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Moderate and conservative Democrats want to empower an outside entitlement commission to reshape major domestic spending programs like Medicare and Social Security, and they're threatening a truly nuclear option to get their way. If Congress does not create this commission, they say, they will vote against must-pass legislation to raise the nation's debt ceiling, which would trigger a default, and, perhaps, economic calamity.

"I will not vote for raising the debt limit without a vehicle to handle this," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told McClatchy. "This is our moment."

On the one hand, the threat is so outlandish as to be self-defeating. Would Democrats really extract such a devastating toll, both on their own political fortunes, but also on the national and global economy, just to prove that they're serious about entitlement reform?

But on the other hand, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may not want to rock the boat too hard in the midst of a health care debate in which Democrats are hanging their political fortunes on many of the same centrist senators making the threat. And the Obama administration has been broadly supportive of the idea of reining in deficits and paying down the national debt for some time now.

So it seems fairly likely that, whether this commission passes in the form deficit hawks would like to see, debt reduction will be a key theme, both at the White House and on Capitol Hill, after the fight over health care is over.

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Rasmussen has released a new set of polls illustrating how the exact questioning of a poll can subtly affect the answers -- and perhaps explaining why their own daily survey puts President Obama's approval lower than nearly everyone else.

Respondents were asked their approval of Obama using Rasmussen's usual format: Do they strongly approve, somewhat approval, somewhat disapprove, or strongly disapprove? The answer here is 47% approval, with 28% strongly approving, to 52% disapproval, including 41% who strongly disapprove.

However, Rasmussen got a different result when they asked the question as a simple "approve" or "disapprove." Obama then enters positive territory at 50% approval, 46% disapproval -- in line with a lot of other polls, such as the Gallup survey.

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Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who is up for re-election in 2010 and is heavily favored to win, has made an interesting admission: That he's not thinking about South Carolina when he votes in the Senate, but about larger conservative principles.

From The State:

DeMint, 58, makes no bones that he's more focused on advancing conservative goals nationwide than on pursuing the parochial interests of his state.

"All of you all over the country - please remember that Senate seats are not about a particular state," DeMint told more than 4,000 listeners on the recent conference call. "They're about our country. Every vote I take is not about South Carolina. It's about the United States of America."


In practice, legislative governance is often a balancing act between the immediate interests of one's constituents and the greater national interest. Sometimes, choosing one can mean short-changing the other in immediate terms. But it's rare to see a legislator so bluntly acknowledge that his votes aren't about his constituents.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), in a speech today at the University of Utah, will urge President Obama to bring American troops home from Afghanistan.

"I can take pot shots at ACORN all day long, and I'm good at it," Chaffetz told Politico. "But even though I am probably going against where the party is on this traditionally, I just think we need to stand up and support the notion that it is time to bring our soldiers home."

Chaffetz stands in opposition to many House Republicans, including Minority Leader John Boehner, who have endorsed Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan.

The President will announce tomorrow his new strategy for the war, which is said to include an increase of more than 30,000 troops, as well as an exit strategy.

The new Washington Post poll illustrates the extent to which Sarah Palin's political appeal is a disproportionate one, focused on the harder line of the Republican Party -- which also happens to be where the GOP's energy is these days. The key question we have to really answer in the next few years, then, is how far Palin's disproportionate support among the hard right can really get her, and whether she can expand from there.

Overall, Palin had an 18% plurality when Republicans and GOP-leaners were asked who their choice for president was in 2012. But among Rush Limbaugh listeners it was a whopping 45%, and also a third among Glenn Beck viewers (we can probably assume that these two groups overlap to some extent). When asked who best represents the GOP's core values, Palin attracted 17% support -- with 48% among Limbaugh fans, and 35% among Beck's audience.

Palin certainly has built up a following with these two hosts and their audiences. She's not ruled out a Palin-Beck ticket in 2012 -- though Beck has ruled it out with some very colorful language. Limbaugh has praised Going Rogue as "one of the most substantive policy books I've read." And no less a voice than Bill Kristol, a frequent advocate of Palin's, has said that the GOP's "center of gravity, I suspect, will instead lie with individuals such as Palin and Huckabee and Gingrich, media personalities like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh."

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On CNN's Reliable Sources Sunday, radio talk show host Bill Press had this to say about Glenn Beck and Beck's recent use of the term 'hooking' to describe Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's role in the health care debate:

Look, I'm a talk show host, I am totally for talk show hosts almost getting away with almost anything they say, on the radio particularly. But I'm amazed at how much Fox lets Glenn Beck get away with. I think he is a ticking time bomb, and one day he's going to explode in the face of Roger Ailes, and they're going to be sorry they gave him that television show.

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A new CBO report, requested by Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) contains some helpful, though not unexpected information about the impact of Senate health care legislation on insurance premiums, particularly in the individual market.

According to CBO, average premiums in the individual market would increase 10 to 13 percent because of provisions in the Senate health care bill, but, crucially, most people (about 57 percent) would actually find themselves paying significantly less money for insurance, thanks to federal subsidies for low- and middle-class consumers, than they would under current law.

Those are two separate findings, but it seems likely that Republicans will use the former finding to attack reform, claiming it will raise people's premiums, and leave people confused about the second finding, which is actually the one that impacts people's pocket books.

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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had no new information this morning about the party crashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi.

"As best I know the Secret Service continues to look into that situation," Gibbs said in his morning gaggle with reporters. "When there is something complete we'll have it."

The Salahi couple, who made a splash by attending the state dinner honoring India without an invitation, have maintained they were invited. Secret Service is doing an internal investigation as to why their names weren't verified from the guest list.

As we reported earlier, they have been called to testify before Congress.

The Supreme Court has thrown out a ruling ordering the release of photographs of detainees being abused by American captors, citing a change in federal law that allows the defense secretary to withhold such pictures.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which made the ruling, will have to take another look at a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Obama have said releasing the photographs could endanger U.S. troops by fomenting anti-American sentiment overseas.

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) just told a radio interviewer that, despite his personal travails, 2010 candidates are eager for him to campaign with them.

"A lot of people running for office next year, I've met with them, they actually want me involved in their campaigns," Ensign told Alan Stock of Las Vegas's KXNT News Radio. "I'm gonna try to be helpful without being hurtful."

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