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« Polls Find Majority Back Funding Stem-Cell Research | Blog Home Page | Obama Defends Earmarks, But Calls For Reforms »

Strategy Memo: Earmark Madness

Good morning, Washington. This morning, President Obama will sign the omnibus spending bill, warts and all. But he'll later make an announcement on reforming the earmark process going forward. Later, he'll sign an executive order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls, and then meet with members of the House and Senate budget committees.

Vice President Biden, back from his trip to NATO, will announce the administration's new drug czar today. First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be together to present the Secretary of State's Award for International Women of Courage.

The House will vote today on the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which greatly expands the nation's wilderness areas. The Senate passed the bill in January by an overwhelming majority. The Senate will consider David Ogden's nomination as deputy attorney general. Also, Senate and House Judiciary subcommittees will hold a joint hearing on a constitutional amendment that would require Senate vacancies to be filled by special elections, not appointment.

Here's what's in the headlines today:

**President Obama
*President Obama's announcement of a way forward on earmarks today will "be his attempt to distance himself from the 9,000 earmarks in the omnibus spending bill he'll sign likely earlier in the day." Officials "were tight-lipped about details of the agreement. But sources did say to expect something close to or along the lines of what Mr. Obama has promised in the past."

*Obama is now planning "semi-regular" meetings with Democratic leadership at the White House, CNN reports. "The Wednesday confabs come amid growing signs that Obama's agenda may face major hurdles put in its way by some of his fellow Democrats, who have different priorities on some details in the president's budget."

*The administration will officially announce his new drug czar today, Seattle Police Chief R. Gil Kerlikowske. The search "was slowed as details of drug arrests involving Kerlikowske's son came to light." The position will no longer have the Cabinet-level designation it had under Bush 43, but a senior official said he'll have "full access and a direct line to the president and the vice president."

*Obama's education proposals announced yesterday "reflected his party's belief that education at all levels was underfinanced in the Bush years and that reform should encompass more than demands that schools show improved test scores. But they also showed a willingness to challenge teachers' unions and public school systems, and to continue to demand more accountability."

*New York Times looks ahead to potential judicial appointments coming from the Obama administration. "White House lawyers have compiled lists of likely candidates for vacancies on several of the 12 regional appeals courts, notably those based in Richmond, Va., and New York. Lawyers, scholars and political scientists have been watching closely to see whether and how much Mr. Obama will use his power to nominate judges to counterbalance the evident rightward shift of the federal courts under President George W. Bush."

*After having his nomination withdrawn to lead the National Intelligence Council, Chas Freeman angrily bashes the "Israeli lobby," which he said was behind a "barrage of libelous distortions." The withdrawal "will be seen by many to raise serious questions about whether the Obama administration will be able to make its own decisions about the Middle East and related issues."

**Congress
*The Senate passed last night the $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill, a package passed yearly to fund the federal government. On a 62-35 vote, eight Republicans voted in favor of the bill, while three Democrats crossed over in opposition.

*Washington Post: "The bill, which includes thousands of controversial earmarks inserted by members of both parties, was approved on a voice vote after eight Republicans joined 54 Democrats in backing a procedural measure to bring the long and rancorous debate to a close. President Obama has indicated that he will sign the legislation despite having misgivings about the earmarks."

*Gallup: Thanks largely to Democrats approving of the Democrat-controlled Congress, the legislative body's approval rating has reached a four-year high. Congress's 39% approval rating is its highest since Feb. 2005. That number includes 57% of Democrats, 34% of independents and 22% of Republicans.

*As we reported yesterday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she believed a second stimulus may be needed to continue the government's economic recovery effort. CNN reports that Appropriations Chairman David Obey said "he's already instructed his staff to start drafting a second stimulus proposal. Obey said his staff is preparing the outline of a stimulus bill but he cautioned there is no timeline to move on it."

**Campaign Stuff
*Dodd in trouble in 2010? According to the latest survey from Quinnipiac he is, as he trails former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.).

*Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) released this statement to the Wilmington News Journal on a poll showing him leading Atty. Gen. Beau Biden in a hypothetical 2010 vote. Castle: "While it's always nice to be ahead in the polls, they will not influence my decisions for the 2010 election," Castle said in a statement. "I haven't closed any doors on my political options, but at this time, my priority remains the needs of our state and its representation in the House of Representatives."

*A special election to replace Labor Secretary Hilda Solis in the House will be held May 19.

*And in case you missed it, here's what happens when you ask Jim Bunning for his poll numbers. ""That means it's none of your g--d--- business. If you paid the 20 grand for the poll, you can get some information out of it."

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad