In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) is firing back at Gov. Ed Rendell, who has called upon him to drop his primary challenge against Sen. Arlen Specter. Sestak's spokesman gave a statement to Greg Sargent, casting Sestak as the underdog taking on the establishment:

Joe Sestak has great respect for Governor Rendell -- but we have to ask ourselves, what would happen if our leaders only stood up to challenges when the odds were in their favor? That isn't the spirit that created this nation, led Barack Obama to the Oval Office, or allowed Ed Rendell to become Governor of Pennsylvania when everyone said a Mayor of Philadelphia could never win.

What will happen if only those from what the establishment deems "safe seats" are advised to run for higher office? Where will the audacity come from, if not from those who have demonstrated the ability to galvanize a constituency against the odds? Political calculation is not what put the Democrats in power, and it isn't what's going to keep us there. The people are looking for leaders of conviction, not convenience.

The people of Pennsylvania don't want to hear that someone won't face a challenge because it will be too difficult. We should demand more from our leaders.

Obama: I Would Veto Tax On Health Benefits President Obama said in an interview with Jim Lehrer yesterday that he would veto a health bill care that taxed medical benefits. "Essentially employers would stop providing healthcare," said Obama. "John McCain had suggested everybody gets a tax credit, but the concern was that the tax credit wouldn't be sufficient to actually buy health insurance on the market. So I am still opposed to that and would veto a bill if that was the approach."

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will deliver remarks on health care reform today, at 1:05 p.m. ET. At 1:20 p.m. ET, he will meet with Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He will meet with Sec. of Defense Robert Gates at 4:30 p.m. ET. At 7:30 p.m. ET, the President and First Lady will host an event celebrating country music.

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On Friday, the New York Times dropped a bombshell on the labor movement with a report that Senate negotiators had scotched a provision commonly known as 'card check'--which would permit workers to form a union when a majority of a business' employees sign an authorization form--from the Employee Free Choice Act.

Some labor officials played it cool when the news broke, but SEIU president Andy Stern insisted that he expected Congress to vote on the provision one way or another. Now, Stern's turning to his online supporters to make sure that happens.

"The New York Times reported on Friday that the Senate is considering dropping majority signup from the Employee Free Choice Act," Stern writes to a 100,000 person mailing list.

By giving employees the free choice to join unions - and not their bosses - majority signup allows workers to have a voice on the job.

Congress needs to hear about your support for majority signup. Sign my petition to Congress in support of majority signup and the Employee Free Choice Act.

You can read the entire letter below the fold. Stern wants Congress to consider majority sign up, but that could simply mean a vote on an amendment--card check as a stand-alone provision--as opposed to a vote on a bill with the provision already written into it. Union-sympathetic senators have apparently concluded that EFCA will fail if it includes card check, but a vote on the provision alone would at the very least put senators--particularly conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans--on the record.

Meanwhile, at the insistence of Blue Dogs, who'd rather not be forced to take a public stand, the House earlier this year reportedly decided not to consider EFCA until the Senate finishes work on the bill. There's certainly a significant number of House progressives who support the provision. But those progressives will have to speak up very loudly. If the Senate officially rejects the provision before the House takes up the legislation, it will be an extremely tough sell not to go the path of least resistance.

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TPMDC's update on the biggest initiatives on Capitol Hill.

  • Health Care: The House Energy and Commerce Committee continues marking up the tri-committee health care bill into this evening. Still no word from the Senate Finance Committee, though we're constantly on the lookout for updates. Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee is marshaling its resources toward killing the bill.

  • Nominations: Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to decide whether to report Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor out of committee.

Over the weekend, President Obama finally insisted, in no uncertain terms, that Congress pass a health care reform bill that includes a public option. But if the House and Senate don't each pass legislation before recessing, that might be a harder sell, and these days, the White House seems a bit less confident that they'll meet their deadlines.

But if Democrats are going to get it all done before adjourning early next month, they're going to have to prevail upon conservative members in their own party--many of whom are trying to slow down the entire reform project--that time is of the essence. Just how successful their efforts will be remains to be seen, but for now, they seem to be trying to divide Congress into pro- and anti- reform camps, characterizing Republican calls to delay as political gambits meant to kill the legislation, and asking those on the fence to choose their allegiances. The hope seems to be that, faced with the GOP's naked political considerations, conservative and vulnerable Democrats will resist the urge to aid and abet the White House's enemies on Capitol Hill and in the conservative movement, and support swift action.

To that end, the White House already has its whipping boys. Conservative commentator Bill Kristol, who helped Republicans kill Clinton Care is now advising Republicans to "[r]esist the temptation" for compromise, and "[g]o for the kill."

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In a hypothetical 2012 general election contest between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Obama, the vote would be tied at 45 percent each, according to a new Rasmussen phone survey.

Rasmussen tends to skew Republican. Conversely, a May survey by Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling had Romney losing to Obama, 35 to 53 percent.

Romney ended his last bid for the presidency in February 2008.

The new Rasmussen poll also said that in a 2012 matchup against Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Obama would win 48 percent to 42 percent.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) doesn't sit on either of the committees with jurisdiction over health care, but that hasn't stopped him from stepping into the middle of the reform debate to try and slow things down:

Last week, Lieberman joined three Democrats and two Republicans in a call to slow down the pace of reform efforts--though it's not clear why the exhortation was necessary if passing a health care bill by August is, as Lieberman suggested today, "impossible." And, for what it's worth number of Republicans and conservatives have been quite explicit about the fact that they think they can kill health care reform by doing as Lieberman suggests and slowing things down a bit.

In a speech at Children's National Medical Center this afternoon, President Obama lashed out at health care reform opponents and committed to signing a bill by year's end.

"If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." That unusually blunt assessment of Republican thinking on health care came from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). It may have been a bit too blunt, though. The White House is latching on to it to paint the opponents of reform as political animals, unconcerned with the welfare of the uninsured.

But, just as last week, Obama seems stopped short of insisting upon an August deadline for House and Senate votes--or even an October deadline for finishing work altogether, saying only "let's pass a bill by the end of this year." If the deadline is the end of the year, though, the strong implication is that the House and Senate won't have completed work on their bills by the time they adjourn for August recess--and that would damage the prospects for comprehensive reform in a number of ways.

America's Health Insurance Plans--the insurance industry's main professional association--with a seven-figure ad-buy, putting themselves on the side of reform. Sort of.

"Last December, we proposed reforms that would cover all Americans, guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions, and bend the health care cost curve," said AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignagni.

One thing that would help bend the health care cost curve, of course, is a public option, which AHIP still opposes. But it is, perhaps, significant, that this ad is silent on the issue, even as three congressional committees have endorsed the proposal. Compared to the Harry and Louise ads of 1994, this stuff is downright mild.

The ad is called "Illness," and the narrator insists: "illness doesn't care where you live...or if you're already sick...or if you lose your job. Your health insurance shouldn't either." By the same token, I suppose, illness doesn't care whether reform legislation is bipartisan--but one step at a time.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) are officially trading blows in the opening rounds of what promises to be a bruising primary fight over Specter's Senate seat. And now conservative Pat Toomey, the winner's likely general-election opponent, is weighing in...against Specter.

This comes via pa2010, which concludes that Toomey "still considers Senator Arlen Specter to be his eventual general election opponent."

That's a perfectly plausible interpretation. But, as always, politics can be a hall of mirrors, and this is just as likely a sign that Toomey wants Specter to lose the primary, because he thinks he'd have an easier time defeating Sestak in the general.

Whatever the logic here, though, it should be perfectly clear, if it wasn't already, that Specter will be contending with his abrupt party switch and mad dash from right to left for the duration of his candidacy.