In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Democratic Senate Whip Dick Durbin says Obama will have to take the lead to keep support for health care reform afloat during August.

"The president is in the driver's seat in August," Durbin told reporters today. "Congress is gone and scattered to the winds with personal family and constituent service. And the White House is still there, generating a message and activity. So I think the president will have a chance to tell the American people a little bit more about why this process is so important."

For its part, Obama's political arm, Organizing for America, is raising money from its supporters to sustain its campaign for health care reform through a fraught recess. That'll surely help local organizing events and message distribution, but it still leaves a major role for Obama himself.

A new SurveyUSA poll of the Virginia gubernatorial race gives Republican former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell a big lead over his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Creigh Deeds:

The numbers: McDonnell 55%, Deeds 40%. If McDonnell were to win this, he would pick this swing state up for the GOP, away from term-limited Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine.

The previous SurveyUSA poll, which was conducted right before the Democratic primary in early June, gave McDonnell a narrower lead of 47%-43%, which has apparently expanded in the nearly two months since then.

From the pollster's analysis: "14% of those who say they voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential election say they will vote for Republican McDonnell in the gubernatorial contest; 9% of John McCain voters say they will cross over and vote for Democrat Deeds."

Maybe the House Republicans aren't done with Birtherism, after all. In fact, we now have Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a former House GOP Whip who is now the party's likely nominee in the top-tier 2010 Missouri Senate race, saying it's a legitimate question.

Mike Stark from Fire Dog Lake has done another canvass of Capitol Hill Republicans, asking them point-blank if they believe President Obama is a natural-born citizen. He got three answers in the affirmative, from Reps. Pete King (R-NY), Mike Pence (R-IN) and Tom McClintock (R-CA). From others, it ranged from refusals to comment -- which is frankly not a bad standard practice when a stranger is in your face with a camera -- to Blunt's open skepticism:

"What I don't know is why the president can't produce a birth certificate," said Blunt. "I don't know anybody else that can't produce one. And I think that that's a legitimate question -- no health records, no birth certificate." Blunt was unaware that Obama already has produced a certificate from Hawaii, which Chris Matthews has waved around on TV.

Read More →

Ok, here's some late breaking detail on the nature of the compromise between House Blue Dogs and Democratic leaders.

I'll fill in more blanks as I get more information, but here's my immediate read on the situation: Substantively, leadership seems to have given up very little, but, Blue Dogs succeeded at slow walking the bill, which won't get a vote until after the August recess.

After a week or so of canceled hearings, the Energy and Commerce Committee will continue to mark up House health care legislation this afternoon, and pass a bill by the end of the week. On substance, the exemption from penalties for small businesses that do not provide health care to workers has been raised to include small businesses with payrolls of $500,000 per year or less. Originally the bill called for the exemption to apply only to businesses with payrolls half that size.

The public option hasn't gone away, and remains in tact. Now, though, instead of being directly tied to Medicare, the rates will be negotiated by the Health and Human Services secretary--a provision which at a glance seems similar to the public option the Senate HELP Committee endorsed. States will be able to erect health care co-operatives if they choose, but that would be in addition to the public option.

The Blue Dogs managed to pull $100 billion in savings from the bill by lowering by one percent the rate at which people living between 300 and 400 percent of the poverty level will be subsidized to buy health care in insurance exchanges--they had originally tried to eliminate that bracket entirely.

Blue Dogs will likely herald this as a major victory, but compared to their original wishlist, this seems pretty minor.

As before, it's hard to know what will happen to the politics of this over the August recess. But there will almost certainly be a bill ready for a vote when the House comes back into session in September. That bill will have been endorsed in preliminary votes by a significant number of Blue Dogs. And in the House, where there's no filibuster, that makes its prospects for ultimate passage look very solid.

CNN just broke some important news. House leaders and Blue Dog Democrats have reached an agreement--the terms of which remain mostly unclear--that will allow the Energy and Commerce Committee to pass health care legislation by weeks end. As part of the arrangement, though leaders have agreed to postpone a vote on the final legislation until after August recess comes to an end.

In the meantime, leaders will stitch together a final package, stitching together the portions of the bill that have been amended by the Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor Committees.

The only figure that's been reported thus far is that Blue Dogs have lowered the cost of the legislation by about $100 billion. But we'll get you more details the moment they're available.

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) is responding sternly to Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), who blamed Southerners for dragging the Republican Party's fortunes down.

"I'm on the side of conservatives getting back to core conservative values," Vitter told the Washington Times. "There are a lot of us from the South who hold those value, which I think the party is supposed to be about. We strayed from them in the past few years, and that's why we performed so badly in the national elections."

As for Voinovich, Vitter said: "He's a moderate, really wishy-washy."

Speaking of conservatives who have strayed from core values...David Vitter was publicly identified as a former client of prostitutes, and admitted in 2007 to an unspecified "serious sin." The Washington Times article did not mention anything about the D.C. Madam scandal.

Late Update: Louisiana Democratic Party spokesman Kevin Franck e-mailed us a fun comment. "Last time I checked, you don't find core Southern values in the places David Vitter has been found," said Franck. "If David Vitter can lead his party back to their conservative values, maybe Larry Craig can give them tips on bathroom etiquette and Mark Sanford can recommend a really good restaurant in Buenos Aires."

It's now looking like a lot of prominent Republicans, ranging from party leaders to big-name pundits that we usually expect to make outrageous partisan attacks, are doing something they'd been previously neglecting: Definitively cracking down on the Birthers, rather than playing to the conspiracy theorists allowing this stuff to continue festering among their activist base.

Until recently, this wasn't the situation at all. Indeed, prominent Congressional Republicans were openly entertaining this stuff. A bill to require birth certificates from presidential candidates has picked up 11 total co-sponsors; Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) declared that the Birthers "have a point," and that he doesn't discourage it. Even House GOP Vice-Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), a member of the leadership, was saying she wanted to see the documents.

But now there's a pattern from on high -- in both the punditocracy and from the party leadership -- of Republicans backing away from this:

• Of course, all House Republicans who were present voted Monday night in favor of the resolution to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hawaii's statehood, which included language recognizing the state has Obama's birthplace. This included Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), the lead sponsor of a bill to require presidential candidates to present birth certificates, and House GOP Vice-Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). Only 20 GOPers missed the vote, which can happen for any number of reasons on a non-binding resolution.

Read More →

You know what happens when you strip a bunch of benefits out of a piece of legislation intended, in part, to provide benefits? It gets cheaper! The CBO says the Senate Finance Committee's nascent proposal will require $900 Billion in new outlays and cover 95 percent of Americans.

That's news that will please chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) who's said he wants his legislation to come in at under $1 trillion. Many experts suggests that robust reform will likely require more new expenditures than that. But to avoid sticker shock, and win some Republican support, Baucus' committee has cut back on the extent and quality of proposed benefits.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), told a local news radio show in Texas that she plans to resign her Senate seat in October or November in order to focus full-time on her campaign for Governor in 2010.

Hutchison said she'll remain in the Senate long enough to fight President Obama on health care and cap-and-trade. "I'm trying to finish those things in a responsible way and then I'm coming home to try to give leadership to Texas," said Hutchison.

This is in fact a widely expected move, and had been openly discussed by her fellow Texas Senator, NRSC chairman John Cornyn.

A resignation would be immediately filled through an interim appointment by Republican Gov. Rick Perry -- whom Hutchison is challenging in the GOP primary -- and there would then be an expedited special election in May 2010. The Republicans would be initially favored due to the state's natural partisan bent, but the race would likely attract a lot of money from both national parties, simultaneously fighting over a single Senate seat and the whole national political narrative going into the mid-terms.

If you're wondering what all those health insurance lobbying dollars funneling into Washington were really buying, check out this article.

Shares of U.S. health insurers rose broadly on Tuesday on hopes a health reform bill would not include a government-run option, which has drawn strong opposition from insurers who fear it would destroy the private marketplace.

The S&P Managed Health Care index of large U.S. health insurers closed 6.5 percent higher.

Aetna rose 12.6 percent, Coventry was up 12.7 percent and Cigna was 7.7 percent higher, all on the New York Stock Exchange. Centene rose 7.9 percent.

Via Firedoglake. That was less than 24 hours after the Associated Press broke the long-expected news that the Senate Finance Committee would not endorse a government-run health insurance option. And it may be evidence that the market doesn't regard co-operatives as particularly dangerous competitors to major insurers.