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Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) challenged Sen. John Thune (R-SD) in a startlingly tense exchange yesterday, slamming Thune's apparent looseness with the truth by saying, "We're not entitled to our own facts."

Yesterday afternoon Thune took to the Senate floor with a chart that tried to illustrate how the Senate health care reform bill supposedly proposes tax increases immediately while "many of the benefits don't start getting paid out for another 1,479 days."

Franken was having none of it. Franken took issue with Thune's chart, rising to the floor minutes later to challenge its assertions. What followed was an unusually tense exchange between Thune -- fourth in the Senate GOP leadership -- and the freshman Franken.

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House Democrats can't always get what they want, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters today. But if they spin it right, he said, they just might find they got what they need.

Faced with a likely public option-free health care reform bill from the Senate, Hoyer said House Democrats will vote to move the reform process forward without government-run insurance included.

Much as his colleagues in the Senate Democratic leadership did last night, Hoyer said the political reality in the Senate means Democrats have to look past things like the public option to the "guts" of the bill itself.

"[Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid does not have the votes for a public option, obviously," Hoyer said. "In a world of alternatives, you have to take what you can get."

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At a press conference yesterday, RNC Chair Michael Steele announced plans to tell all of America how hard his party is working to prevent the Democrats from passing health care reform. One goal, he said, was to tell Democrats that they had squandered whatever chance of a bipartisan reform they once had. But, the other audience Steele addressed was a little closer to home.

Tea partiers, Steele said, it's time to come back to the Republican Party.

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Sen. Joe Lieberman might be persona-non-grata in the health care negotiations, but he's juggling several large initiatives the Obama administration wants to see move forward.

As Democrats grow increasingly infuriated with Lieberman (I-CT) as he throws a wrench into the health care bill, the White House and Senate leadership can't afford to kick sand in his face.

TPMDC checked in on Capitol Hill, and learned that White House officials are regularly meeting with him on climate change (even as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says he's not sure if aides are talking to him about health care).

Also sizzling on the stove are major pieces of legislation pending in the Homeland Security Committee, which Lieberman chairs.

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A new Siena poll shows that appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) continues to be in a marginal position going into her 2010 special election, though she remains the strongest potential Democratic nominee.

In general election match-ups, Gillibrand trails Rudy Giuliani by 49%-42%, and leads George Pataki by 43%. Against lesser-known Republican Bruce Blakeman, a possible candidate who is currently a commissioner for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Gillibrand leads by 52%-22%. The margin of error is ±3.8%.

Another Democrat was tested, outgoing New York City Comptroller and recent unsuccessful mayoral nominee Bill Thompson, who trails Giuliani by 56%-34% and Pataki by 49%-36%, and led Blakeman by 40%-23%.

In a potential Democratic primary, Gillibrand has 32%; Thompson has 23%; former Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN), who ran unsuccessfully for Senate from his original home state in 2006, has seven percent; and labor union organizer Jonathan Tasini, who is actually an active candidate, has only three points.

Remember summer? Remember the yelling, the fighting, the biting? Ever think about the St. Louis town hall that ended in a fistfight, or the protest that ended in a severed finger, or those guys who brought guns to presidential events? Ever wonder, where are they now?

Us too! So TPM tracked down some of the best stories from this summer's health care meltdown to see what's happened since.

The Guy Who Punched A 65-Year-Old In The Face

Outside of a town hall meeting with Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) this September, a man named Raul Anasagasti was driving his pickup truck past the crowd when he began exchanging words with health care supporters. When one of the protesters, 65-year-old Luis Perrero, uttered an offensive Spanish expletive, Anasagasti punched him in the face. The blow knocked Perrero to the ground. Anasagasti was charged with battery on a person 65 years or older.

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Private contractors will make up at least half of the total military workforce in Afghanistan going forward, according to Defense Department officials cited in a new congressional study.

As President Obama's escalation of the war in Afghanistan unfolds, the number of contractors will likely jump by between 16,000 and 56,000, adding up to a total of 120,000-160,000, according to an updated study from the Congressional Research Service.

DOD officials who spoke with the study's author said contractors would make up 50-55 percent of the total workforce -- troops plus contractors -- in the future. This would actually be a significant reduction from the last two years, when contractors have averaged 62 percent of the total.

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A new Research 2000 poll, commissioned by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee contains yet more bad news for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The question: "Do you think Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid is a strong or weak leader?"

Overall, 55 percent of respondents nationwide said weak. 36 said strong. Nine percent said "not sure." Reid does alright among Democrats--only 37 percent say he's weak, with 58 percent saying he's doing a good job. But he's getting creamed among independents by almost the opposite numbers. Only 34 percent of independents say Reid is a strong leader, while 58 percent say "weak."

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