gone, from AIG. We've poured the money into AIG, and it has somehow poured it out the other end. The Treasury Department has not asked, and has not revealed, what it is that's happening with that money.

And so as long as that's the case, maybe some of the money is going to other financial institutions. Maybe some of the money is going to pay off these credit default swaps that are essential for saving other institutions that have counted on it for credit and insurance. And maybe some of where this money is going is just off to speculators, who just played the game of speculation, and would now like to collect a hundred cents on the dollar form their speculations, and collect it indirectly from the American taxpayer.


You can see the video here. (The excerpt quoted above begins around the 9:00 mark.)

The Federal Reserve, which has been at the center of the latest AIG bailout, has declined to reveal much information about the maneuver, including the identity of AIG's counterparties, saying that doing so could affect confidence in the institutions at issue.

Reports by Warren's panel have grown increasingly critical of Treasury's level of transparency and accountability in regard to the bailout.

TPMDC has obtained a letter from the leading players in American public broadcasting -- National Public Radio (NPR), PBS Television, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), and the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) -- to White House budget director Peter Orszag.

The letter (read it here) outlines the dire financial straits facing public media and seeks $307 million in additional government funding as part of the president's 2010 budget. In stark terms, the CEOs of the four public broadcasting entities urge the Obama administration to help shield them from a rapid drop in support caused by the economic recession:

Every revenue source upon which our operations depend is under siege. State funding support is in a wholesale free-fall. Financial contributions from foundations and underwriters, at the local and national levels, have declined precipitously. Individual contributions, the bedrock of every public station's annual operating budget, are dropping, reflecting the effects of rising unemployment and declining personal discretionary income.


Looking back to congressional Republicans' failed attempt to cut off their budgets in 2005, the CEOs of the four public broadcasting entities add:

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The Coleman campaign now has another headache to deal with: They are advising contributors to cancel their credits cards, The Hill reports, after an apparent security foul-up in late January.

Last night, Coleman's entire online donor list received an e-mail from a Wikileaks.org e-mail address, notifying them that their private information had been posted in a publicly accessible area of Coleman's campaign site this past January 28, and has circulated out of public view. The e-mail also contained a link to the Minnesota statute requiring organizations to disclose "in the most expedient time possible" to any Minnesotan if they reasonably believe their private information was illicitly accessed, and informed recipients that they were being notified as a courtesy by Wikileaks, in case the Coleman camp hadn't already.

The Wikileaks e-mail also includes a link to an Excel spreadsheet purported to contain all the donors' names, addresses, employers, and the last four digits and CSC security codes on their credit cards.

Coleman spokesman Cullen Sheehan told The Hill that they had contacted federal authorities at the time, and after reviewing the site logs they did not believe that any unauthorized party had downloaded private information. However, he is nevertheless urging some serious precautions -- encouraging supporters who may have donated to cancel their credit cards.

"Let me be very clear: At this point, we don't know if last evening's e-mail is a political dirty trick or what the objective is of the person who sent the e-mail," said Sheehan. "What we do know, however, is that there is a strong likelihood that these individuals have found a way to breach private and confidential information."

Neel Kashkari, the Bush administration holdover who remains assistant Treasury Secretary for financial stability, just told Rep. Dennis Kucinich's (D-OH) House oversight subcommittee that the department does "get calls" from members of Congress as well as governors seeking to weigh in on which banks get bailout money from the government.

Kashkari's admission came in response to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who asked him about a recent report that House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ohio lawmakers interceded with Treasury to help win aid for their home-state banks.

"It's important for us to get feedback" from politicians on their local businesses, Kashkari said. But he underscored that a process has been put in place to ensure that political concerns don't influence the disbursement of bailout money, adding: "I feel confident that there is no undue influence at Treasury ... I'm concerned that these stories are out there because they undermine confidence."

From TPMmuckraker to the U.S. Senate. Kind of.

Remember our story from last month about how a Bank of America estates rep tried to guilt-trip the son of a deceased card-holder into paying his mother's credit-card balance, though he was under no obligation to do so?

Well, as we noted last week, the New York Times seemed to like it -- following up with their own report on debt collecting firms that contract with the credit card companies to go after the relatives of deceased card-holders, many of whom don't understand that they're usually not obligated to pay the debt.

And now, according to a press release, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the "deceitful practice that preys on relatives who have no legal obligation to pay their deceased loved ones' bills."

The release says Schumer's call "came on the heels of a high-profile published report last week exposing this practice," -- a reference to the Times story, which appeared to be triggered, in turn, by our own story.

According to Schumer, the practice may already be illegal under existing law, since the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act "prevents the collection companies from contacting anyone other than the debtor about outstanding bills".

He suggests that, at the least, debt collectors should be required to tell the relatives that they aren't legally obligated to pay the debt at issue.

That seems like the least that could be done.

Schumer's full letter to the FTC follows after the jump ...

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This morning, Matt Lauer continued the meme by asking Council of Economic Advisers Chair Christina Romer whether the president had "bitten off more than he could chew." Romer responds here:



Most of the he's too-busy meme has been absurd. But the always-smart Bill Galston, over at The New Republic, raises a more nuanced proposition here.

Galston notes that, unlike FDR, Obama doesn't have the same clout in a more divided Congress and that FDR really did keep things focused on the economic emergency in his first months. Galston notes:

Roosevelt delayed most of the structural reforms that did not bear directly on the economic emergency. For example, he did not even propose a commission to consider social insurance until June of 1934. Social Security legislation was introduced six months later, in January 1935, and was not signed into law until August of that year, after the provisions relating to health care had been stripped out.

Roosevelt organized his first term around two principles that the Obama administration would do well to ponder. First, he kept his (and the country's) attention firmly fixed on a single task: ending the crisis of confidence and restarting economic activity. While he was more sensitive than previous presidents to the links among seemingly disparate issues, these interconnections in his view did not warrant trying to move on all fronts at once. The people and the Congress had to be brought along with an agenda and a narrative that they could understand.


Fair enough, but I think there's a response to that, too.

First, distraction is a two-way street. Congress is constantly deviating from the economic emergency to deal with other stuff. I watched a fulsome debate on the transportation of chimpanzees and other primates the other day on C-SPAN. The House was taking up a bill in the wake of that chimp attack. It's not reasonable to focus just on one branch of government.

Second, Obama is talking about a lot of things but he's not sending up a torrent of legislation. There was the stimulus bill but everyone agreed there needed to be some kind of stimulus. He's encouraged Congress to come up with a health care plan but he hasn't forced a bill on them to consider. And besides is health care really a distraction? The facts show that you can't get entitlement reform or any control over future red ink without it. Why wait?

Third, Congress is a much bigger institution than it was in 1933 or even 1977, the other example the Galston cites. Staffs are bigger, there's more capacity to deal with more issues. If we have more of a logjam these days, it's owing to the partisan redrawing of districts, the culture of lobbying and so on but not an innate inability of Congress to handle more than a few things at a time.

As I said originally, if Obama suddenly decides to immerse himself in an obscure border dispute or something truly far afield, he ought to be called out on it. But green energy, health care, education, and other things he's pursuing all seem germane to the economy. You can disagree with them individually but it's hard to chide their relevance to the crisis at hand.

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