In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The Minnesota election court just laid down some serious punishment against Norm Coleman's legal team, granting Team Franken's motion to strike the testimony of a key witness involved in Coleman's claim that absentee ballots had been double-counted.

This came about because the witness, election worker Pamela Howell, had typed up some personal notes weeks ago and gave them to the Coleman campaign, who then failed to properly share them with Franken. Without Howell's testimony, the Coleman camp's efforts to show double-counting have been unambiguously damaged.

"The court will issue a written order with further explanation," said Judge Elizabeth Hayden. That further explanation should be interesting to read.

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The Wall St. Journal reports that John Boehner made an interesting observation about the Republican Party's problems: It's simply harder to sell their own ideas to the public, compared to the easy answers offered by the Democrats.

"We have a tougher job than our friends across the aisle. They've been offering Americans a free lunch for the last 80 years, rather successfully," Boehner said, at a lunch hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "Those of us that believe in a smaller, more accountable government, we have a tougher time making our principles relevant to the American people. But it's our challenge, and we've got to do it."

A note about free lunches and small government: Boehner voted in 2003 for the Medicare drug bill, a mega-expensive expansion of entitlement spending with no method laid out on how to pay for it. And the modern GOP's platform is based largely on tax cuts, with the constant claim that they'll result in even more revenue.

Norm Coleman's lawyers just had a very awkward moment in court, in their attempt to prove that absentee ballots were double-counted -- it turns out they've failed to share evidence with the Franken camp, involving a key witness.

The Coleman camp called Pamela Howell, a Republican election worker in Minneapolis, who said she heard another election judge exclaim that they had forgotten to properly label duplicates of absentee ballots that had been too damaged for the machines to count. She also said she did not recall whether they had made a note of this in the precinct incident logs.

Franken lawyer David Lillehaug then got up, setting out to impugn Howell as an unreliable, partisan witness. She admitted that she called up Coleman's legal team during the recount, informing them of the problem. Lillehaug then asked her if she'd spoken to the lawyers before her testimony today. "Not today," she said. He then asked if she ever spoke to them about her testimony. Yes, she did.

It was then revealed that several weeks ago she made notes on her computer, taking down the information she would need to know for her testimony. She gave a copy to the Coleman side -- and the Franken camp had never received it.

(By the way, this exchange included a fun bit where Lillehaug asked if her notes had a file name, and she said no. After some more direct questions, she said it was saved on her machine under the name "testimony.")

There then followed a contentious sidebar, after which Judge Elizabeth Hayden confirmed with lead Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg that he would be willing to serve a copy to Franken. They then went into a brief recess.

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After a series of rulings that have seriously hurt his ability to get new votes into the count, the Coleman campaign is now trying to pull off something of a Hail Mary pass to get ballots in -- and of course, the Franken camp wants to stop them.

Yesterday, the Coleman camp sent e-mails to county officials, asking them to certify that selected absentee voters whose ballots have been rejected did in fact meet all the legal requirements pertaining to voter-registration. The Franken campaign jumped on this immediately, sending messages to the counties to not respond, and filing a motion with the court to forbid it.

This morning's arguments got pretty heated. Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton argued that this violated all the basic rules of evidence -- officials are being asked to phone it in, rather than testify in court and be subject to cross-examination.

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Reuters picked up TPMDC's story from yesterday on the union federation Change to Win's request to deny bailout money to Principal Financial Group.

Curiously, Principal executives told Reuters that they have "not taken a position on the Employee Free Choice Act, nor do we plan to take such a position."

The company did not deny lobbying on the union-organizing legislation in its statement, so we can only presume that spent money last year to tell Congress it took no position on the Secret Ballot Protection Act, which appears on its public disclosure reports. That Secret Ballot plan was intended as a direct counter-attack on the union-backed Employee Free Choice push, as this statement from a supportive conservative group makes clear.

A response to Principal from Change to Win's Michael Garland, director of value strategies for the union's investment group, follows after the jump.

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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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