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We're trying to sniff out exactly how this happened and what's being done to sort it out. But the Obama administration's announcement that it will certify this week its intent to raise the debt limit didn't sit well on Capitol Hill.

The key issue is the 15-day deadline Congress has to vote on a resolution of disapproval of the President's request to raise the debt ceiling. The timing of the administration's planned certification implies that the 15 days would be up before Congress returns in January from its holiday recess. Whether this was an accident or not, we're told that the calendar issue created a behind-the-scenes mess -- with Republicans threatening to return early from recess -- and that the administration is trying to figure out a way to keep it from spilling out into the public.

I've reached out to the administration for further guidance on both questions. It's still unclear whether this was a hardball political move, a dumb mistake, or just a misunderstanding -- or what, if anything, can be done to avoid a public clash with the GOP over the timing.

The Tea Party Express has sent out an email to supporters rejoicing over Sen. Ben Nelson’s retirement and giving credit to the Tea Party movement:



All of you can take credit for this great victory and should be happy. Now we have to focus on getting a strong conservative elected to take the place of the "Cornhusker Kickback" Sen. Nelson.

We here at Tea Party Express are very pleased that Sen. Nelson bowed out and realized that America had enough of his liberal votes and agenda.

Rick Perry, who along with Newt Gingrich and several other candidates didn’t make the Virginia Republican presidential primary ballot, is taking the ballot access fight to court.

“Gov. Perry greatly respects the citizens and history of the Commonwealth of Virginia and believes Virginia Republicans should have greater access to vote for one of the several candidates for President of the United States,” Perry campaign spokesperson Ray Sullivan said in a statement.

The suit challenges “the constitutional validity of the Virginia statute which regulates access to the ballot by presidential candidates and limits the rights of voters to vote for the candidate of their choice,” the campaign said.

Read the Perry filing here.

Rick Perry, who along with Newt Gingrich and several other candidates didn’t make the Virginia Republican presidential primary ballot, is taking the ballot access fight to court.

“Gov. Perry greatly respects the citizens and history of the Commonwealth of Virginia and believes Virginia Republicans should have greater access to vote for one of the several candidates for President of the United States,” Perry campaign spokesperson Ray Sullivan said in a statement.

The suit challenges “the constitutional validity of the Virginia statute which regulates access to the ballot by presidential candidates and limits the rights of voters to vote for the candidate of their choice,” the campaign said.

Read the Perry filing here.

So far this month, election spending on TV and radio ads in Iowa has surpassed $10 million, a record for the Hawkeye State, according to an analysis by the Des Moines Register. Though candidates are spending heavily in the state, super PACs are also pouring millions into the advertising blitz blanketing the state's airwaves.

The candidate with the most money being spent on him -- in terms of TV and radio -- is Rick Perry. Perry's campaign has put the most into Iowa with $2.86 million. On top of that, a pro-Perry super PAC has made $1.33 million worth in ad buys this month. That puts the Texas governor at $4.19 million in ads this month.

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B. Todd Jones, the U.S. Attorney the Obama administration put in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the wake of the Fast and Furious scandal, told the Los Angeles Times that he would be making some termination or suspension recommendations to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responibility once an Inspector General report is issued on the botched anti-gun trafficking program.

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Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) is set to announce on Tuesday that he will retire in 2012, a Democratic source has confirmed to TPM.

Nelson was already probably the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent going into 2012, and Republicans and GOP-aligned groups were already advertising against him.

Holding this seat could be difficult for Democrats, as the state voted 57%-42% for John McCain in 2008, and has not voted Democratic for president since the 1964 Lyndon Johnson landslide.

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It was as certain as cause and effect can be in political maneuvering -- President Obama and Senate Democrats finally did to the House GOP what the Republicans have been so adept at: they cornered them legislatively, in this case on the payroll tax cut extension and won a temporary victory. But the more important component for 2012 was the fact that Dems won the PR battle in the media, all while bringing attention to the fact that the payroll tax cut existed in the first place.

While that course of events helped President Obama and Democrats in the short term, the post-Christmas bonus might be a bit sweeter. Tuesday saw the release of new economic numbers showing the recovery speeding slightly, and painting a rosier picture for the near future. Of course, the normal caveat over the last few years has been that any improvement is both fragile and dependent upon stable conditions -- for example, a major eruption on the European debt crisis would divert any optimistic prognostications.

But going in to 2012, legislative victories for President Obama are good. Improving economic numbers would be great.

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Speaking with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Newt Gingrich hit back at Ron Paul, who claimed the Speaker was subject to “serial hypocricy.”

“His ads are about as accurate as his newsletters,” Gingrich said.

The Speaker further said that he doesn’t know who he would vote for if the choice was between President Obama and Paul in the final nomination.

Is the White House taking advantage of the holiday recess to thumb its nose at Congressional Republicans over the nation's debt limit?

That's one interpretation of an announcement Treasury Department officials made today, which sets in motion an automatic increase in borrowing authority while Congress is out of session.

All of this dates back to the destructive summer fight over whether, by how much, and under what conditions to raise the national debt ceiling. Back then, the White House sought over $2 trillion in new borrowing authority -- enough to assure the country avoided another debt limit fight in the middle of election season, when members of Congress might be even more willing to put the country's creditworthiness at risk for short-term political gain.

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