In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Facing a deluge of letters from (mainly conservative) party members, House leaders have delayed unveiling their health care reform bill for at least a few days as they address a number of members' concerns. But the prime mover in their decision seems to have been pressure from Blue Dog Democrats, who delivered a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer last night.

"From where we are today, significant progress on the draft tri-committee health care reform proposal needs to be made in order to address each of these concerns," the letter reads. "We cannot support a final product that fails to do so. "

The letter, which you can access here, was signed by 40 of the 52-member coalition. Their concerns include deficit neutrality (the Blue Dog hobby horse) but also, financing, and the public option--which they say should not be able to use Medicare, or Medicare-like reimbursement rates (about 20 to 30 percent below the private market) but ought to compete on a level playing field. "We also wish to reiterate our support for the recommendations previously made by our Coalition regarding how to appropriately structure a public option," the letter reads. "In order to establish a level playing field, providers must be fairly reimbursed at negotiated rates and their participation must be voluntary."

That's fairly gentle language, and pretty remarkable when you consider that, until recently, a number of Senate Democrats were vying to scrap the public option altogether. I'll have more on this later today, but my immediate read on all this is that the Senate--its rules and its political makeup--remains the biggest hurdle to health care reform.

Late last night, House leadership decided it would postpone the release of its completed draft of health care reform legislation, after Blue Dog Democrats--and a variety of other concerned members--raised a number of objections to aspects of the proposal.

The bill was originally supposed to be unveiled late last night, but will now be postponed until at least early next week.

Leadership characterizes this as part of the negotiating process--and that's fair enough. The House is still on a much clearer, more united course toward passing legislation than is the Senate. But after weeks of smooth sailing in the lower chamber, this is the first serious speedbump.

Obama: "Full Recovery Is Still A Ways Off" During his press conference this morning, President Obama said the world seems to have avoided a total economic collapse, but that "full recovery is still a ways off." With the end of the G-8 Summit, Obama said leaders have agreed on significant measures for the economy, the environment and national security, with a "widespread consensus we must continue our work to restore economic growth and restore our financial regulatory systems."

Obama's Day: Meeting With The Pope President Obama attended a working breakfast with G-8 and African leaders, at 2:30 a.m. ET (8:30 a.m. local time). At 4:30 a.m. ET, he attended a meeting with G-8 and African leaders, and then at 6:35 a.m. ET he met with South African President Jacob Zuma. He held a press conference at 8 a.m. ET. At 10 a.m. ET, he will meet with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone at the Vatican, and then at 10:15 a.m. he will have a bilateral meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. The First Family will have an audience with the Pope at 10:40 a.m. ET. At 12 p.m. ET, Obama will leave Rome for Accra, Ghana, arriving there at 4:20 p.m. ET.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office just told TPMDC that the senator will file for cloture on the nomination of Robert Groves, whom President Obama tapped to be director of the Census Bureau on April 2.

Groves, the 60-year-old director of the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center, sailed through confirmation hearings in mid-May, but shortly thereafter, anonymous Republican senators held up his nomination, preventing a confirmation vote and leaving the bureau without a director. Earlier today Roll Call (sub. req.) reported that those holds were placed by Sens. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and David Vitter (R-LA).

The census, performed every ten years by Constitutional mandate, is not merely an exercise in demography: The populations of states and counties are used to determine Congressional reapportionment and redistricting, which will happen again before the 2012 election cycle. Moreover, state population totals affect the allocation of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to states for highway construction and renovation, Medicaid, and education, among other expenditures.

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In case you thought health care drama was limited to the Senate, just remember that there are spoilers in the House as well:

Conservative Democrats in the House are rebelling against their party leaders and trying to put the brakes on the push to pass a health care overhaul by August. The fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition plans to present a letter to House Democratic leaders Thursday raising concerns about costs and other issues and asking for more time, members of the group tell The Associated Press.

The Blue Dogs, I'm told, are meeting with leadership tonight to express their concerns over speed and scope of reform efforts, and are suggesting that a majority of their 52-member caucus would vote against the current draft proposal without significant changes.

Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) isn't taking being called a hypocrite lightly. In response to Sen. Arlen Specter's attack on his voting record, Sestak--who plans to challenge Specter in the 2010 Pennsylvania Senate primary--is setting the record straight. And he's not pulling any punches: "We've learned today that Arlen Specter can abandon his party, but he just can't quit making Republican swift-boat attacks on the integrity of Democrats who served in our military.

"Let's be clear," Sestak said, "I voted for Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama while Arlen Specter was voting for George Bush and Bob Dole and John McCain. My question to Arlen Specter is this: do you regret voting for George Bush and John McCain? Why should Democrats support someone like you who actively campaigned - as recently as last year - for politicians with values like George W. Bush?"

Specter accused Sestak of not taking an active interest in politics, citing the fact that Sestak didn't become a Democrat until 2006. But Sestak says that's all about being a military officer.

"Like Colin Powell (who was also registered as an Independent while he served), I believe that military officers should be nonpartisan," Sestak said. "The military depends on cohesion and unity, and the defense of this nation must never be political. I'm proud that I was an Independent during my 35 years in the Navy, and I was proud to register as a Democrat as soon as I retired from active duty. "

You can read the full statement below the fold. But one things clear--Specter better be cautious about attacking Sestak on any grounds that leave him an opening to pivot back to his military service record.

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The campaign of Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) announced last week that they'd be holding a big campaign event with President Obama on July 16 -- and it now turns out that they're moving to a bigger venue, after too many people tried to sign up.

Here's a new Web video from campaign manager Maggie Moran, announcing the switch:

The previous venue had been Voorhees Mall on the Rutgers University campus. The new location, the PNC Bank Arts Center, has a seating capacity of 17,500. This is still just a fraction of the more than 50,000 people who tried to sign up on the Web site. People who had signed up and couldn't get on the list will be on a preferred reservation list for future events. In fact, Moran said, there will be many more opportunities to see Barack or Michelle Obama.

TPMDC's update on the biggest legislative initiatives on the Hill:

  • Health Care: The marathon mark-up of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee's health care reform bill continued. Meanwhile, with the idea of capping the health insurance tax exclusion now on ice, a Finance Committee staffer unveiled some of the other funding schemes the panel is considering.

  • Climate Change: Looks like the Senate action on climate change legislation has been pushed back to September.

  • Nominations: The Senate Judiciary Committee released the witness list for Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearing. The hearing will begin on Monday, stretching on for days. And the GOP has invited a few doozies to testify.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL), whose appointment to the Senate by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich was embroiled in controversy, will not run for a full term in 2010.

Burris reportedly only raised $20,000 in the past quarter, making it impossible for him to run a real campaign. Polls also showed consistently that he would lose the Democratic primary, and if he were nominated he would lose the general election.

State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is running for the Democratic nomination, and has raised a decent amount of money. It's also expected that businessman Chris Kennedy, a son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, could get in.

A source told the Sun-Times that Burris was concerned about how people will remember him, after all the controversy that has happened: "After 20 years in government service, Burris didn't want the last four months in office to be that legacy."

After taking heat from Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) for weeks, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) is fighting back. "Congressman Sestak is a flagrant hypocrite in challenging my being a real Democrat when he did not register as a Democrat until 2006 just in time to run for Congress," Specter said in a statement today. "His lame excuse for avoiding party affiliation, because he was in the service, is undercut by his documented disinterest in the political process."

According to the website, the Specter campaign has been building up to the charge for days. "Specter's campaign," they report, "pointed out Sestak's registration history, first in a message to supporters Monday, later in follow-up messages to a reporter and again in a fierce statement against Sestak Thursday."

The attack is based on the allegation that, until recently, Sestak often did not vote in major elections, and didn't register as a Democrat until 2006. It's hard to say whether it'll stick, but it does seem to indicate that, with a primary challenge all certain, Specter's getting riled.

Whatever the merits of Specter's statement, it certainly more reasonable than the attacks Sestak's old rival levied against him in 2006. In that race, Republican Curt Weldon hit Sestak--a navy admiral--for having not lived in the district for years and years. Gee, I wonder why that might've been.