Huffpost Politics

HUFFPOST HILL - MAY 17, 2010

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As Harry Reid put it from the well today: "The end must come." Wall Street reform, Arlen Specter's career and Blanche Lincoln's brief flirtation with liberalism might be headed in that direction this week...and Dale Peterson will do his best not to unload his shotgun on all them thugs and criminals. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Monday, May 17th, 2010:

BREAKING

WALL STREET VOTE WEDNESDAY - Majority Leader Harry Reid will file cloture on the Wall Street reform bill Monday evening, setting up a final vote on the legislation for Wednesday, Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. Dozens of amendments have yet to be voted on, with senators jockeying for precious floor time. Reid's determination to finish the bill by the middle of the week makes it all the harder to get an individual amendment to the floor. "I do remind all my colleagues that the amendment process can continue after cloture is filed and after it is invoked," Reid said.

Senate Republicans are threatening to filibuster the so-called Volcker Rule that would prohibit banks from using taxpayer funds for their own financial gain. From HuffPost: "Only Sen. Dick Durbin's (D-Ill.) credit-card reform amendment has so far needed 60 votes. The rest have required only a simple majority. The higher requirement is an indication of the high stakes in play for Wall Street. Levin and Merkley, meanwhile, have been in close negotiations with Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and freshman Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, sources say." Brown was working with Levin and Merkley to make sure Fidelity Investments -- which is a differnt kind of bank than Goldman Sachs and Bank of America -- wouldn't be roped in, a concession he won, two sources said. Hagan wanted to make sure the military insurer and credit union USAA would still be allowed to operate as it does currently and she was given that, as well. Negotiations continue, as both Hagan and Warner are fighting to protect third-party asset management firms that they worry could come under the umbrella of the Volcker Rule. http://huff.to/99ONDv

Volcker Rule WHIP COUNT - If Hagan and Warner break away, Democrats will need three Republican defections. A source close to the process says Lugar is alread a yes and Scott Brown is very close to a firm yes. The remaining gettable GOP: Collins, Snowe, Voinovich, Grassley and McCain. Yet, there are two Dems leaning no: Klobuchar and Ben Nelson. And several undecided: Lieberman, Gillibrand, Schumer, Carper and Byrd, not to mention Lincoln and Specter, who may not be around for the vote.

Sleeping giant: Harkin wants to cap ATM fees. - The only way to beat an amendment to cap ATM fees is to make sure it doesn't come up for a vote. Tom Harkin offered it a week and a half ago but there's been little attention paid to it. Wall Street may run out the clock, considering ATM fees to be a serious threat to a major part of their business model -- taking money from people for nothing -- and is joined in fervent opposition by community bankers, who often have more pull with individual lawmakers than big banks. Harkin says an average transaction costs about 36 cents to perform and would set the cap at 50 cents.

Caps on credit card interest rates also in the works. - A federal loophole has long allowed credit card companies to headquarter in states with lax rules like South Dakota or Delaware and charge whatever interest rates they like. An amendment introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse would end that federal preemption. Once upon a time, individual states had usury laws that kept interest rates down. Whitehouse's amendment would let those laws come back. The community bankers don't necessarily hate it. "It might be disruptive to community banks that issue cards to customers that have moved out of state or who live in nearby states. But, community banks don't have programs that export high rates out of state," community bank lobbyist Steve Verdier told HuffPost Hill.

No cramdown follow-up. Two weeks ago Dick Durbin said he might offer a cramdown-like amendment to Wall Street reform, giving bankruptcy judges the ability to unilaterally reduce mortgage principal. HuffPost Hill followed up with the senator on Monday -- you gonna do cramdown or what? Durbin's reply: "No." http://huff.to/9mvXou

SCOOP: WHITE HOUSE 'OIL COMMISSION' IN THE WORKS - AP's Erica Werner: "An administration officials says the White House will establish a presidential commission to investigate the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. President Barack Obama will establish the commission by executive order. It will be similar to panels created to investigate the space shuttle Challenger disaster and the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a public announcement. No current government employee or elected official will be eligible to serve on the commission, the official said. Other details weren't immediately available."

MORE: Top offshore drilling regular resigns. Chris Oynes, the associate director of Offshore Energy and Minerals Management at the Minerals Management Service, tendered his resignation today, effective May 31st. Juliet Eilperin in the Post: "Chris Oynes, who oversaw oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico for 12 years before being promoted in 2007 to associate director for offshore energy and minerals management, informed colleagues in an e-mail that he will step down. He has come under fire from former MMS officials for being too close to the industry he regulated." http://bit.ly/cQ4rwP

Photo of Oynes awarding Transocean a "Safety Award for Excellence" plaque http://bit.ly/dwcF3T

HuffPost's Sam Stein: "Senate Democrats on Monday rejected a Republican legislative counteroffer to the BP crisis that would raise an oil company's liability for economic damages in the wake of a spill to the equivalent of one-year's worth of profits."

A group of green activists will hold a press conference tomorrow, urging President Obama to adopt comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation. Officials from BlueGreen Alliance, Green for All, League of Conservation Voters, MoveOn.org and the NRDC will be on hand to unveil their letter to the president at the National Press Club at 11:00AM.

PRIMARY BONANZA TOMORROW - Establishment candidates will butt heads with opponents from their parties' ideological bases. In Pennsylvania, political chameleon Arlen Specter faces off against Rep. Joe Sestak who has been locked in a statistical dead heat with Specer in recent polls. Blanche Lincoln will try to win 50% of the vote against Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter to avoid a runoff, though most polls suggest that will be unlikely. In Kentucky, polls give Tea Party darling Rand Paul, son of Ron, a comfortable lead over Mitch McConnel's pick, Secretary of State Trey Grayson. On the Democratic side, the left-leaning Attorney General Jack Conway has closed the gap with the more conservative Lieutenant Governor Dan Mongiardo. Analysis in Trending.

LATEST POLL NUMBERS - Pennsylvania Senate (D): Sestak 42%, Specter 41% (Quinnipiac). Kentucky Senate (R): Paul 52%, Grayson 34% (PPP). Arkansas Senate (D): Lincoln 46% Halter 37% (Research 2000). Pennsylvania House: Burns 48% Critz 47% (PPP).

WHITE HOUSE DOWNPLAYS ELECTIONS - Sam Stein: "[Robert] Gibbs refused to play ball. 'I'm happy to talk about the results when it happen,' he said, likening anything more than that to predict the results of the NBA finals before the first game's tip-off. But when pressed a bit further about what message would be sent if Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Penn.) were to lose or Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) were unable to get 50 percent of the vote, Gibbs acted as if the elections portended next to nothing for Obama himself. 'Obviously we have appeared in commercials [for Specter and Lincoln],' he said. 'But I don't think the two sides have argued about [the president] per se. Again we will have a chance to talk about the results and the outcomes and what they mean.'

OBAMA RELEASES FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE DOCS - The president raked in millions of dollars in book royalties, an inheritance from his grandmother valued under $1,000 and a Portuguese water dog of some renown from Ted Kennedy worth $1,600. http://bit.ly/d2iYHH

Apparently Obama warmed up a bit before throwing out the first pitch at the National's opener. Picture: http://bit.ly/aChFog

Tonight in Roll Call, Kathleen Hunter examines the politics of committee assignments in an election year: "[T]he spoils of power aren't what they used to be, and even the sophomore lawmaker who ultimately claimed the late Rep. John Murtha's seat on the Appropriations Committee says he's not counting on his new stature to ensure victory in November. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), who squeaked into office in 2006 in a district that twice voted for George W. Bush, acknowledged that being one of the Democrats who doles out the bacon back home could be a double-edged sword, providing fodder for Republicans looking to oust him in what Democrats fear is shaping up to be an anti-incumbent, anti-Washington midterm election."

SCOTUS RULES ON MINOR PAROLE, RELEASING PEDOS - The high court handed down several hot button decisions this morning. Chief Justice John Roberts joined Anthony Kennedy and the court's liberal wing in ruling that minors convicted of non-homicidal crimes must be considered for parole. AP: "An estimated 111 defendants in the United States have been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for crimes other than murder committed when they were under age 18. About 70 percent of them are imprisoned in Florida. The ruling in a case from Florida involved Terrance Graham, who was 16 when he committed armed burglary and another crime. He then committed an armed home-invasion robbery at age 17, and was sentenced to life in prison. His attorney had argued that such a sentence unfairly condemned adolescents to die in prison and rejected any hope that they could change and could be rehabilitated." http://bit.ly/cjhuum

ABC News: "The Supreme Court ruled Monday that federal officials can indefinitely hold inmates considered 'sexually dangerous' after their prison terms are complete." Elena Kagan argued the case. That oughta do it for the whole detainee issue, if federal bureaucrats can deem a person "sexually dangerous" and imprison him or her without trial.
http://bit.ly/9ulukK

At least three senators who want to end the practice of secret holds on nominees and legislation have holds of their own, according to a survey by The Hill.

NEW HUFFPOST REPORTER - Lucia Graves, formerly of U.S. News and World Report, began today as a Hill reporter for HuffPost. Flaks, gadflies and trouble-makers: introduce yourselves to her at Lucia@huffingtonpost.com.

Kudos to Sara Jerome and Mike Lillis who are joining The Hill to cover technology and healthcare, respectively. http://bit.ly/bGTPcQ

Don't be bashful: Send tips/stories/photos/events/fundraisers/job movement/juicy miscellanea to huffposthill@huffingtonpost.com

TRENDING

PRIMARY PREVIEWS - In Pennsylvania, with President Obama and VP Joe Biden refusing to stump for Specter, the Democratic primary may come down to the ground game. Sam Stein reports: "The congressman visited all 67 counties in the state in the course of hosting 500 separate campaign events - a rather Herculean effort considering just how wide a terrain had to be covered. He now has ten offices statewide and more than 5,000 volunteers, according to Jonathon Dworkin, the communication's director for the Sestak campaign.

"...The institutional advantages for the Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaign all seem to be in Specter's favor. The Senator has the endorsement of many of the key lawmakers in the state as well as the major unions. While he has spent his entire career on the Republican side of the aisle, his intrinsic understanding of the politics of the state have provided him with crossover appeal. It is all but assured that he will win the populous Democratic enclaves in Harrisburg and Philadelphia. The question is by how much...Can Specter translate his well-tuned GOTV approach to a Democratic setting after years of running as a Republican? One top-D.C. operative said that he was not 'terribly impressed with Specter's ground game operation' days before the vote was held." http://huff.to/agBy2F

Down in Arkansas, liberals will likely have cause to celebrate even if Blanche Lincoln defeats Bill Halter. Voter surveys suggest Lincoln will not earn the 50% needed to avoid a runoff in June. This means she will have to flaunt her progressive bona fides for a few more weeks as Congress finalizes financial reform. David Dayen in Firedoglake: "Halter received strong support from the netroots and the labor movement. The most likely scenario at this point looks to be a runoff...That runoff would take place on June 8. Lincoln positions herself as in the sensible center, disliked by the left and right, but in a potential second-round matchup it would be just her and Halter, and her fealty to wealthy and corporate interests would be on full display in an election likely to feature low turnout." http://bit.ly/a6nycI

Newsweek's Andrew Romano breaks down the GOP contest in Kentucky: "The race has become a staging ground for the ongoing battle within the Republican Party between small-government purists and Beltway insiders who enabled George W. Bush's spending spree, so it's no wonder that Paul, a principled libertarian, is ahead of the very corporate-seeming Grayson. But this development has more to do with style and organizing than ideology...Except on foreign wars--which Paul tends to oppose--there's not much philosophical daylight between the two Kentucky contenders. But Paul has a lock on the protest brand, and protest is what's hot right now." http://bit.ly/dj34sZ

Despite the center-left showdown in Kentucky's Democratic primary, Marc Ambinder thinks the contest is moot: "It will be difficult for either Democrat, former Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo and current Attorney General Jack Conway, to beat Rand Paul in a Republican wave election year. Paul seems to be a meaty target, but his supporters are fervent, and Kentucky ... well, it's just hard to see how Kentucky's Democrats and progressives enthusiastically turn out in November. Stranger things have happened, one of which is Paul's improbable candidacy." http://bit.ly/a9ZBzx

TPM's Eric Kleefeld examines other notable primaries including two at-risk Dem seats and a Republican House contest, both in Arkansas, and a Dem gubenatorial primary in Oregon. http://bit.ly/9VFj3v

A new poll shows 83% of Americans think Ronald Reagan shouldn't replace Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 bill. GIPPER FAIL. http://bit.ly/9dULTC

MURTHA SEAT UP FOR GRABS - From NPR's Ken Rudin: "[Mark] Critz is a longtime Murtha staffer; Burns is a businessman...The district is strongly Democratic but culturally conservative; Murtha was less charitable when he described it in 2008, saying the area was 'racist' but later apologizing and downgrading his caricature to 'redneck.' It's the only district in the country that voted for John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008. It is fair to say that neither Obama nor House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is especially popular in the 12th, and Burns is doing what he can to link them to Critz. For his part Critz -- who opposes abortion rights, says he would have voted against the health-care bill and supports gun rights -- argues his focus is less on Washington, D.C., and more on Washington, Pa." http://n.pr/avpSSX

Candidates aside, who has the most skin in the game? Politico's Alexander Burns says Bill Clinton, Ed Rendell, Mike Huckabee, big labor and Kentucky's entire political establishment. http://bit.ly/9PatWu

Lest we forget, keep an eye on the Alabama Agriculture Commissioner race. Check out this patriotic throat-punch of an ad from Republican primary candidate Dale Peterson. It's about as American as a turducken loaded with fireworks. http://bit.ly/cAgH7n

OBAMA SIGNS PRESS FREEDOM ACT - The measure requires the State Department to list in its annual human rights report the countries that don't uphold press freedom. The act is named after slain journalist Daniel Pearl, whose family was on hand for the Oval Office signing.

...after the signing, the president then exercised his freedom to not take questions from the press. http://bit.ly/blESFk

The President's Kenyan aunt, Zeituni Onyango, was granted aslyum today by a U.S. court. http://huff.to/bluyva

NAPOLITANO ANSWERS QUESTIONS ON OIL SPILL - The DHS Secretary appeared before the Senate Homeland Security Committee. From Siobhan Hughes in WSJ: "'Since day one, the administration has engaged in an all-hands-on-deck response to this event--and DHS has played a significant role,' Ms. Napolitano said in testimony to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. 'We planned for a worst-case scenario from the moment the explosion occurred and now, almost four weeks later, we are continuing to sustain a strong and effective response.' The Obama administration has dispatched officials including Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Energy Secretary Steven Chu to cities around the Gulf as BP PLC works to contain the oil spill. More than 17,000 federal, state and local workers, along with thousands of trained volunteers, are responding, she said." http://bit.ly/99ltLb

TRANSOCEAN'S SLICK MOVE - The Hill reports that TransOcean has stepped up its lobbying efforts in the wake of the massive oil spill: "Transocean Ltd. recently signed Capitol Hill Consulting Group, which includes a former Democratic congressman and a top energy advisor to then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), to lobby for an undisclosed sum, according to federal lobbying records...In addition to Capitol Hill Consulting, Transocean has also hired FD Public Affairs to help it deal with the media onslaught. Transocean's lobbying team includes former Oklahoma Democratic Congressman Bill Brewster, who served in the House from 1991 to 1997, and Jack Victory, who handled energy policy for DeLay." http://bit.ly/c0boBC

This as scientists voiced concerns that the oil has entered a loop current that could drive it up the Florida Keys. AP: "The loop current could carry oil from the spill east and spread it about 450 miles to the Florida Keys, while the Louisiana coastal current could move the oil as far west as central Texas. The depth of the gushing leaks and the use of more than 580,000 gallons of chemicals to disperse the oil, including unprecedented injections deep in the sea, have helped keep the crude beneath the sea surface. Officials report that more than 390,000 gallons of chemicals are stockpiled. Marine scientists say diffusing and sinking the oil helps protect the surface species and the Gulf Coast shoreline but increases the chance of harming deep-sea reefs." http://huff.to/aV1MRS

BERNARD KERIK REPORTS TO JAIL - The former NYPD commissioner and W's botched Homeland Security nominee begins his four-year term for lying to White House officials about his taxes during his DHS vetting. http://bit.ly/bgGq9p

...and a new Cornell study finds ugly people are more likely to be convicted of crimes. http://bit.ly/cRSemD

TODAY IN KAGAN - The White House announced it will release the Solicitor General's senior thesis from Princeton. Stephanie Condon for CBS: "Right-wing blogs have pounced on the subject of the thesis Kagan wrote as an undergraduate at Princeton in 1981, entitled, 'To the Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900-1933.' The conservative site RedState.com first published the thesis, but Princeton -- which charges $57 for a copy of the thesis, according to RedState blogger Erick Erickson -- asked for the document to be removed from the Web, citing copyright laws. Now, however, the White House plans to make the paper available, as well as the thesis Kagan wrote at Oxford, Politico reports." http://bit.ly/a18Nu7

McConnell knocked Kagan today for her views on campaign finance. AP: "The Senate's top Republican is criticizing Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan for backing limits on the ability of corporations and labor unions to influence elections. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky says Kagan's argument in a Supreme Court case testing those restrictions was 'troubling to those who cherish free speech.'" http://huff.to/aXHBWR White House and congressional Dems are incredibly eager to have this fight over Kagan.

HAMP HEADACHE - The latest numbers, from HuffPost's Shahien Nasiripour: "More than twice as many homeowners were kicked out of the Obama administration's signature foreclosure-prevention program last month as were granted permanent relief, new data released Monday show. More than 123,000 homeowners were bounced from the administration's Home Affordable Modification Program in April versus about 60,000 who were offered five-year plans of lowered monthly payments. This is the first month since the administration started reporting cancellation figures that the number of canceled modifications outpaced the number of new permanent modification offers. The number of canceled modifications skyrocketed 82 percent in April compared to March." http://huff.to/adVxW1

Kagan's deputy in the Solicitor General's office, Neal Katyal, officially took over today as acting Solicitor General. http://bit.ly/bO9Pr4

By 49%-39%, Coloradans support legalizing and taxing marijuana, according to a Rasmussen poll. http://bit.ly/bD2mld

COMFORT FOOD

- A peeping Tom was scoping out the wife of a mixed martial arts fighter. Guess how that turned out for Tom. http://huff.to/aRwHAh

- For the gastronome whose self-loathing isn't fully sated by the Double Down, meet the Cheesesteak Pretzel. http://bit.ly/9l4uxH

- Move over Carrie Prejean, Miss Oklahoma thinks Arizona's immigration law is fine and dandy. http://bit.ly/9SRuQc

- As Miss Oklahoma lauded efforts to keep brown people out of Arizona, a Lebanese immigrant was crowned Miss USA, the first Muslim and Arab to ever receive the distinction. http://bit.ly/aRQt9y

- Details about the new MacBook model leaked to a tech site in Vietnam. http://bit.ly/bQAe5h

- Hipster or bureaucrat? http://bit.ly/bo7400

- Today YouTube celebrates its fifth anniversary. Conan O'Brien lists his five favorite YouTube videos. http://bit.ly/bkACuh

- Via Gizmodo, how to drop a deuce in a zero-G environment. http://bit.ly/98vzbw

TWITTERAMA

@BarbaraJWalters: I am feeling great. Love you all

@downwithtyranny: Specter is so senile that he called Sestak "Toomey" 3 times in 1 minute in Erie today-- even after being corrected. PA Dem Party is pathetic http://bit.ly/a3Js86

@edatpost: May is National Hamburger Month, according to the friendly guy on the recorded messages at the #Census Bureau http://bit.ly/9dSVAu

@ricksanchezcnn: i want to know which one of you out there urinated in mr harpole's cereal http://bit.ly/bF6EtD

@pourmecoffee Did not like part in new Robin Hood where he sold poor CDOs of worthless rich equities, and then shorted it himself.

THE TUBE

Eliot Spitzer filled in for Dylan Ratigan and spoke to Ed Rendell, Sheldon Whitehouse and Rand Paul. Chris Matthews chewed the fat with Joe Sestak on the eve of the Pennsylvania Senate primary. Ed Schultz talk to Raul Grijalva about oil politics. Ed Markey gives his two cents on oil on Countdown. Ted Kaufman discusses financial reform on Maddow.

ON TAP

TONIGHT

5:30 pm- 7:30 pm: Is there nothing lawmakers won't fundraise around? Help Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) celebrate the 16th anniversary of his special election victory [National Association of Realtors Building, 500 New Jersey Ave. NW].

6:00 pm: Rock and Roll Ping Pong at Rock and Roll Hotel [Rock and Roll Hotel, 1353 H Street, NE].

6:30 pm - 8:30 pm: Martha's Table, an organization that provides food, clothing and education to low-income chlidren in the D.C. area hosts a happy hour and fundraiser. The event is being held at Cork, the District's tapas bar du jour [Cork, 1720 14th Street NW].

6:30 pm: Dollar movie night at Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse. Tonight the NOVA movie theater-cum-watering hole screens "Alice In Wonderland" and "Shutter Island" [Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse, [2903 Columbia Pike, Arlington].

TOMORROW

12:00 pm: Frank Lucas (R-Texas) will generate some dough for his Longhorn PAC at the Capitol Hill Club (like the C Street House but with a much nicer grotto) [Capitol Hill Club, 300 First Street SE].

Got something to add? Send tips/quotes/stories/photos/events/fundraisers/job movement/juicy miscellanea to Eliot Nelson (eliot@huffingtonpost.com), Ryan Grim (ryan@huffingtonpost.com) or Nico Pitney (nico@huffingtonpost.com). Follow us on Twitter @HuffPostHill (twitter.com/HuffPostHill). Sign up here: http://huff.to/an2k2e

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