In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Yesterday, we noticed something strange about the Associated Press' coverage of the House's health care bill unveiling. A preliminary Congressional Budget Office analysis pegged the price of that legislation at about $1 trillion, and by and large, that's how reporters characterized the cost of the bill. But not the AP, which, relying seemingly on the good faith of an anonymous Democratic aide, said the bill would actually cost $1.5 trillion. Soon, Newt Gingrich picked up that ball and ran with it, and Democratic health care leaders and their aides were fuming.

But that hasn't stopped AP, which is at it again. "Votes were planned Thursday in the Education and Labor and Ways and Means committees on a $1.5 trillion plan that majority House Democrats presented this week," reports Erica Werner. As I reported Tuesday, the first part of that sentence is true. The second part, however, is not.

So what's going on over at Ron Fournier's shop?

TPMDC's roundup of the biggest initiatives on Capitol Hill.

  • Health Care: The Senate HELP Committee passed its health care reform bill on a party line vote this morning. Now all eyes are on the Senate Finance Committee, which, according to Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), will mark up its bill next week. Then the bills can be merged and debated and, hopefully, voted on. Meanwhile, members of the House Education and Labor Committee offered opening statements in their first mark-up hearing of the House's health care reform draft bill.

  • Nominations: Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court confirmation hearings continued today. I'm told by reliable sources that she may have been asked to explain the "wise Latina woman" comment that's caused her so much grief, but I've been unable to confirm.

  • Nominations: Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) has placed a hold on Robert Perciasepe, who's been nominated to serve as deputy EPA administrator. Voinovich doesn't seem to have any beef with Perciasepe per se--he just wishes the EPA would cough up a Waxman-Markey bill analysis to his liking.

  • Studen Loan Reform: House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller has introduced student loan reform legislation. President Obama is pleased: "I applaud Chairman Miller for introducing an education reform bill that will cut giveaways to special interests, invest in our children's future, and save taxpayer's money," he said. "Chairman Miller and I are working to end the wasteful subsidies that are given to banks and private lenders for student loans." You can read the whole statement below the fold. Interestingly, Congress' budget included reconciliation instructions on this issue, so if it meets too much resistance in the Senate, it may have a path around a filibuster.

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At a glance, none of the newly named members of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commissioners come as a terrible surprise. Several of their names had been floated in news reports and rumors in the weeks leading up to today's announcements. But there are a couple potential conflicts of interest worth pointing out.

On the Republican side, commission vice chairman Bill Thomas--a former Republican Congressman from California--raised $1.8 million for his campaigns from financial, insurance, and real estate interests, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. These are many of the same interests he'll soon investigating. if selected for the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. He raised hundreds of thousands of dollars during his political career from commercial banks, insurance firms, mortgage lenders, and professional associations like the American Bankers Association.

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Roll Call is reporting [sub. req.] that President Obama is meeting with Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Bob Corker (R-TN) at 4 p.m. ET today to discuss health care reform. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says three others were invited as well, but, seemingly, did not attend.

That's an interesting trio for a couple reasons, most obviously because neither senator is really a principal on health care matters. Of the three, only Murkowski--as one of the more junior members of the HELP committee--serves on either of the two committees with jurisdiction over the issue.

But beyond that, each of these senators has said fairly discouraging things about health care reform efforts on the hill. Just today, Murkowski voted against the HELP committee's overhaul legislation. Last month, she said "the health care reform legislation being pushed in the Senate has not been "carefully crafted" and we still don't know how this legislation will be paid for.... This is not the kind of health care reform I would support nor is it a plan the nation can afford."

Likewise, here's a lukewarm Corker in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. And Chambliss has spoken out against the idea of a federal "takeover" of the health care system, and even voted against expanding the Children's Health Insurance Plan.

It's not immediately clear, in other words, what the President stands to gain from hosting these three.

The witness list on the Senate Judiciary Committee web site has been changed to identify Frank Ricci as a member of the New Haven Fire Department following a complaint from the organization he claimed to represent.

Two board members of the Connecticut Council for Occupational Safety and Health sent a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy explaining that Ricci is not, as he states in his bio, the director of fire services for the council. He had been identified as such in official witness lists for Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings.

"It made it appear as if he was speaking for ConnectiCOSH, which he does not," said Judy Sanger, a board member, in a phone interview this afternoon. Sanger said the board doesn't have a position on Sotomayor's confirmation and has not discussed it.

"We've never talked about it, so it's absurd to be claiming that you're representing the occupational safety and health community. He's not authorized to do it," she said.

"We don't want to be identified with" opposing Sotomayor, she said. "It's not what we're doing here."

Sanger confirmed to us that Ricci is not and has never been an employee of, or spokesperson for, ConnectiCOSH. She said the council has "certainly worked with him over the years," work including firefighter safety initiatives such as getting better rehab after injuries.

"We have no wish to deny the good things he has done," Sanger said, but "he's not speaking for ConnectiCOSH here."

Ricci's lawyer, Karen Torre, did not immediately return a call for comment.

Good catch from Jacob Goldstein at the Wall Street Journal. According to the Congressional Budget Office, "total enrollment in the public plan would equal about 11 million or 12 million, counting both individually purchased policies and employer-sponsored enrollees."

As Goldstein notes, "That's about 4% of the current U.S. population, and seems rather small in comparison to how much attention the debate over the public plan has drawn."

Quite right. Obviously these estimates have fairly significant margins of error, but keep this in mind next time you hear public option foes warn that over 100 million Americans would be moved on to government run insurance.

After a brightly colored chart failed to kill the Waxman-Markey bill, House Republicans are scrapping doubling down on the idea. They've created a new one to demonstrate just how complicated the Democrats' health care reform bill is.

Just as in the case of the Waxman-Markey chart, though, this doesn't actually explain anything. And it ironically begs the question of whether Republicans secretly want a simpler, single payer system to replace more complex reform proposals.

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In a Rose Garden health care speech this afternoon, President Obama reiterated a couple of key themes--that the House and Senate need to pass legislation before they break for recess in August, and that the White House isn't going to keep quiet until that time.

"We are going to be continually talking about this for the next two or three weeks until we've got a bill out of the Senate and we've got a bill out of the House," Obama said. "Then we'll deserve a few weeks rest before we come back and finally get a bill doen so we can sign it right here in the Rose Garden."

It seems as if the White House will be a constant presence in the lives of the senators and congressmen responsible for completing legislation until they make good on their commitments. See, for instance, his network news interviewed scheduled to air tonight.

You can read his entire remarks here.

He may doubt the Senate's ability to pass health care reform legislation before the August recess, but he's optimistic that the Senate Finance Committee can move legislation soon.

"We'll be in markup in the Finance Committee next week," he said, according to Jeff Young of The Hill.

Conrad has been a pessimist, of sorts, since the Finance Committee began drafting legislation. He has been outspoken about his doubts that the Senate will endorse a public option, that Congress can pass health care reform through the reconciliation process, and now that the Senate will meet it's August deadline to pass health care reform legislation. But on his own committee's ability to finally mark up a bill, he's sounding more sanguine.

President Obama may be putting the screws to the Senate Finance Committee, whose health care reform draft bill is weeks behind schedule. But key members of that panel--members who, by pure coincidence, have been lukewarm to the idea of broad reform--think that meeting the dread August recess deadline will be difficult, if not impossible.

"It's hard to see how you do both," Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) told Politico, speaking of Senate leaders' desire to confirm Sonia Sotomayor before recess.

"It would be overly ambitious to attempt to do this before the August recess," said Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME)--a moderate whose support the White House has courted, but who remains opposed to offering a public option unless it's tied to a trigger mechanism, which would delay its implementation indefinitely.

Democratic leadership is by and large more hopeful, and the committee's chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) seems to be somewhere in between. "I think it's a lift but one we could accomplish, one we could handle," he said. "I'm not going to guarantee that it's going to happen."