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Congress: Benefits bill signed into law

Per the New York Times, "Congress on Thursday approved legislation that would keep unemployment checks flowing to jobless Americans, and President Obama immediately signed it. After the Senate resolved a stubborn impasse, deciding the $18 billion cost of the measure could be added to the deficit, the House quickly followed with approval of the measure on a bipartisan vote of 289 to 112."

The AP: "The measure is a welcome relief to hundreds of thousands of people who lost out on the additional weeks of compensation after exhausting their state-paid benefits. They now will be able to reapply for long-term unemployment benefits and receive those checks retroactively under the legislation. The bill also restores full Medicaid payments to doctors who were threatened by a 21 percent cut and refloats the flood insurance program."

Turning to financial reform… NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports that GOP senators have been working on a letter signed by their caucus to urge Majority Leader Reid not push the bill to the floor next week as he has indicated.  Republicans say they want Chris Dodd (D) and Richard Shelby (R) "back in a room to work out a bipartisan deal." Sources say that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was rebuffed at the White House when he asked the president to insist that Democrats stop pulling their members from the room during negotiations.  Aides say the president did not push back but moved on to other topics.

A Democratic Party source says that Democrats begin tying the GOP criticism of the Senate financial reform legislation to the talking points that GOP pollster Frank Luntz drafted for Republicans to stop the bill. "The White House is preparing to take an aggressive stance against McConnell and the Luntz crafted lies he's spreading on Wall Street reform. We're not about to let them get away with planting the seeds of these bogus claims with the public the way they did for a time on health reform. McConnell's arguments that the Democrat's plan for Wall Street reform will perpetuate bailouts is pure fantasy cooked by Frank Luntz in a right wing focus group - and bears no reality to the legislation or Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party's longtime efforts to shill for Wall Street and its lobbyists."

A Wall Street Journal editorial writes, "At long last, the financial reform debate is getting serious, which is to say it is getting to the major questions—specifically, how can we protect the American taxpayer from being held up one more time by the failure of the banking system? Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, deserves special credit for insisting this week that the fine print in the Democratic reform bills should match the rhetoric of Democratic leaders. The main author of the Senate bill, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, says the latest draft of his bill to reform financial regulation "will end bailouts." We wish that were true. This evolving legislation still allows regulators to deploy unlimited sums to rescue financial giants, and with too much discretion." 

"Senator Scott Brown said that his mind was not immediately changed after meeting this morning with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, but there appears to be room to negotiate on a proposal to overhaul the financial system," the Boston Globe reports, adding: "The Massachusetts Republican, though, has also signed a letter that has been circulating among Republicans saying he opposed the current bill and wanted a more bipartisan effort."

"California law professor Goodwin Liu will be a test case of President Barack Obama's ability to win confirmation for a liberal appeals court nominee," the AP says. "Round One is Friday, when Liu -- nominated for a San Francisco-based appeals court -- appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee to face Republicans staunchly opposed to his liberal views. The nomination also will test Republican muscle to block Obama's court picks, now that Democrats no longer have a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes."

"Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) spent another $58,000 on legal fees from his re-election coffers in the first months of 2010, according to his most recent campaign finance report," Roll Call reports.
 
"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday that he remains committed to passing comprehensive immigration reform this year, either before the November elections or afterward during an all-but-certain lame-duck session," Roll Call writes. "'If we can't get it done before the election, we'll get it done' during the lame-duck session, Reid said. Reid refused, however, to say when exactly he would move the controversial legislation, telling reporters that 'I don't go for these arbitrary deadlines' and that once a bill is ready, he will bring it to the floor."