In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is holding a hearing today on the waiver request by California, as well as more than a dozen other states, to allow higher auto fuel-efficiency standards under the Clean Air Act.

The Detroit Three -- General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler -- are not sending direct spokesmen to the event. But one of their home-state senators, Carl Levin (MI), is there, and his argument tracks with what the auto industry wants: a "single national standard" to govern auto tailpipe emissions.

That doesn't sound so bad, does it? Well, the Clean Air Act did allow California to set its own environmental regulation standards and give other states the authority to opt in, but let's assume that a national standard would be the best solution for automakers as well as the nation. Now where should the national standard be set?

When I asked Levin this question last week, he said any national standard should simply be "fairly achieved" and that the specific fuel-efficiency level should be "left to the experts."

But Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign and the Sierra Club's former senior global warming advocate, sees the "national standard" push in a different way: as Detroit's code for urging rejection of the California waiver. "When they say 'one national standard,'" Becker told me, "what they mean is ... [that] California['s waiver] should be obliterated and the EPA should keep its nose out. That ain't gonna happen."

What may happen? The automakers may end up ruing the day they advocated for a uniform national standard.

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We now have our first poll in a long time out of Minnesota, from Rasmussen, testing what people think of the never-ending Senate race -- and it raises as many questions as it answers.

When asked, "Who will ultimately be declared Minnesota's next U.S. Senator: Al Franken or Norm Coleman?" the poll shows 47% of likely voters seeing Franken as the eventual winner, to 35% who think Coleman will come out on top.

This question was asked next, and is sure to be used as political ammunition by the GOP: "Should there be a revote for the Senate seat between Al Franken and Norm Coleman?" The result: Yes 46%, No 44%. The narrow plurality for a new election, within the ±4% margin of error, certainly does suggest that a lot of voters aren't satisfied with the situation as it is now -- obviously Republicans are almost all for it, but it also leads by 12 points among independents.

We'll see what other polls have to say as Coleman's revote gambit continues to play out in the local media -- for example, a small-town newspaper that endorsed Coleman in 2008 has now declared their opposition to it.

Barack Obama kicked off his health care summit in the East Room of the White House today. In his opening remarks, Obama reiterated the importance of getting health care done as soon as possible and made the case for bringing all interested parties together. Is this going to help grease the budget negotiations. His remarks as prepared for release are here:

We are here today to discuss one of the greatest threats not just to the well-being of our families and the prosperity of our businesses, but to the very foundation of our economy - and that is the exploding cost of health care in America today.

In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages, and an additional nine million Americans have joined the ranks of the uninsured. The cost of health care now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds. By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes. And even for folks who are weathering this economic storm, and have health care now, all it takes is one stroke of bad luck - an accident or illness; a divorce or lost job - to become one of the nearly 46 million uninsured or the millions who have health care, but can't afford it.

We did not get here by accident. The problems we face today are a direct consequence of actions we failed to take yesterday. Since Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform nearly a century ago, we have talked and tinkered. We have tried and fallen short, stalled time and again by failures of will, or Washington politics, or industry lobbying.

And today, there are those who say we should defer health care reform once again - that at a time of economic crisis, we simply cannot afford to fix our health care system as well.

Well, let's be clear: the same soaring costs that are straining our families' budgets are sinking our businesses and eating up our government's budget too. Too many small businesses can't insure their employees. Major American corporations are struggling to compete with their foreign counterparts. And companies of all sizes are shipping their jobs overseas or shutting their doors for good.

Medicare costs are consuming our federal budget. Medicaid is overwhelming our state budgets.

And at the Fiscal Summit we held here last week, the one thing on which everyone agreed was that the greatest threat to America's fiscal health is not Social Security, though that is a significant challenge; and it is not the investments we've made to rescue our economy; it is the skyrocketing cost of health care.

That is why we cannot delay this discussion any longer. And that is why today's forum is so important. Because health care reform is no longer just a moral imperative, it is a fiscal imperative. If we want to create jobs and rebuild our economy, then we must address the crushing cost of health care this year, in this Administration. Making investments in reform now, investments that will dramatically lower costs, won't add to our budget deficits in the long-term - rather, it is one of the best ways to reduce them.

Now I know people are skeptical about whether Washington can bring about this change. Our inability to reform health care in the past is just one example of how special interests have had their way, and the public interest has fallen by the wayside. And I know people are afraid we'll draw the same old lines in the sand, give in to the same entrenched interests, and arrive back at the same stalemate we've been stuck in for decades.

But I am here today because I believe that this time is different. This time, the call for reform is coming from the bottom up, from all across the spectrum - from doctors, nurses and patients; unions and businesses; hospitals, health care providers and community groups. It's coming from mayors, governors and legislatures - Democrats and Republicans - who are racing ahead of Washington to pass bold health care initiatives on their own. This time, there is no debate about whether all Americans should have quality, affordable health care - the only question is, how?

The purpose of this forum is to start answering that question - to determine how we lower costs for everyone, improve quality for everyone, and expand coverage to all Americans. And our goal will be to enact comprehensive health care reform by the end of this year.

In the past month alone, we have done more to advance that goal than we have in the past decade. We've provided and protected coverage for eleven million children from working families, and for seven million Americans who've lost their jobs in this downturn. We've made the largest investment in history in preventive care; invested in electronic medical records that will save money, ensure privacy, and save lives; and launched a new effort to find a cure for cancer in our time. We have also set aside in our budget a health care reserve fund to finance comprehensive reform. I know that more will be required, but this is a significant down-payment that is fully paid for and does not add one penny to our deficit. And I look forward to working with Congress and the American people to get this budget passed.

Now, as we work to determine the details of health care reform, we won't always see eye to eye. We may disagree - and disagree strongly - about particular measures. But we know that there are plenty of areas of agreement as well, and those will serve as the starting point for our work.

We can agree that if we want to bring down skyrocketing costs, we'll need to modernize our system and invest in prevention. We can agree that if we want greater accountability and responsibility, we must ensure that people aren't overcharged for prescription drugs, or discriminated against for pre-existing conditions - and we need to eliminate fraud, waste and abuse in government programs. We can agree that if we want to cover all Americans, we cannot make the mistake of trying to fix what isn't broken. So if you have insurance you like, you'll be able to keep that insurance. If you have a doctor you like, you can keep that doctor. You'll just pay less for the care that you receive.

Finally, we can all agree that if we want to translate these goals into policies, we need a process that is as transparent and inclusive as possible. That is why I have asked all of you - representatives of organizations, interests, and parties from across the spectrum - to join us here today. And that is why we asked concerned citizens like the folks on this stage to organize open meetings across America where people could air their views. More than 3,000 meetings were held in all 50 states and DC, and more than 30,000 people attended. I thank them for their input and ideas, and I look forward to reading the report that Travis has presented to me.

In this effort, every voice must be heard. Every idea must be considered. Every option must be on the table. There will be no sacred cows in this discussion. Each of us must accept that none of us will get everything we want, and no proposal for reform will be perfect. But when it comes to addressing our health care challenge, we can no longer let the perfect be the enemy of the essential.

Finally, I want to be very clear at the outset that while everyone has a right to take part in this discussion, no one has the right to take it over. The status quo is the one option that is not on the table. And those who seek to block any reform at any cost will not prevail this time around.

I did not come here to Washington to work for those interests. I came to work for the American people - the folks I met on the campaign trail, and who I hear from every day in the White House. Folks who work hard and make all the right decisions, but still face choices that no one in this country should have to make: how long to put off that doctor's appointment; whether to fill that prescription; when to give up and head to the emergency room because there are no other options.

I have read some of the many letters they've sent asking me for help. They're usually not looking for much. They don't want a handout or a free ride. Some are embarrassed about their situation and start by saying they've never written a letter like this before. Some end by apologizing -- saying they've written to me because they have nowhere else to turn; asking me not to forget about them and their families.

Today, I want them, and people like them across this country, to know that I have not forgotten them. They are why we are here today - to start delivering the change they demanded at the polls in November. And if we are successful, if we can pass comprehensive reform, these folks will see their costs come down and get the care they need, and we'll help our businesses create jobs again so our economy can grow again.

It will not be easy. There will be false starts and set-backs and mistakes along the way. But I am confident that if we come together, and work together, we will finally achieve what generations of Americans have fought for and fulfill the promise of health care in our time.

The Hill reports that Dr. Ada Fisher of North Carolina, one of three black RNC members, is circulating an e-mail among her fellow RNCers calling for Michael Steele to resign as chairman. But Fisher herself deserves a close examination, providing a very interesting look at just what sort of people make up the current GOP machinery and how it all works.

She was one of the documented Potemkin candidates of fundraising firm BMW Direct, which raised large amounts of money for GOP contenders in solidly-Democratic majority-minority districts, then kept almost all of it for themselves. As she said at the time, once the truth was revealed: "They sort of -- what shall I say? -- screwed me."

It also has to be noted -- which The Hill does -- that Fisher was a supporter of Steele's rival Katon Dawson during the chairmanship campaign, and even after Steele won she's been vocally criticizing him.

In an ominous sign, Fisher cites the danger of Steele having angered...Rush Limbaugh! "Limbaugh has already promised that 'His Conservatives' won't be giving to the RNC. I would suggest to you that that is a real bet," Fisher wrote. "If we can't raise money and continue to allow the alienation of the few varifiable (sic) red states remaining, we are foolish."

Fisher is also quite disgusted with Steele's public mannerisms: "I don't want to hear anymore (sic) language trying to be cool about the bling in the stimulus package or appealing to D.L. Hughley and blacks in a way that isn't going to win us any votes and makes us frankly appear to many blacks as quite foolish."

A few labor updates. Joe Biden is speaking in Miami to the AFL executive committee. There's no video of the event but there's a press pooler in there and the transcript of his remarks will be released later. President Obama endorsed the Employee Free Choice Act in his taped remarks to the group and there's a lot of interest in how hard Biden will push EFCA in his comments.

Meanwhile, next week, the SEIU will be protesting the various industry groups that are part of the anti-EFCA campaign, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, National Restaurant Association, Food Marketing Institute, Financial Services Roundtable, Business Roundtable, Retail Industry Leaders Association, and American Hotel and Lodging Association.

The labor federation Change to Win (CtW) was the first out of the gate last week with a request that banks with expensive lobbying habits be denied their requests for a government bailout.

Now CtW has upped the ante on Bank of America, amid reports that B of A is seeking to quash a subpoena of records that show senior Merrill Lynch execs earned more money when B of A took over their struggling company than before.

The CtW Investment Group, in a letter to B of A's lead director, conveyed a simple message: Fire Ken Lewis, the bank's CEO, or CtW will encourage shareholders to vote him and other independent bank directors out of office during the company's next annual meeting.

Read CtW's full letter after the jump:

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Al Franken's legal team has now filed their expected motion to dismiss each and every single one of Norm Coleman's legal claims in the election contest -- that is, asking that either the whole case be thrown out, or at least that some of the claims be dismissed individually -- on the grounds that he failed to satisfy his burden in court before he rested his case.

The court could very well dismiss some of these claims -- for example, Coleman's recent stipulation that the allegedly missing ballots at the center of one claim did in fact exist makes that one an obvious candidate for dismissal.

It seems very unlikely, though, that all of them would be tossed at this point, before Franken has fully introduced counter-evidence in the most contentious examples.

Fundamentally, they say that Coleman has failed to introduce any evidence on a wide variety of claims in the lawsuit -- that local canvassing boards made counting errors, that the state canvassing board inconsistently awarded challenged ballots to Franken, etc. They dig in further on the stuff we have sat through.

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) confirmed today that Republicans are holding up approval of David Ogden, President Obama's nominee to be deputy attorney general. From Leahy's remarks in the committee this morning:

Despite the strong support from law enforcement groups, children's advocates, civil rights organizations and former Democratic and Republican officials, and despite this Committee's bipartisan vote, Republican Senators have now chosen to filibuster the second of President Obama's nominations reported by this Committee. This is not a good start.

Ogden did win approval in committee, as Leahy notes, from senior Judiciary GOPer Arlen Specter (PA) as well as Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). But we know who doesn't like him: the right.

Family Research Council fellow Cathy Ruse, in a recent op-ed for, outlined the conservative case against Ogden, focusing on his past defense of abortion providers and the porn industry. Focus on the Family is also mobilizing its members this week to call for Ogden's defeat.

Late Update: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is expected to file for cloture on Ogden's nomination this week, according to Leahy's office -- meaning that Republicans will be challenged to put their money where their mouth is soon enough.

A group of centrist Democratic senators held their first meeting this week to discuss brewing -- but so far non-specific -- concerns with President Obama's budget.

Many of these emerging Democratic budget skeptics also fought to slim down the economic stimulus bill before it became law next month: Sens. Ben Nelson (NE), Mary Landrieu (LA), Evan Bayh (IN), Mark Begich (AK), Amy Klobuchar (MN), and others were part of influential centrist blocs during the stimulus debate and are likely to keep hold on their power during the budget debate.

Klobuchar told me yesterday that the stimulus negotiations could "potentially" serve as a model for the drafting of the budget. That prospect may give progressives heartburn if increased spending and tax hikes for the wealthy are put on the chopping block to assuage centrist concerns. But as Landrieu explained, the Democratic skeptics have yet to delve into details about what exactly is worth resisting in the president's budget.

Using the public record, however, let's take a look at what motivates three five of the key centrists in this debate:

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Over the past few weeks, a lot of questions have been raised about how to stop banks receiving government bailout aid from paying for high-priced lobbying teams with taxpayer money.

The short answer, unfortunately, is that most banks will continue lobbying unless shamed into stopping -- like AIG, which closed its influence shop but kept on hiring pricey PR consultants. Just listen to Roll Call's interview yesterday with Citigroup's chief lobbyist, who formerly served as George W. Bush's legislative affairs chief:

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