TPM News

Just how much power does the National Rifle Association wield in Washington? Enough that a plan quietly proposed by federal agents to combat illegal gun trafficking along the Mexico border has languished at the Justice Department for months -- all because officials are worried about what the NRA might think.

The Washington Post published an account of the internal debate today, outlining the enormity of the influence the gun lobby -- led by the NRA -- holds over federal gun policy and its enforcement.

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The Senate today voted 81 to 19 to pass the tax cut compromise legislation that President Obama negotiated with GOP leaders. It will now head to the House for consideration in an effort to enact it before the end of the lame duck session on January 4.

Before they passed the plan, Senators considered an amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who spoke out against the bill for nine straight hours last week, that would have replaced the payroll tax credit with an extension of the Make Work Pay Credit, imposed an estate tax of 45 percent on estates worth more than $3.5 million and provided a cost-of-living-adjustment of $250 to seniors, veterans and the disabled dependent on government benefits. It failed 57 to 43.

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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today called Sen. Jim DeMint's (R-SC) plans to force a reading of the START Treaty a "new low in putting political stunts ahead of our national security" and "exactly the kind of Washington game-playing that the American people are sick of."

"Every minute that the START Treaty is being read on the Senate floor increases the time that we lack verification of Russia's nuclear arsenal," Gibbs said in a statement, adding that the bill has already been the subject of almost 20 Senate hearings.

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You know it's a bad sign when the outgoing California governor announces a fiscal emergency and everyone ignores him.
Now incoming governor Jerry Brown has realized how screwed the state is and he's announcing his own budget emergency, according to the LAT.

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Last week the conventional wisdom was that President Obama made a grave mistake by not including a measure to raise the debt ceiling in his tax cut compromise.

The reasoning was pretty straightforward. Democrats finally had the GOP in a position to negotiate, and what they came up with was a plan that will increase the deficit without making Republicans accept, as the cost extending deficit-financed tax cuts for wealthy people, a promise not to let the country default on its debt. As a result, when the debt-limit approaches next year, Republicans can go back into hostage-taking mode and refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless Congress and the White House agree to dramatic spending cuts.

Harry Reid isn't buying it, and I'm beginning to think he has a point. As the current showdown over federal spending indicates, Republicans have no shortage of "hostages" or leverage, or whatever you want to call it. Congress controls the pursestrings, which means these showdowns are baked in, even in absence of the debt ceiling question.

The difference is that the stakes in the debt ceiling fight -- including default -- are higher than they are in appropriations fights. So where does that leave us: Spending cuts are probably inevitable. And since so many rank and file Republicans have refused to vote to raise the debt ceiling, Reid sees an opportunity to really fracture the GOP's tea party/establishment coalition.

That could work. John Boehner and his leadership team have all but ruled out allowing a default. But they'll never be able to get the sorts of draconian spending cuts Tea Party members will demand through the Senate. So they'll have to twist some arms and rile up the base, or deal with Democrats on something closer to their terms.

That's what Reid means when he says he wants the Republicans to have "buy-in" on the national debt: that the GOP calculus will change dramatically when the proposed "hostage" is the stock market and the country's bond rating, and the ransom is Social Security, or the health care law. Maybe they won't go there.

In any case, we'll find out who's right in a few months.

All 11 defendants in a massive corruption case out of Alabama that has snared several politicians and lobbyists appeared in federal court on Tuesday, where a judge denied a motion of several of the defendants to delay the April trial because their lawyers didn't have enough time to prepare.

Nine of the defendants argued that starting the trial on April 4 would be unfair because they'll need more time to go through 2,800 telephone calls and 200,000 pages of documents turned over by the prosecution. Court records show the motion was denied.

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Voters may have just tossed a whole lot of Democrats to the curb -- at least in the House -- but that doesn't mean they're ready to embrace the Republicans they elected to replace them.

Despite the huge losses suffered by President Obama's party in November, Americans say they trust him more than Congressional Republicans to deal with the nation's problems, according to a Washington-PostABC News poll released yesterday. Fifty-three percent of those surveyed said they trusted Obama more than Republicans to steer the country, versus 48% who said they trusted Republicans more.

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Before the midterms, conservative leaders were warning that they'd force a showdown over federal spending much earlier than expected: in the lame duck session, before the newly elected Republicans come to Washington.

They weren't joking. Republican and Democratic leaders are now engaged in a brinksmanship that could result in a temporary shutdown of the federal government. After the election, Republicans voted among themselves to eschew all earmarks for two years, and now they have to make good on their pledge. Yesterday, Democrats' chief appropriator, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) unveiled what's known as an omnibus spending bill -- a bundled up package of appropriations legislation, earmarks, and other measures -- which would keep the government running for a year.

In response, most Republicans -- even those whose multimillion dollar earmark requests are included in the legislation -- are saying, "Hell no you can't!"

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