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Both conservative and liberal Democrats seem to be open to a new public option proposal floated by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Carper (D-DE) to allow states not to participate in the plan if they decide they don't want to.

A Baucus aide tells me "Senator Baucus will look closely at this proposal, as well as other proposals, and could consider supporting them as part of an overall package as long as it achieved his health care reform goals while getting 60 votes."

Along the same lines, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) told Politico that he likes the idea of leaving the decision up to the states.

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It's been known for a long time now that a "robust" public option, tied to Medicare rates is a big money saver--bigger than a public option that has to negotiate rates with providers. Now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going to make members reckon with the fact that the more liberal proposal is actually the more fiscally responsible plan.

"One will be what I call the robust public option, Medicare plus five; and then we will have two versions that we are sending that involve the negotiated rates that were supported, and of course passed by the Energy and Commerce Committee."

She went on:

The thing is, there is absolutely no question, the robust public option scores very well, $110 billion [in savings]. And that is why I so strongly supported it. It is hard to ignore $110 billion, especially when you are trying to lower the cost of coverage.

In all fairness to those who believe that the negotiated rates work better for them in their district, we are trying to get from the Congressional Budget Office how we can have more savings out of negotiated rates, because so far all they have told us is that saves $25 billion.

It is an $85 billion difference. That is a big difference. And I am saying there must be some way we can get more savings; and they have given us some suggestions which we have narrowed the choices to and sent them back.


This is how it will work:

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President Obama will be visiting New Orleans on Oct. 15, according to the Times Picayune.

The newspaper said Obama will "assess progress and remaining community needs more than four years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city."

The Times Picayune didn't have details on where Obama would go, or whom he would visit with, and said he was not expected to stay overnight.

The White House announced last month that Obama planned to make his first visit to New Orleans since taking office, but didn't say exactly when his visit would be, saying only that it would take place in mid-October.

A top activist with the anti-tax Tea Party movement has had a personal brush with federal tax collectors. Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder and national co-ordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, owed, with her husband, over half a million dollars to the IRS when the pair filed for bankruptcy last year, according to filings examined by TPMmuckraker.

The couple's bankruptcy filing, made in August 2008 to the US Bankruptcy Court for Georgia's Northern District, stated that Martin and her husband Lee Martin, of Woodstock, Georgia, owed the IRS $510,000, after making a payment of $16,640 that June. The couple also owed just over $71,000 to Ford Motor Credit, the automaker's financing arm.

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The new SurveyUSA poll of the New Jersey gubernatorial race gives Republican nominee Chris Christie a narrow lead over Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, confirming the trend of polls that have shown this race becoming very tight.

The numbers: Christie 43%, Corzine 40%, and independent Chris Daggett with 14%, with a ±4% margin of error. There is no prior SurveyUSA poll of this race for direct comparison.

The poll finds a sharp gender gap, with men going for Christie by 48%-35%, plus 16% for Daggett, and women for Corzine by 46%-37%, with 13% for Daggett. Keep in mind that Corzine has been attacking Christie among women voters on the issue of insurance company coverage of mammograms.

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) and Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) want to amend the pending Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill (which funds NASA and the census, among other things) to force census takers to ask immigration status.

The amendment ties funding for the census bureau to asking of the question on "all future" decennial censuses.

Vitter said because some states have included illegal immigrants in their counts, that's led to more Congressional seats.

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In a press conference today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to a statement from Republicans that Gen. Stanley McChrystal should "put her in her place," saying "that language is something I haven't even heard in decades."

"I'm in my place. I'm the Speaker of the House, the first woman Speaker of the House. And I'm in my place because the House of Representatives voted me there," Pelosi said.

"They really don't understand how inappropriate that is," she said.

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Someone forgot to remind Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that it's the Democrats' job to make Granny's life tougher. On the Senate floor yesterday, Coburn blocked a vote that would have prevented a reduction in Social Security payments next year.

Coburn stood in the way of unanimous consent to a House bill setting 2010 Medicare premiums at 2009 levels. As the National Journal reports (sub. req.), Coburn's move means "seniors are facing uncertainty over Medicare costs next year" and that "would see a net reduction in their Social Security benefits."

The back story:

The House bill, which passed 406-18 on Sept. 24, is needed to freeze monthly Part B insurance premiums, which pay for seniors' physician visits, at $96.40 next year. Those premiums are usually deducted from Social Security checks.

But because of deflation, there is no Social Security cost-of-living adjustment planned for 2010 -- yet Medicare premiums are set to rise anyway to keep pace with the program's overall costs. Thus, seniors would see a net reduction in their Social Security benefits without the fix.

Asked during the briefing just now about the idea of an opt-out public option, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was pointedly non-committal.

"I have not talked to them about that but I can certainly ask if that's something that's been evaluated," Gibbs said, presumably referring to the White House policy shop.

Asked again what President Obama thought about the idea, Gibbs offered one of his most frequent dodges: "I have not talked with him."

Gibbs added the White House is "pleased" with the progress on health care and said when the legislation finally makes it to the Senate floor, "There will be a lot in the legislation that we hope members representing a lot of different constituents can support. I think they will, and I think we'll get health care reform done this year."

White House aides haven't responded to questions about the new idea today.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tried during this afternoon's press briefing to draw a distinction between al Qaeda and the Taliban. While it's hardly a sure thing, it's possible that such a distinction might foreshadow a shift in U.S. strategy focusing more on counterinsurgency against al Qaeda than traditional military operations against the Taliban.

"There are differences between al Qaeda and the Taliban," he said.

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