In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Here's an item that no doubt rankles supporters of the Employee Free Choice Act. Steve Patterson--who once served as Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln's Chief of Staff, and is now managing her 2010 re-election campaign--appeared before the group Benton County Democratic Women on Monday to praise his boss for 'voicing concerns' about the bill.

According to the Benton County Daily Record, "[l]ast month, the club welcomed AFL-CIO representative Amy Niehouse, who spoke about the EFCA and described the benefits to workers and communities when workers choose to organize a union."

Apparently an aide to Blanche Lincoln is the obvious counterpoint to this.

Earlier today, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA)--the powerful ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee--lashed out against a public health insurance option, and government involvement in health care generally.

Well, thanks to the government's involvement in health care, Grassley himself saves a pile of money insurance costs himself. In a letter to the Des Moines Register earlier this month, Grassley wrote, "I pay $356 a month for Blue Cross insurance coverage, a plan that is available to federal employees."

That, of course, is significantly cheaper than the average monthly cost of insurance for American families--and that's notwithstanding Grassley's age, which makes him a significantly riskier insuree than the average citizen. But Grassley opposes a public insurance option, which supporters say would lower the cost of insurance for all consumers.

Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA) has announced that he will not run for Senate in 2010, clearing away what may have been one of the few remaining obstacles between former Rep. Pat Toomey and the Republican nomination.

"That is pretty much off the table," Gerlach told the Allentown Morning Call.

Some Republicans had been urging Gerlach to make the race, after incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter switched parties from the GOP to the Democrats in order to avoid Toomey's conservative primary challenge. Former Gov. Tom Ridge also announced a few weeks ago that he isn't running.

The 2010 Republican Senate primary in Florida is quickly emerging as a new fault line within the Republican Party, between two key groups: The party establishment that values electability as they perceive it, versus the more hard-line conservative activists.

The primary pits moderate Gov. Charlie Crist against the more conservative former state House speaker Marco Rubio. A big issue will be that Crist broke from the party line on a key issue in the last few months, when he endorsed the stimulus bill and even appeared with President Obama to promote it.

Crist has a big lead in all the polls -- both for the primary and in the general election in this big perennial swing state -- and was actively recruited and then endorsed right out of the gate by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. As NRSC chairman Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has explained, Crist is a candidate who can not only win, but also save the party a lot of money that could now be spent elsewhere.

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At about 11 this morning, the Senate voted 65-31 to invoke cloture on the nomination of Harold Koh to be the State Department's legal adviser. You'll be able to see the roll call here momentarily.

Once cloture is invoked, debate is limited to 30 hours after which a vote on confirmation is required. And according to Laura Rozen, Republicans are threatening to use up all 30 hours. So it may take another day before Koh is officially confirmed.

A new Quinnipiac poll of New York suggests that despite her recent efforts to nail down Democratic support, appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is not the frontrunner against a possible primary challenge in 2010 -- in fact, she's running slightly behind, with a high undecided figure.

The numbers: Rep. Carolyn Maloney 27%, Gillibrand 23%, labor activist Jonathan Tasini 4% -- and "undecided" at 44%. The margin of error is ±3%.

Maloney is not officially in the race, but all indications are that she is highly likely to challenge Gillibrand in the primary.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) says "Americans don't want more government in health care"--which is true if you define 'Americans' as the 28-or-so percent of the population who don't want more government in health care.

Perhaps the Americans who don't want more government involvement in health care are the very same Americans who fled forced unionization in Pennsylvania and sought refuge in the South. On the policy question of government involvement in health care, there are a number of problems with DeMint's statement. But the public seems to have caught on to them.

Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA), whose conservative primary challenge against Sen. Arlen Specter caused Specter to switch to the Democrats, is showing off what could be his main talking point for the 2010 general election: You just can't trust this guy.

"If Senator Specter does manage to win the Democratic primary, he has raised a real question about whether he can be trusted," Toomey told the Cumberland County Sentinel. "He took one look at a poll and he abandoned the party."

Toomey previously ran against Specter in the 2004 primary, and only lost by 51%-49%. After Toomey declared that he would be challenging Specter again, and when polls showed he could win the primary in a landslide, Specter then joined the Democrats -- and is now facing a Dem primary challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, insisted today that there will be no bipartisan agreement on his panel's health care reform legislation if it includes a public option.

"We don't need any more government in the medicine."

The public disagrees with this sentiment, of course--notwithstanding Grassley's comedic, grandfather-like tendency to use teh unnecessary definite article. It's worth noting, too, that there's a great deal of terrain between bipartisan agreement on the principle of a health care co-ops and Republican support for the entire reform package.

The Waxman-Markey climate change bill will come to the floor of the House at the end of this week after a weeks-long dispute between the bill's chief author, Henry Waxman, and House Agriculture Committee chairman Colin Peterson.

Peterson had been threatening to whip farm-state Democrats to vote against--and therefore kill--the bill unless Waxman agreed to significant changes (subscription required).

Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) told reporters today he would vote for the House climate bill -- and bring dozens of rural lawmakers with him -- after Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) agreed to make a number of concessions that had drawn the ire of farm state members.

Waxman agreed to put the Agriculture Department -- rather than U.S. EPA -- in the lead for management of the offset program that pays farmers and other landowners to conduct environmentally friendly projects. Congress will turn to the Obama administration for guidance on how to fold in EPA.

Waxman also consented to block EPA from calculating "indirect" greenhouse gas emissions from land-use changes when implementing the federal biofuels mandate. The Democrats will impose a five-year moratorium to allow further study of the issue, with consultation from Congress, EPA, the Energy Department and USDA instrumental in restarting the measurements in the biofuels rules.

No word yet on if or when the Senate plans to take its own chainsaws to the bill.