From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Negotiating time: This is Susan Collins', Olympia Snowe's, and Arlen Specter's world, and we're all just lucky to live in it, right? With House and Senate negotiators working with the White House to reconcile the stimulus legislation -- Rahm Emanuel and Peter Orzsag were on the Hill late last night trying to hammer out a conference agreement -- the New York Times reminds us that the legislation's fate is in the hands of three people we thought were extinct: Northeast Republicans. And the trio is receiving plenty heat from members of their own party (the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that the Pennsylvania GOP chairman criticized Specter's "yes" vote). As far as the negotiations go, one leadership source tells First Read that things are moving so fast that a basic agreement could be done by mid-day. One significant add to the conference agreement: $15 billion for school construction. NBC's Mike Viqueira yesterday broke down the other points of contention: the $15,000 homebuyer credit, the provision concerning deductible interest on car loans, the Senate's cut in aid to states, the Medicaid allocation formula, and the yearly AMT fix. (As of now, it looks like the AMT fix will survive.)
*** Other stimulus moving parts: Today marks the third-consecutive day that President Obama will actively campaign for the stimulus. After spending Monday and Tuesday stumping in Indiana and Florida, Obama today visits a construction site in Springfield, VA at 11:00 am ET with Virginia Gov. (and DNC chair) Tim Kaine. Also today, Vice President Biden gets into the act as well, stumping in Harrisburg, PA at 2:10 pm ET with Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell. The White House isn't letting a day go by right now without have someone on the road this week. Meanwhile, liberal supporters of the stimulus -- Americans United for Change and AFSCME -- are airing a new TV ad on DC cable calling out Republicans for "Just saying no" to the legislation. They also have radio ads targeting 21 House and Senate members who voted against the stimulus, arguing that they have a "second chance" to now vote for it. We wonder, however: Are Americans truly paying attention to these ad campaigns? When does it become white noise?
*** A Bronx cheer for Geithner: Right now, perhaps the only person who's more unpopular in New York than Tim Geithner is A-Roid. Indeed, Treasury Secretary Geithner took a stomach punch yesterday, proving that it's possible that no one can succeed in this job if he/she is solely judged by the mob rule nature of Wall Street. The spin out of the administration: If Wall Street is unhappy, then maybe they are on to something. We'll see. Congress didn't seem ecstatic about the lack of details either, so it will be the one to write the fine print at this point. But clearly, Treasury believes the biggest mistake Hank Paulson made last year for Phase One of the TARP was dictating to Congress how the plan works. And it may be politically smarter for the banks and for Wall Street to keep Congress happy since ultimately, they are now the bank of last resort.
*** No Country for Old Men? By the way, these are the conferees working on the stimulus compromise… From the Senate: Democrats Harry Reid, Max Baucus and Daniel Inouye, and Republicans Chuck Grassley and Thad Cochran. From the House: Democrats David Obey, Charlie Rangel and Henry Waxman, and Republicans Jerry Lewis and Dave Camp. The average age of these 10 men: 71. Just askin', but is that the change you can believe in? Indeed, the average Congress-watcher is probably wondering, "Where's a Blue Dog Dem or a moderate Republican?"
*** A public flogging? This will certainly make for good TV-watching today: Beginning at 10:00 am ET, eight CEOs from some of America's largest financial institutions will testify before Rep. Barney Frank's House Financial Services Committee on the issue of TARP accountability. Among the witnesses: Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, and Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit. As the New York Times' Andrew Ross Sorkin noted yesterday, these CEOs -- trying to avoid a mistake the automakers made last year -- gave up their private jets to come to DC via Amtrak or the Delta Shuttle. But they'll probably receive the same reaction from Congress that the automakers received: a public spanking. "Judging by the nation's outrage at Wall Street … our representatives are likely to turn the hearing into a public flogging," Ross Sorkin wrote. Previews of their testimony suggest none of the bank CEOs is taking full responsibility for what's wrong with the nation's financial system.
*** Mr. Franken goes to Washington: With the results of his Senate contest still in limbo -- although clinging onto a 225-vote lead, and now counting -- Al Franken (D) is in DC today. He arrived in the nation's capital last night and will stay through Thursday. Per the Washington Post's Cillizza, "Franken's meeting schedule … includes sitdowns with current Senate staffers, people involved with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and former Hill staffers including the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone's senior policy adviser." Norm Coleman (R) is also expected to be in DC today to raise money for the ongoing contest, which has gone 99 days (!!!) beyond Election Day. These Washington visits come after Franken apparently picked up 23 additional votes yesterday, but the Coleman camp believes the ruling will open up additional ballots that the Republican might later add to his tally. By the way, anyone else believing the Coleman strategy is this: delay things to point where the Senate throws up its hands and calls for a new election?
*** Other countries' elections: The fact that Likud and Netanyahu couldn't pull off a decisive win -- and may have in fact lost, sort of -- is proof that the Gaza war had political benefits for Kadima, no? Is that the lesson Israeli pols will take?
*** Adding to our "Dick Cheney Would Never Have Done This" file: On Thursday, Biden leads a presidential delegation to the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Boise, ID. (This isn't to say Cheney was against the Special Olympics; it's that he wasn't much for doing these ceremonial duties that had been traditional VP responsibilities in previous administrations.)
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 111 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 118 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 265 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 629 days
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