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Here we go again...

Ron Kirk, the former Dallas mayor picked by President Obama to be US Trade Rep, has tax problems. Senate finance committee staffers told members of the committee that Kirk underpaid on his taxes by almost $10,000 from 2005 to 2007. He has agreed to file adjustments.

According to National Journal's Congress Daily:

The underpayments deal in part with speaking honoraria he received that he listed as charitable donations to his alma mater, Austin College.

Kirk instead should have reported the honoraria as taxable income and then deducted the donations. The panel also asked Kirk for substantiation of other charitable donations he has made, including a television set, and it has questioned Kirk's write-offs of business expenses, including those for Dallas Mavericks season tickets.


Finance chair Max Baucus seems to be standing by Kirk. Baucus issued a statement saying Kirk "is the right person for this job and I will work to move his nomination quickly."

But something tells us that's not going to be the last word here.

It's worth noting that all of the major players on Obama's health care team are women. Today, the president names Kathleen Sebelius to be HHS Secretary and Nancy Ann DeParle, a friend, to be the White House health care czar. Two other pivotal players are Neera Tanden who was HIllary Clinton's top domestic policy advisor and is a counselor at HHS and is constantly in meetings at the White House. Same for Jeanne Lambrew who has been perched at HHS even though she's deputy director of the White House office. Look for more players in the coming weeks as Sebelius staffs up at HHS.

The good news here is that everyone's worked together. Tanden and Lambrew are both alumni of the Clinton White House and the Center for American Progress. Melody Barnes, the domestic policy adviser, is also a CAP alumnus.

One of the interesting things to watch in the coming weeks is how the White House woos Charles Grassley. Can they get the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee to be supportive of some of their principles. It would seem unlikely. But the presence of Bob Dole at this morning's ceremony suggests a big push in that direction. It helps that Nancy Ann DeParle is also close with Jim Cooper, the Tennessee Democratic Congressman who is one of the House's biggest budget hawks. (DeParle was the equivalent of HHS secretary in Tennessee. DeParle and Cooper are both Rhodes Scholars.) Cooper balked at the stimulus plan but he just might play ball on a health care package, say insiders.

It's going to be a very interesting spring.

Remember that bill we told you about last week, the one that was designed to crack down on offshore tax havens and might have helped stop Allen Stanford's alleged $8 billion scam? Well, it's back.

As we reported, the bill, introduced in 2007 by Sen. Carl Levin, died in the Senate Finance committee. A committee aide later told us that Committee chair Max Baucus never took it up because he favored a different approach to the problem.

But now Levin -- joined by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. and Bill Nelson -- has come back with an improved version of the legislation, the "Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act."

According to a press release, the bill now has three new provisions, that would:

(1) treat foreign corporations managed and controlled in the United States as domestic corporations for income tax purposes; (2) close an offshore tax dividend loophole that enables non-U.S persons to dodge payment of U.S. taxes on U.S. stock dividends; and (3) expand the tax return reporting requirements for passive foreign investment corporations (PFICs) to include U.S. persons who don't own a PFIC, but have formed, sent assets to, received assets from, or benefitted from a PFIC.


Baucus has already announced that he intends to introduce his own version of the legislation, that's more targeted at giving the IRS the tools it needs to detect tax cheats. So we'll have to see how that plays out.

But it seems like one silver lining in the Allen Stanford case is that it's gotten lawmakers into gear to try to fix the problem once and for all.

Ken Lewis, the embattled Bank of America CEO, has told the Financial Times that taking $20 billion of government money to help it digest Merrill Lynch's losses was a "tactical mistake."

Lewis told the paper that the move made B of A appear as weak as Citigroup.

He also said that he intended to stay on atop B of A until the firm had paid the government back the $45 billion in total it has received from taxpayers, saying that could happen in 2-3 years.

Lewis has seen calls for his resignation over the mishandled Merrill merger. Merrill's massive losses in the fourth quarter of 2008 forced B of A to go to the federal government for help. Merrill's billion-dollar bonus awards, which are currently being probed by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, have not helped the situation. Lewis recently stayed mum when questioned by Cuomo's investigators about what he knew about the bonuses.

The Coleman team was scheduled to rest their case today, and they did indeed do it -- not quite, though. In fact, they've provisionally rested, pending court action on a whole bunch of motions they just made.

First of all, Coleman lawyer James Langdon announced that they're filing a motion for the court to declare that "Rule 9," the procedure during the recount for handling duplicates of damaged absentee ballots, was illegal.

Both campaigns had called for this rule to be created during the recount, and they'd agreed to its conditions even with the risks that it could result in votes being counted twice -- or in other cases, not counted at all -- in precincts where some ballots weren't fully labeled through human error. And of course, it's really impossible to know just how much or how little this actually happened, or how the individual votes broke.

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Rush Limbaugh isn't happy with Michael Steele, who insisted that Rush isn't the leader of the Republican Party, but is just an "entertainer" whose work is "incendiary" and "ugly."

Greg Sargent reports that Limbaugh positively lambasted Steele on his radio show today, even seeming to suggest that the new RNC chairman should resign in shame: "I'm not in charge of the Republican Party, and I don't want to be. I would be embarrassed to say that I'm in charge of the Republican Party in a sad-sack state that it's in. If I were chairman of the Republican Party, given the state that it's in, I would quit."

Limbaugh also responded to criticism of his very active desire for President Obama to fail, bringing back the GOP's with-us/against-us dichotomy -- only in this case it's you're with Obama or against him. "So send those fundraising requests out," Rush said mockingly. "Make sure you say, 'We want Obama to succeed.' So people understand your compassion."

So the question now is who better speaks for the Republican base voters and activists: The official party leadership, who say they want the president to succeed even as they don't think his policies can work -- or Rush Limbaugh, who actively wants the stimulus and other policies to fail so that the country can survive? Five'll get you ten...

Check out this interview Michael Steele did Saturday night with D.L. Hughley on CNN, in the wake of Rush Limbaugh's speech at CPAC proudly proclaiming that he wants President Obama to fail.

Finding himself in unfriendly territory, Steele said that Rush is not the leader of the Republican Party -- Steele is:



"Let's put it in the context here," said Steele. "Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh, his whole thing is entertainment."

"Yes, it's incendiary," Steele added. "Yes, it's ugly."

You start to see why Dems are so eager to tie Republicans to Limbaugh. The man can do an hour-plus speech for the activist base, declaring that he wants the president to fail so the country can survive and succeed -- but in polite society, most people don't want to be anywhere near this stuff.

The Coleman campaign is scheduled to rest their case today in the election trial, and they're ending on a high note by pointing to what they say is the uncertainty of this whole result, due to clerical errors in the election system, even going so far as to blame "corruption" -- of computer data, that is.

This morning, state elections director Gary Poser revealed on the stand that over the past weekend he looked further into the workings of the Secretary of State's voter-registration database -- at the request of the Coleman campaign, after the Franken camp used the database to demolish a whole bunch of rejected ballots that Coleman wanted. And Poser discovered that there can be clerical errors in that very database, relating to when and how people registered, leading to arguments over whether we definitively know in a few cases whether someone was properly registered or even if their vote was counted.

During the lunch-hour press conference Coleman legal spokesman Ben Ginsberg said you can't tell the outcome of this election: "But the problem is it's tough to have faith in -- it's impossible to have faith now in what those numbers are, given the sort of systemic corruption of the Secretary of State's database."

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Labor's on board for the Sebelius nomination. See this statement by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney:

We congratulate President Obama on his choice of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as our next Secretary of Health and Human Services. The nomination of Gov. Sebelius will provide a great boost to the effort to enact sweeping health care reform.

Her experience as Kansas insurance commissioner and her outstanding record as governor uniquely qualify Gov. Sebelius for this demanding position. Time's selection of her in 2005 as one of the country's five best governors speaks to the critically important leadership and managerial abilities needed for this job.

Gov. Sebelius brings a track record of bipartisanship and the ability to work well with all the players in health care. We look forward to work with her to enact affordable, comprehensive health care for all.


The American Medical Association is similarly enthused. From Nancy Nielsen, MD, President, American Medical Association:

"In Gov. Sebelius' roles as insurance commissioner and governor, she has demonstrated the leadership skills required to direct HHS and implement health system reform. During her time as governor, she demonstrated her commitment to health care reform by expanding access to care for children.

"As insurance commissioner, she helped preserve competition and choice in the health care marketplace by halting a problematic health insurance merger in the state.

"In these tough economic times, the need for health system reform that provides coverage and high quality, affordable health care for all Americans is clear. We must strengthen the public-private mix of health insurance, and achieve greater value from the nation's health care spending. We look forward to working with Gov. Sebelius the Administration and Congress to improve the health care system for all Americans."

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