links for 2009-03-19

  • President Barack Obama may try to push through Congress a health-care overhaul, energy proposals and tax increases by using a partisan tactic that would thwart Republican efforts to block the measures.

    The administration and congressional Democrats are debating whether to use a parliamentary procedure called reconciliation to advance some of the biggest items on the president’s agenda. The move would allow Democrats to approve plans to raise taxes by $1 trillion, create a cap-and-trade system to rein in greenhouse-gas emissions, and overhaul health care without a single Republican vote.

    “You’re talking about running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them into the Chicago River,” said Senator Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican who stepped down last month as Obama’s pick for Commerce secretary. “It takes the minority completely out of the process.”

    (tags: barack_obama)
  • Russian news agencies cited a top defense official Wednesday as confirming that a contract to sell powerful air-defense missiles to Iran was signed two years ago, but saying no such weapons have yet been delivered.

    Russian officials have consistently denied claims the country already has provided some of the S-300 missiles to Iran. They have not said whether a contract existed.

    The state-run ITAR-Tass and RIA-Novosti news agencies and the independent Interfax quoted an unnamed top official in the Federal Military-Technical Cooperation Service as saying the contract was signed two years ago. Service spokesman Andrei Tarabrin told The Associated Press he could not immediately comment.

    Supplying S-300s to Iran would change the military balance in the Middle East and the issue has been the subject of intense speculation and diplomatic wrangling for months.

  • Fannie Mae plans to pay retention bonuses of at least $1 million to four key executives as part of a plan to keep hundreds of employees from leaving the government-controlled company.

    Rival mortgage finance company Freddie Mac is planning similar awards, but has not yet reported on which executives will benefit.

    The two companies, which together own or back more than half of the home mortgages in the country, have been hobbled by skyrocketing loan defaults. Fannie recently requested $15 billion in federal aid, while Freddie has sought a total of almost $45 billion.

    Fannie Mae disclosed its "broad-based" retention program in a recent regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company was only required to disclose the amounts for the top-paid executives, who will pocket at least $470,000 on top of their base salaries.

  • The Treasury Department demanded that Sen. Chris Dodd insert exemptions into the stimulus bill that allowed bailout recipients to receive bonuses, the Connecticut Democrat said on Wednesday.

    According to Dodd, officials at Treasury expressed concern that if the government were to prohibit payouts, it risked being sued by companies like AIG, which had contracts stipulating that bonuses were to be paid.

    At the urging of Treasury officials, Dodd modified a clause he had previously inserted into the stimulus that prohibited bonuses from being issued by bailed-out companies. An exemption was added to allow bonuses that applied to in-place contracts.

  • Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) looks like he may be facing a fresh political firestorm.

    Dodd just admitted on CNN that he inserted a loophole in the stimulus legislation that allowed million-dollar bonuses to insurance giant AIG to go forward – after previously denying any involvement in writing the controversial provision. .

    “We wrote the language in the bill, the deal with bonuses, golden parachutes, excessive executive compensation that was adopted unanimously by the United States Senate in the stimulus bill,” Dodd told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer this afternoon.

    “But for that language, there would have been no language to deal with this at all.”

    Dodd had previously said that he played no role in writing the controversial language, and was not a part of the conference committee that inserted the language in the bill. As late as today, Dodd’s spokeswoman denied the senator’s involvement.

    (tags: Chris_Dodd)
  • "AIG is Obama's 'Katrina' — in terms of an example of government's failure — and the failure of presidential leadership."

    … That's according to former Ohio Secretary of State and Family Research Council Senior Fellow Ken Blackwell.

    Clearly the AIG bonus story has spurred a huge populist backlash — building on angst which had previously only been manifest during the Santelli rant — and subsequent tea parties.

    But anger over the AIG bailout appears to be just now reaching fever pitch, and it is starting to look like the bonus scandal may be laid solely at the feet of Democrats (they are quickly moving to get tough with AIG, forcing people to pay back the bonus money, but it is becoming clear that some key Democratic leaders were aware of the bonuses before they were paid).

  • Carrying a message that the days of greed have ended, President Obama arrived this afternoon in Southern California, where he tried to sell his economic policies to a region coping with rising unemployment, reduced housing prices and an ongoing state budget crisis.

    Obama left Washington for a two-day swing through Los Angeles and Orange County, where he will hold town-hall-style meetings and make an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

    (tags: barack_obama)
  • First Look at February RNC Numbers . . . Eh, Not Too Bad

    An RNC source has just shared their February fundraising numbers. Considering the ominous reports from earlier in the day, they're not that bad.

    $5.1 million raised — about same as January. January was $5 million raised with $7 million transferred.
    $2 million reduction in expenses — a 40 percent reduction.
    $24 million cash on hand up $1 million from January.
    No debt.

  • It’s been known for a while now that Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) has been planning to form a caucus of “moderate” Senate Democrats hoping to soak up special interest cash in exchange for blocking the progressive agenda. I’m told he more formally announced the formation of this group this morning, on Morning Joe, to acclaim from Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan. It’s nice to see that Bayh isn’t even pretending that what he’s advancing is some alternative vision of progressive change—it’s something he expects, rightly, die-hard rightwingers to find pleasant.
    (tags: Evan_Bayh)
  • Barack Obama even needs a teleprompter to get mad.

    On St. Patrick’s Day, the president spoke a bit of Gaelic, dyed the White House fountains green and talked about his distant relatives in the tiny Irish town of Moneygall, aptly named since money and gall are the two topics now consuming him.

    But Mr. Obama is still having trouble summoning a suitable flash of Irish temper at the gall of the corrupt money magicians who continue to make our greenbacks disappear into their bottomless well. He’s got to lop off some heads.

  • I checked in with Curt Anderson, a top aide to Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele, to get his thoughts on this story in The Hill, stating that the RNC is set to release "what are expected to be markedly low fundraising numbers on Friday." The response was pretty darn blunt:

    Not a serious article, by not a serious reporter . . . We will have something on fundraising either today or tomorrow.

    And this article wrongly states the fundraising numbers at the RNC for January. The January money raised was $5.6 million.

  • More babies were born in the United States in 2007 than any year in the nation's history, topping the peak during the baby boom 50 years earlier, federal researchers reported Wednesday.

    There is both good and bad news from the more than 4.3 million births:

    _The U.S. population is more than replacing itself, a healthy trend.

    _However, the teen birth rate was up for the second year in a row.
    The birth rate rose slightly for women of all ages, and births to unwed mothers reached an all-time high of about 40 percent, continuing a trend begun years ago. More than three-quarters of these women were 20 or older.

    (tags: birth_rates)