In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) gave what he perhaps hopes can be a final comment on the 2008 Minnesota Senate race: That he's glad it's over, and let's stop talking about it.

"I think we're all relieved the Senate race is over," Pawlenty said on his weekly radio show. "There's been some frustration over how long it took."

Pawlenty, of course, did add that "I wish it had come out the other way," but he respects the process.

Interestingly, as the Star Tribune points out, Pawlenty declared that it was "time to move on" -- the exact same turn of phrase he used to describe the media coverage of Michael Jackson.

One of the biggest developments on the health care front this week was Wal-Mart's decision to back an employer mandate as a major provision of reform legislation. The move rankled the Chamber of Commerce, which accused the retail giant of using the government to build competitive advantage against its competitors--all despite the fact that Wal-Mart is the Chamber's largest member. But liberals were by and large pretty happy with the development.

At least as far as health reform goes.

But Wal-Mart is a major stakeholder on a number of key issues, and some wonder whether the Arkansas-based behemoth will try to cash in their support for health reform with the White House when the focus in Washington eventually turns to employee free choice.

Labor sources, well-acquainted with Wal-Mart's anti-EFCA tactics, have suggested or acknowledged this concern to me in the days since the administration announced the deal--and as hard as it is to imagine Wal-Mart fighting that legislation harder than they already do, the sources say both sides may turn up the temperature in the fight over employee rights in the weeks and months ahead.

It's unclear where the basis of this concern lies--whether it comes from internal knowledge of Wal-Mart's negotiations with key health care players in Washington; or from an understanding of the company's incentives; or whether some in the labor movement are using this moment to launch a pre-emptive strike against their main EFCA opponent.

But either way, it's clear that the uneasy alliance between labor and Wal-Mart on the question of health reform does not translate into rapprochement on the issue of unionization. If anything, it makes the fight over that issue bloodier.

As I reported yesterday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee unveiled its plan for a public health insurance option after a weeks-long delay, and leaders announced that it had the support of every Democrat on the panel...including Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC).

Last night, Hagan made it official in a joint statement with committee members. "My colleagues and I on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee have been working on a plan to reform the health care system in this country," Hagan said. "We have crafted a plan that will stabilize health care costs and includes a Community Health Insurance Option, which I support."

This clears the path for the legislation to be moved out of committee. Until now, her objections to the public option were blocking it. That raised the ire of liberal groups like MoveOn, which targeted her directly. Now, everyone's friends again. "MoveOn commends Senator Hagan for deciding to support the health care reform bill that the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee released today, which includes a national public health insurance option," MoveOn Executive Director Justin Ruben said in a statement.

A public health insurance option will lower the cost of insurance and medical care for everyone, and put an end to many of the predatory practices of private insurers. This measure is the heart of health care reform and is supported by MoveOn's five million members as well as the majority of the American people. With the support of legislators like Senator Hagan, we can come closer to our goal of making quality health insurance accessible and affordable for everyone.

Sanford's Book Deal Falls Through Gov. Mark Sanford's (R-SC) book publisher, Sentinel, has released him from his contract. Sanford had been set to write a book on fiscal conservatism, entitled Within Our Means, to be released in March 2010. However, the deal fell through after Sanford got in trouble for disappearing to Argentina to visit his mistress, and he and publisher have agreed to part ways.

Obama At Camp David Today President Obama has no public events scheduled, but is spending the day at Camp David. He will return to the White House tomorrow.

Read More →

The Democratic National Committee has this new TV ad in Kentucky, set to run on cable in the Lexington and Louisville media markets, attacking Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell for having supported the Bush agenda, and now obstructing the Obama agenda:

"But this year -- when it came to supporting legislation to create and protect Kentucky jobs -- he said," the announcer says, followed by audio of McConnell's voice: "No."

To be perfectly blunt, this seems like an odd choice of how to spend party resources. McConnell was just re-elected in 2008, and his home state of Kentucky voted for John McCain in a 58%-41% landslide.

"He should still care about what his constituents think - and hopefully it'll send a message to others," said DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse in an e-mail to TPM, when asked why the DNC was doing this.

The Family Research Council has embarked on a new public relations effort against a particular Obama Administration appointee, Kevin Jennings, saying he should not be in his new position at the Department of Education because of his previous position in private activism -- as executive director of GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

Jennings is set to begin his new job on Monday, as Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education for the Department's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, after his appointment was announced about a month ago. And this week, FRC launched a last-minute Web petition to oppose him. It asks a pointed question: Would you choose this teacher to guide your children?

(Click image to enlarge.)

Many of the quotes here, regarding youthful drug use and other misadventures, are from Jennings' autobiography, Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son, about his coming of age in the South.

Read More →

In recent weeks, the Obama administration has struck a number of deals with several health care industry stake holders, and they may be on the brink of another breakthrough.

The hospital industry is close to a deal with the White House and congressional Democrats in which the industry would agree to federal funding cuts of $150 billion to $170 billion over the next decade to help pay for a health system overhaul, according to people familiar with the talks.

The deal, which isn't final, could be announced within days. A critical feature is an agreement on phasing in the Medicare and Medicaid cuts.

That's inside scuttlebutt from Kaiser Health News. The details--where the cuts will come from, and what concessions they've been promised--still seem murky, and will be crucial. Hospitals are a powerful interest group, and haven't always been friendly negotiators. Earlier this year, the American Hospital Association distanced itself from a pledged it had signed on to with several other stakeholders to reduce health care costs by $2 trillion over 10 years.

Earlier this week, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) came under fire from liberal health reform advocates for restating her opposition to offering a national public insurance option as an immediate feature of comprehensive health care reform. In an interview with the Associated Press she explained her reasoning.

"If you establish a public option at the forefront that goes head-to-head and competes with the private health insurance market ... the public option will have significant price advantages."

As I noted previously, this is a sort of strange critique of the public option--what's so bad about an insurance program that's more affordable to consumers than most private plans?

To clear up the confusion, I asked a Snowe aide to further explain the senator's reasoning. He said that the two sections of the AP quote were meant to address separate aspects of Snowe's opposition to the plan.

Read More →

Sen.-elect Al Franken (D-MN) will be sworn into his new position on Tuesday, July 7, CNN reports.

Fun fact: This means Franken will be sworn in exactly six months plus one day after when he would have been sworn in along with all the other folks elected to the Senate in 2008, if not for the legal battle that kept his super-narrow election victory in limbo.

In an interesting development in the 2010 New York special Senate race, where appointed Democratic Sen. Kristen Gillibrand is facing a primary challenge from Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Bill Clinton will now headline a fundraiser for Maloney, despite the extensive efforts by the Obama White House to clear the field for Gillibrand.

Interestingly, Bill previously did a fundraiser for Gillibrand herself, as he has done for many politicians who supported Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Both Gillibrand and Maloney supported Hillary during the 2008 primaries.

When asked for comment, Gillibrand spokesman Matt Canter instead pointed us over to a statement by an unnamed aide to Bill, who told PolitickerNY that this was not a shot against the incumbent: "The former president believes that Senator Gillibrand is doing a good job as senator and this type of thank-you event, and any other he may do, should not be read as an endorsement or un-endorsement."