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« House To Vote Tomorrow On Bonus Tax | Blog Home Page | House GOP To Introduce Bonus Tax Alternative »

Strategy Memo: Tipping Point?

Happy Tournament Thursday. But the new cliche is that March Madness is in Washington as the government continues to deal with the AIG mess.

But President Obama and Vice President Biden will spend most of the day outside of the Beltway. Obama is in California, where he'll start his day with a tour of an electric car plant in Pomona. He'll later hold a town hall meeting in Los Angeles, which will also include Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.), Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. He then tapes the "Tonight Show" before returning to DC.

Biden is in St. Cloud, Minn., for a Middle Class Task Force town hall meeting. He'll be joined by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

The House will vote today on a bill that would tax employee bonuses paid by companies that received at least $5 billion in TARP money. Meanwhile, after confirming Ron Kirk as U.S. Trade Representative yesterday, the Senate will begin consideration of the nomination of Elena Kagan for Solicitor General. Debate and votes on amendments to the omnibus lands bill will likely be followed by a final vote on the package.

**AIG Fallout
*AIG CEO Edward Liddy testified in front of a House Financial Services subcommittee yesterday "that he had just asked a few hundred employees of the beleaguered insurance company to give back at least half of the extra pay," Washington Post reports.

*The Post's Dana Milbank also chronicled the highlights.

*WSJ reports that some employees of the "disgraced Financial Products group have agreed to return hefty retention bonuses under mounting public outrage over $165 million in payouts to a unit that brought the insurer to its knees."

*Click to read the text of H.R. 1586: "To impose an additional tax on bonuses received from certain TARP recipients." Not all Republicans are on board for the 90% bonus tax that House Democrats will introduce this morning.

*"In order to prevent Republican amendments, the bill will be brought up under rules that require a two-thirds vote for it to pass," The Hill reports. "As Democrats prepared legislation, Republicans sensed an opportunity to tie Obama to the scandal, and began calls for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's resignation."

**AIG Fallout II
*Chris Dodd clarified his statements yesterday about the bonuses provision, seemingly pointing the finger at the Obama administration. Politico has his statement: "I'm the one who has led the fight against excessive executive compensation, often over the objections of many. I did not want to make any changes to my original Senate-passed amendment but I did so at the request of Administration officials, who gave us no indication that this was in any way related to AIG. Let me be clear - I was completely unaware of these AIG bonuses until I learned of them last week."

*Now, "The White House is acknowledging that concerns raised by the Treasury Department earlier this year led to legislative language exempting existing AIG bonus contracts from new limits on executive compensation." But a White House official said that the administration was not "in a position to insist on any changes to the bill," and that Congress "held the cards."

*Time reports that Treasury officials were informed of the bonuses on Feb. 28, earlier than the administration has acknowledged. "The Treasury Department official says the fault appears to lie with career staffers at the department who failed to report the imminent bonus deadline up the chain to Geithner. This failure may be a by-product of the difficulty Geithner has had staffing up at Treasury."

*The New York Times calls this a "defining moment" for Geithner. "Fair or not, questions about why Mr. Geithner did not know sooner about the A.I.G. bonuses and act to stop them threaten to overwhelm his achievements and undermine Mr. Obama's overall economic agenda. ... The controversy comes as Mr. Geithner is about to announce details of the restructured bank rescue program, and it clouds prospects for more rescue funds that the administration is all but certain to need."

**President Obama
*New York Times on Obama's California town hall last night: "Striking a populist tone that found favor with the crowd of about 1,300 people, Mr. Obama called for bipartisanship to get the budget passed even as he mocked skeptics back in Washington who he said were accusing him of trying to do too much." He again took responsibility for AIG: "Washington is all in a tizzy over who's at fault," Mr. Obama said. "Some say it's the Democrats' fault, the Republicans' fault. Listen, I'll take responsibility. I'm the president."

*Chris Cillizza talks to political consultants about whether appearing on "Leno" is a smart move. Most said it was, saying Obama will face mostly predictable questions before an audience that leans GOP and indie. But Curt Anderson, a GOP media consultant, described the appearance as "an over-reach that cheapens both the presidency and his image."

*Washington Times reports that just days before his inauguration, Obama signed a $500,000 book deal. "Analysts say there don't appear to be any rules that would bar such transactions after a president takes office, but it's unclear whether an incoming or sitting president has ever signed a book deal upon entering the White House." The deal is for an abridged version of "Dreams From My Father." Ken Gross, former associate general counsel at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and a campaign finance expert, said there doesn't appear to be any rules that would prevent Mr. Obama from signing book deals while in the White House.

*Former Pres. Bush is writing a book, too, tentatively called "Decision Points."

*AG Eric Holder said yesterday that "the Justice Department has no plans to prosecute pot dispensaries that are operating legally under state laws in California and a dozen other states -- a development that medical marijuana advocates and civil libertarians hailed as a sweeping change in federal drug policy," the L.A. Times reports.

**Campaign Stuff
*The Courant talks to Dodd about the political fallout. "I've been getting whacked around the head for the last eight or nine months -- part of it my own fault for not stepping up earlier," he said. The political and economic environment "doesn't help," he adds, but he shot down speculation that he'd retire. "I'm running. I haven't announced anything yet. ... I want to win. What I want more than winning is to do what I'm supposed to be doing."

*Josh Kraushaar reports that AIG is now an issue in NY 20. The NRCC argues that support for the stimulus is support for AIG bonuses. "Did Scott Murphy ever actually read the bill or did he knowingly support a bill that would hand out millions in taxpayer-funded bonuses to Wall Street executives?" the NRCC asks in the release.

*It seems official, we'll have our second special election in California. Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA 10) confirmed she has been asked to join the State Department, which has "set off an immediate scramble for that rarest of commodities: an open House seat in the Bay Area." San Francisco Chronicle adds: "For Tauscher, the decision has its own political implications. The centrist Democrat already had a powerful platform in Congress as chair of the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition, and she was seen as a possible candidate for the Senate in the mold of California's Sen. Dianne Feinstein."

*OH Sen: A Quinnipiac poll released yesterday showed the race to replace Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) wide open.

*A spokesperson for Gov. Sarah Palin's SarahPAC says that she still has not confirmed her attendance at a GOP fundraiser in DC, and actually "never saw the invitation," the Anchorage Daily News reports. Meg Stapleton: "Someone helping me out on the East Coast ... in the enthusiasm of Sarah Palin and the enthusiasm of providing some sort of response confirmed that the governor was coming, and that wasn't appropriate because the governor didn't even know of the invitation."

*Palin, meanwhile, is defending herself after an article in Portfolio roundly criticized her handling of the gas pipeline. She called a headline "idiotic" for suggesting that the stalled process is her fault. Yesterday she also "surprised state legislators ... by indicating she is willing to negotiate how much the state taxes natural gas in order to attract oil companies to a pipeline project."

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad