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LATE UPDATE: A BAUCUS SPOKESMAN TELLS TPMMUCKRAKER THE DONATION WAS RETURNED.

Gotcha's don't come much purer than this one.

Today, the Washington Post reported that although Sen. Max Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance committee, has raked in big bucks from private health-care interests, he has taken one step to in the direction of good government:

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A new analysis from Public Policy Polling (D) finds that independents are leaning more conservative, which at first glance doesn't look like good news for Democrats -- but a close examination shows that the trends also don't contain too much reason for Republican optimism, either.

"Part of that has to do with the decreasing number of Americans identifying as Republicans in recent years," writes PPP communications director Tom Jensen. "While they're eschewing the party's label, they're still conservative and more often than not voting for the party's candidates."

So to some degree, this conservative lean from the independent group comes from the continuing shrinkage in Republicans -- a shift in demographics that at the end of the day wouldn't actually have too much of a real effect on voting patterns.

Still, Jensen sees some potential for the GOP here, comparing his figures to Democratic performance among independents in 2008, which was significantly stronger than the current state of things: "This early success the GOP is having with them looking toward 2012 does seem to indicate a certain level of support for more divided government moving forward, as well as some dissatisfaction with the President and Democrats in Congress."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will launch an anti-public option campaign tomorrow featuring print ads and Internet banner ads with the slogan, "Don't Drag Down Health Care Reform."

The campaign will also include local events throughout the August recess, according to a conference call this afternoon with Chamber officials. They're starting with five states -- Louisiana, Arkansas, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina -- where they built up strong grassroots organizations during the 2008 election cycle.

The Chamber is aiming to boost support for House members and senators who have questioned the need for a public plan. The Chamber opposes a public plan, saying it would eventually put private insurers out of business. Its main concern is preserving the employer-supplied health care system and bringing down costs.

The organization does support an individual mandate, forbidding insurers to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and guaranteeing that policies cannot be revoked. It also supports a nationwide marketplace so individuals could keep their policies if they move from state to state.

The August events will include independent rallies at town halls and other forums that members of Congress plan to hold during the recess.

A congressional committee looking into the White House's firing of the AmeriCorps inspector general has said that the firing was carried out for "legitimate reasons" and did not violate the Inspector General Act.

Late last week, Gerald Walpin filed a lawsuit against three officials from the Corporation for National and Community Service, accusing them of unlawfully firing him as inspector general for the agency last month.

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Check out this incredible Web video that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee came out with yesterday evening, attacking Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) in the Illinois Senate race. They don't just say Kirk morphs between his moderate image versus his conservative positions -- he's now a full-fledged Decepticon:



"Now that he's running for Senate, Mark Kirk has become a Transformer," the announcer says.

Unfortunately, this is only a Web video. The DSCC is not putting this amazing piece of advertising on TV.

Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) has a new attack ad against his Republican opponent in this year's election, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, continuing to hammer Christie for having awarded contracts to John Ashcroft and others. This new ad uses footage of Christie at a contentious House hearing from a few weeks ago, with Christie leaving the room:



"But when the time came for telling the truth, Christie got up and left," the announcer says. "Chris Christie. Unbelievable."

Christie currently leads Corzine in the polls, but the incumbent still has some cards to play by attacking his challenger's credibility, and connecting him to the national Republican Party in this blue state -- note the reference to "Bush Attorney General John Ashcroft."

In remarks in the Rose Garden this afternoon, President Obama again pegged opponents to his health care reform push as politicians who don't care about the average American.

"I know that there are those in this town who openly declare their intention to block reform. It's a familiar Washington script that we've seen many times before. These opponents of reform would rather score political points than offer relief to Americans who've seen premiums double and costs grow three times faster than wages," Obama said.

"I understand that some will try to delay action until the special interests can kill it, while others will simply focus on scoring political points."

Obama began his remarks about half an hour late, apparently waiting until after the Senate approved an amendment that removed additional funding for F-22 fighter jets from the defense budget.

He said adding $1.75 billion to buy more jets would have been "an inexcusable waste of money."

Yesterday, Harold Pollack reported that Olympia Snowe had shifted her stance on the public option.

I believe that the reforms we are creating will result in more competitive, affordable and innovative options for Mainers, yet we can all agree that we must not leave universal access to chance. That is why I also support a public plan which must be available from day one.


I've reached out to Sen. Snowe's office to confirm that these words are indeed hers--a source suggests that the statement was delivered at a Maine health care rally by one of Snowe's aides on her behalf.

Remember that Snowe has long been a proponent of a "triggered" public option, which would give insurance companies time to meet certain benchmarks and only mandate the creation a public option if they fell short. Snowe also sits on the Senate Finance Committee, which has been wrangling over the public option--and alternatives thereof, such as the co-operative model--for weeks. If Snowe now supports a public option "available from day one" it could be a notable shift. That language echoes the principles of the campaign Health Care for America Now almost word for word--for all intents and purposes it means "no trigger."

So what happens if pressure from progressive activists doesn't get health care passed? President Obama says the budget reconciliation process is still one option. "[W]e moved forward on the basis of the assumption that we could get a bill through the regular order and the regular process by October," Obama told liberal bloggers on a conference call last night. "If I think that is not possible, then we are going to look at all of our options, including reconciliation. Not because that is my preferred option but because what I think would be unacceptable for the American people is inaction."

A budget reconciliation bill can't be filibustered, and back when Congress was passing its budget, it included so-called reconciliation instructions for health care in the event that the standard congressional process didn't result in a viable bill by October. But there are procedural difficulties with reconciliation itself that would likely complicate Democrats' efforts to pass the sort of reform they want purely via the budget process.

A new survey by Public Policy Polling (D) finds that Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) -- the social conservative champion whose career became mired in the 2007 D.C. Madam prostitution scandal -- could potentially be vulnerable in 2010, but is currently leading a likely Democratic opponent.

The numbers: Only 44% of respondents approve of his job performance, to 36% disapproval. Furthermore, only 38% say he deserves another term, against 47% who it's time to give someone else a chance.

At the same time, Vitter get 44% support against potential Democratic candidate Charlie Melancon, a socially conservative Democratic Congressman, who gets 32%. Melancon lacks name recognition, though, with only 26% favorable, 32% unfavorable, and 42% not sure.

From the pollster's analysis: "David Vitter's polling in the mid-40s is a very similar position to where Mary Landrieu was a couple years ago at this time," said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. "Republicans were never able to translate that into a serious challenge, so it will be interesting to see if Democrats are better able to capitalize on Vitter's vulnerability."

Late Update: This post mistakenly listed a wrong number for Charlie Melancon's showing against Vitter. It has been corrected.

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