In it, but not of it. TPM DC

At the request of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently examined the impact of three alternative "policy scenarios" on our current budget deficit, expected to hit $1.5 trillion for 2009. Their conclusions were fascinating -- or troubling, depending on your degree of fiscal hawkishness.

Pelosi Scenario One can be defined as the nation's real status quo, assuming that the stimulus bill remains a one-off law that does not change future budgetary estimates. The alternative minimum tax is also assumed to be indexed for inflation every year -- something Congress never fails to do -- and current spending on Medicare doctors' fees as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are assumed to continue at their current rates. The result is unnerving:

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The substance of health care reform is on everyone's mind in the Capitol these days, as Republican senators examine just how much cooperation is possible with the president's party. But what's been less clear is the timeframe for consideration of a major health bill ...

... until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) just cleared it up. "I'd like to get health care started before the August recess," he told reporters today. Started, but not necessarily finished -- when leaders give themselves a deadline, they tend to choose their words carefully. Sounds like GOP hopes for "regular order" might become reality.

The $410 billion government spending bill that's poised to pass the House of Representatives today contains a lot of good new science and sex-ed policies -- but that's not its only hidden gem.

The bill also authorizes a reversal of last year's controversial Bush end run around the Endangered Species Act, which would allow oil rigs and highways to be built anywhere in the U.S. without independent reviews of their potential impact on the surrounding wildlife populations. As Bloomberg reports:

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Louisiana politics is known for being a bit weird compared to the rest of the country, and it's starting to look like this cycle will be no exception -- with scandal-plagued GOP Sen. David Vitter facing a potential primary challenge from a major Christian-Right activist on the one side, and a porn star on the other.

You might remember this funny moment from the scandal, when Vitter drove into a parking lot sign in his rush to get away from reporters:

Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, told the Politico that he's considering a primary challenge against Vitter, whose conservative reputation has been damaged by his implication in the D.C. Madam prostitution scandal: "I will say this: I have people in Louisiana encouraging me to consider it."

Meanwhile, porn star Stormy Daniels is publicly contemplating a bid in the Republican primary herself, in order to cast light on Vitter's moral hypocrisy. So Vitter could be facing clowns to the left of him, and jokers to the right. But which is which?

To answer that, let's ask the question: Just who is Tony Perkins?

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The wall-to-wall media coverage of President Obama's speech last night pushed the growing controversy over bank nationalization into the business pages this morning, but Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke made a stunning admission yesterday before the Senate Banking Committee.

The government's latest rescue offer to Citigroup, in which Uncle Sam would convert its preferred-stock investment in the bank into common stock -- forgoing the 5% dividend and extra rights that preferred shareholders enjoy -- isn't just available to Citi, as Bernanke said yesterday. Any of the 19 banks that are in line for upcoming Treasury Department "stress tests" can get a preferred-to-common conversion if expected capital losses materialize.

Giving major banks another break at the taxpayers' expense would seem to be a highly controversial proposition in Congress, particularly when the conversions are expressly designed to help Citigroup and its cohorts do better on the "stress tests." But so far, the only lawmakers raising red flags on the stock conversions are Republicans.

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The reviews have been coming in on Bobby Jindal's response speech to President Obama's address to Congress, and he's getting a lot of negative feedback ranging from the content to the awkward delivery -- and that's from a lot of conservative outlets.

David Brooks was decidedly nonplussed:

"But to come up at this moment in history with a stale 'government is the problem,' 'we can't trust the federal government' -- it's just a disaster for the Republican Party," said Brooks.

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In an interview today on Morning Joe, Michael Steele seemed to be trying to back off of his prior statements about how Arlen Specter could face a primary challenge for supporting the stimulus bill -- but in the process, he only ended up saying that the RNC might not support Specter:

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Pat Buchanan pressed Steele to affirm that he would welcome a primary challenge. "Of course, the Senator's gonna have to account to the primary voters," Steele said. "He's gonna have to go through that gauntlet first and stand before those voters, and address a core question."

Steele said that the GOP "lost its mind" over the last few years on spending and small government, and that the stimulus was "a core principled vote" on Republican ideas about government and the free market.

Thus, Steele concluded: "So if the primary voters there have some strong voice, and certainly the state party of Pennsylvania does not put in place an incumbent protection, then the RNC will honor that."

As we've previously reported, Steele has gone back and forth on this one, after he first said on the Neil Cavuto show that pro-stimulus Republicans could be denied support. He then swung away from that, telling TPM that the decision is up to the state parties, rather taking a single position on it as the national chairman. And now he's heading back somewhat to the anti-Specter position, emphasizing on a morning show all the ways Specter betrayed core Republican ideas.

Obama's Day Ahead: Introducing The Commerce Secretary President Obama and Vice President Biden will be speaking at 11 a.m. ET to introduce the newest nominee for Secretary of Commerce, widely expected to be former Washington state Governor Gary Locke. At 12:30 p.m. ET, Obama and Biden will hold a closed meeting with the Democratic leadership in Congress. At 3 p.m. ET, Obama and Tim Geithner will meet with the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Banking and House Financial Services committees.

Stevie Wonder Performing For Obamas At The White House President Obama and the First Lady will be hosting Stevie Wonder at the White House tonight, as he performs for them and accepts the Library of Congress' Gershwin Prize. The event begins at 7:25 p.m. ET.

Biden Holding Economic Recovery Meeting Vice President Biden is holding the first meeting today for the Recovery Plan Implementation, scheduled for 9:45 a.m. ET. Meeting participants include Accountability Board Chair Earl Devaney, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, OMB Director Peter Orszag, and others.

Obama Set To Announce Iraq Withdrawal Plan Soon President Obama is expected to announce some time soon his plan to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by August 2010, with a residual force of between 30,000 and 50,000 U.S. troops to train and advice the Iraqi Security forces -- and a complete withdrawal would follow by December 2011. No official date has been set for the announcement, but a White House official told the Associated Press that it might come up during a trip to North Carolina this Friday.

Specter: "I'm Going To Have A Primary" Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) told CQ that he knows he'll likely face a stiff primary challenge in 2010, thanks to his support for the stimulus bill. Specter told the paper that an unnamed Republican colleague approached him in the party cloakroom to say how proud he was of Specter for taking a risk to help pass the bill. So Specter asked if his colleague would vote for it. "No, I might have a primary," the unnamed GOPer said, to which Specter replied: "You know very well that I'm going to have a primary."

Roll Call: Even Ex-Congressmen Can Still Get Earmarks Roll Call reports that Congress is poised to vote for an omnibus budget bill carrying over from last year, which not only includes earmarks but has earmarks from people who are are no longer in Congress. A standout is former Rep. David Hobson (R-OH), who will have successfully brought home $3.8 million for a supercomputing platform and $2.8 million total for two colleges in his district.

The Hill: Obama's Speech Just Getting K Street Started The Hill predicts that Obama's speech from last night will be a "starter pistol" for lobbyists, who will seek to shape the agenda on issues like energy, healthcare, education and financial services. For example, the American Petroleum Institute and its opposite number the Environmental Defense Fund were right out the gate with statements commenting on the convent of the speech.

Another national poll is out testing the reaction to Obama's speech, with CNN showing that speech-watchers came away feeling optimistic and reassured.

The numbers: 68% of viewers said they had a very positive reaction, compared to 24% somewhat positive and only 8% negative. And an astonishing 85% said the speech made them feel more optimistic about the direction the country is headed in (though granted, feeling more optimistic than before might be a low bar), and only 11% said it made them more negative.

And 82% of speech-watchers say they support Obama's economic plans as outlined in the speech, with only 17% against.

A caveat from CNN polling director Keating Holland: "These are great numbers for Obama, but they are no better or worse that Bill Clinton or George W. Bush got after their first speeches to Congress."

The numbers are also distorted somewhat, in that CNN estimates the viewing audience was 8-10 points more Democratic than the general public. But even if we subtracted 10 points from all the positive numbers above, that's still more than pretty good.

CBS News is first out the gate with a survey testing the reactions to the Sort-of-State-of-the-Union speech, with a Web-based poll by Knowledge Networks showing respondents' views of Obama before and after the speech.

The first number out so far: 62% of speech-watchers before the speech approved of President Obama's plans for dealing with the economy. Afterwards, the number increased to 79%.

But this one is the biggie: Before the speech, only 35% thought Obama's economic plans would personally help them. After the speech, that number jumped up to 52%.

Note that the increase in the number of people who thought Obama's plans would help them was the exact same number as the increase in those who approved of his policies.