The Note: (F.B.)I. Spy

Anne Kornblut of the New York Times details the allegations swirling around Congressman Bob Ney (R-OH) and reports Ney's lawyers have provided prosecutors with receipts from Abramoff's restaurant "Signatures" to help demonstrate he was paying his own way. Ney's attorneys are also combing through emails in an effort to show prosecutors that no bribery scheme every existed in writing. LINK

Kornblut concludes thusly: "But it may now be Mr. Ney's word against that of Mr. Abramoff, who has publicly ridiculed Mr. Ney's claim of having been victimized. In an interview in The New York Times Magazine last year, Mr. Abramoff said: "Ney told the press, 'I was duped'? It's crazy!" Mr. Abramoff has given similar accounts to prosecutors."

The State has Congressman Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the new chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, saying, "If the Justice Department is allowed to pursue this investigation, Watergate will be a Sunday school picnic in comparison. This will be the biggest scandal since the Teapot Dome." LINK

Lobbying reform:

Time Magazine's Michael Duffy calculates the odds that six types of lobbying reform are passed before Groundhog Day. Place your bets now. LINK

The Houston Chronicle's Hedges and Roth look at the challenge of passing lobbying reform that makes a difference. LINK

Bush agenda:

The New York Times' Richard Stevenson on the President's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day remarks and the "clear political undertones" on display throughout the day, although he, like others, isn't entirely clear on what the presidential endorsement of the Voting Rights Act meant exactly . LINK

Washington Times' Bill Sammon has the First Lady dismissing charges of corruption, offering to campaign for Republican candidates in 2006, and expressing her disappointment that the Alito vote is being delayed. LINK

The economy:

"Economic growth slowed late last year, fueling a debate over whether higher interest rates, higher energy costs and a cooling housing market will damp the U.S. expansion this year," writes Greg Ip of the Wall Street Journal in your mustest-read of the day.

Many observers believe the slowdown is temporary, Ip writes, "But a handful of forecasters see a marked slowdown in the works, predicting that economic growth will fall this year to its lowest rate since 2002, pushing up unemployment."

"After 16 consecutive quarters of economic growth, pay is rising at a slower rate than in any similar expansion since the end of World War II. Companies are paying less of their cash gains in the form of wages and salaries than at any time since the Great Depression, according to government figures," reports Bloomberg's Torres and Tanzi. LINK

"Such a disparity, partly the result of globalization of the labor market, helps explain why the Bush administration is struggling to muster support for lower trade barriers even with the jobless rate at a four-year low. The imbalance has also triggered a debate between Bush's Treasury Department and the Fed about how low unemployment can go without kindling inflation."

Politics of Iraq:

"More than 18 months after the Pentagon disbanded the Coalition Provisional Authority that ran Iraq, neither the Justice Department nor a special inspector general has moved to recover large sums suspected of disappearing through fraud and price gouging in reconstruction," reports the Wall Street Journal's Paltrow.

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