TPM News

An outspoken and respected House liberal is concerned that President Obama's tax cut plan will pose more than one threat to Social Security.

Progressive advocates, and a wide swath of the Democratic party, oppose Obama's call for a partial employee payroll tax holiday. Not because they don't want workers to have extra cash in their pocket, but because they worry that a supposedly temporary payroll tax rate will become the new normal and jeopardize Social Security in the long run. Next year, they worry, Republicans will characterize allowing the holiday to lapse as a "tax hike" on workers, and Dems will be cowed into extending it.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) shares that fear. But even if things don't shake out that way, he says, treating the funding mechanism for Social Security as a variable that can be tweaked to fund stimulus or reduce deficits will erode Social Security's status as the third rail of American politics, and leave it vulnerable to future attacks from the right.

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A British anti-Islam group is denying reports that Pastor Terry Jones will be speaking at their event in February, claiming that they "disapprove" of his thwarted plan to burn copies of the Koran last September 11.

Though the English Defence League does not condone Jones' infamous plan, it might not be for the reasons you think. "We do not believe the Koran should be burned, but rather read, so that people come to understand its inherent violence, supremacism, and hatred and contempt for non-Muslims," the group wrote on its Facebook page.

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1||This summer, Michael Steele announced that he would embark on a multi-state "Fire Pelosi" bus tour to help Republicans re-take the House. And they did... but it didn't stem the calls for Steele to step down. Since his announcement that he's nonetheless running, he's launched a new site -- featuring pictures from last summer's bus tour.

Here, he poses with supporters at Mount Rushmore.||

2||Steele with Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). ||

3||Steele with former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. ||

4||Steele with outgoing California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. ||

5||Steele with boxing promoter Don King, a longtime supporter. ||

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7||Steele in Coconino County, Ariz. ||

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11||Steele shaking hands on Wall Street. ||

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Something you may not know about the child nutrition bill President Obama signed into law this week: It will raise the price of school lunches for most students.

For years, the federal government has given school districts subsidies so they could offer free and reduced-price lunches to poor students. But there's never been any rule that says all the money has to actually go to poor students. Often, the school district will use part of the funds to lower the price of lunch for the rest of the school -- the ones who don't strictly qualify for free lunches.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act closes that loophole.

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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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