TPM News

After unexpectedly dropping out of contention to be the Ranking Member on the House Oversight Committee next year, Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY) has thrown his support to fellow New Yorker, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) -- the next-most senior Democrat on the committee -- who will fight it out for the panel's top spot with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD).

"I support Carolyn Maloney to become Ranking Member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee," Towns says in a statement sent my way. "She is next in line on the Committee, she has the seniority and competence to serve the Caucus well."

Initial reports this evening suggested that Towns also supported Cummings. But both Cummings and Maloney say that's not the case.

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House Democrats are coming to terms with the fact that a tax cut compromise filled with provisions they despise will pass and be signed into law. On Tuesday night they vented their frustrations to their harried leadership in a private caucus meeting, but emerged acknowledging that they've been boxed effectively in by the White House and GOP.

Tomorrow, after the Senate passes the plan President Obama negotiated with Congressional Republicans, Democratic leaders in the House will present their members with an end game. That endgame may involve passing the legislation word for word. Leaders may allow votes on amendments to the Senate-passed bill, and may even allow some minor tweaks to the package. But as far as dramatically tweaking its key provisions -- particularly the estate tax -- or otherwise endangering the deal, members predict leadership will allow those efforts to fail.

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Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY) made the surprise announcement on Tuesday night that he'll be stepping down as ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, setting up a fight between Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) for the right to square off with incoming Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA).

"After much thought, Chairman Towns today made the decision not to seek the Ranking Member position on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee," a spokesman said in a statement.

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To Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's suggestion that the Senate come back the week after Christmas isn't just a way to complete a busy lame duck agenda -- but an attack on people of the Christian faith.

"It is impossible to do all of the things that the majority leader laid out," Kyl said today, "frankly, without disrespecting the institution and without disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians and the families of all of the Senate, not just the senators themselves but all of the staff."

To be clear, Reid was suggesting the Senate come back for votes after Christmas and before this Congress ends on Jan. 4.

New York Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, Jr. and his son, Pedro Gautier Espada, are facing charges that they stole over half a million dollars from clients of their nonprofit health care network, according to a six-count federal indictment unsealed Tuesday.

A grand jury handed up the indictment of the 57-year-old Bronx Democrat and his 37-year-old son, charging them with five counts of embezzling from their nonprofit, the Soundview HealthCare Network. Since that nonprofit receives over $1 million a year from the Department of Health and Human Services and millions in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, the pair were also charged with one count of conspiring to steal government funds.

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The Air Force is now blocking the web sites of the New York Times, the Guardian, and other news outlets that have posted diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks.

According to the Wall Street Journal and Reuters, the Air Force ordered the sites blocked from personnel computers last month. An Air Force spokeswoman told Reuters that the Air Force "routinely blocks Air Force network access to websites hosting inappropriate materials or malware (malicious software) and this includes any website that hosts classified materials and those that are released by WikiLeaks."

She said 25 sites have been blocked.

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The plan to save the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the lame duck sessions is continuing apace. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just announced on Twitter that tomorrow the House will take up a standalone repeal measure co-sponsored by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Iraq War vet Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA).

If the House passes the measure, it will be the second time this year that the body has voted to end the military's ban on openly gay servicemembers. Back in May, the House passed a defense spending bill that included language repealing the ban. That measure stalled in the Senate last week when the vast majority of the Republican caucus declined to vote for cloture, leaving the bill stuck. Supporters of repeal in the Senate are preparing their own standalone measure they hope will get necessary votes to move ahead.

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by Sasha Chavkin ProPublica, Dec. 14, 2010, 2:46 p.m.

As the damage claims process for the Gulf oil spill moves into its second phase--from issuing emergency payments to considering final claims--administrator Kenneth Feinberg yesterday unveiled a variety of improvements that he says will increase transparency and offer more options to claimants.

Feinberg said there had been "constructive criticism" about opaque decision-making and poor communications during the emergency payments process and promised to make several changes. (We reported on the lack of transparency several times, for example on claimants' struggles to get basic information about the status of their claims.)

Have you filed a claim for Gulf Spill damages? ProPublica's reporters want to hear from you.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threatened to keep the Senate in session after Christmas, all the way up to the beginning of next Congress if the GOP doesn't get out of the way and allow votes on Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal, the START treaty and other key Democratic initiatives.

"There's still Congress after Christmas. So if the Republicans think that because they can stall and stall and stall that we take a break we're through -- we're not through," Reid said. Congress ends on January 4."

That sets up a complicated and grueling schedule for the next two to three weeks, particularly if Republicans insist on using procedural maneuvers to keep the clock running. Currently the Senate is draining up to 30 hours of floor time because of GOP objections to holding an immediate vote on the tax bill, which is likely to nonetheless pass with overwhelming support.

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