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Earlier this week, I reported that, as part of its health care reform advocacy campaign, UnitedHealth Group was directing callers to a UHG hotline to attend an anti-health care reform tea party in Ohio. UHG had sent a letter to its employees, encouraging them to become more involved in the health care reform debate--to attend town hall forums, send letters to members of Congress--and offering to prepare them with guidance and talking points vis-a-vis UHG's opposition to the public option.

My source--who does not work for UHG--called one of UHG's so-called advocacy specialists and, in real time, communicated to me that, among other things, he'd been directed to an anti-health care reform rally outside the office of Rep. Zack Space (D-OH)--an event which turned out to be a tea party.

UHG was unavailable for comment on the day our story came out, but, yesterday, denied encouraging employees to attend anti-reform rallies to other news outlets. You can read their entire statement below. Today, I spoke with UHG spokesman John Parker to ask him for further comment. Does UHG believe my source was lying? Or does UHG contend that my source may have been directed to a tea party, but that this would have been a breach of company policy?

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It's hard to keep track of all of Sen. Chuck Grassley's health care machinations. Whether it's pulling the pug on grandma, or saying there should be 80 votes for a health care bill, or demanding Obama denounce the public option, he always seems to be finding new and creative ways to move the line on bipartisan reform closer and closer to the GOP view. Thankfully, Rachel Maddow did a pretty good job of putting it all together last night.



For more on this, too, read Greg Sargent.

A new analysis by Public Policy Polling (D) finds that Sarah Palin is especially popular with a key Republican demographic: The Birthers.

Among those respondents in PPP's latest national poll who either said that President Obama was not born in the United States or were undecided, Palin had a 66% favorability rating. Of the other three Republicans that were tested in the poll, Mike Huckabee was in second place at 58%, then Newt Gingrich with 46%, and Mitt Romney was last with only 43% favorability.

From PPP communications director Tom Jensen: "I mean this with all sincerity -- Romney's lack of popularity with the birther wing of the GOP really could scuttle his chances at the nomination in three years."

We've now obtained the complaint Louisiana State Democratic Party chairman Christopher Whittington has filed with the Senate Ethics Committee, charging that Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) used "appropriated funds to pay for town halls at which he engaged in campaign activity.

It was reported that on August 3, 2009, Senator Vitter held a breakfast town hall event.... The town hall was described as "not a campaign stop but part of his routine and his job as an elected official."... On information and believe, the expenses for this event were paid with Senate appropriated funds.

Instead of focusing on his official duties, the news articles described Senator Vitter as using this gatering to "compare[] his stance on health care to that of his likely future opponent, U.S. Rep Charlie Melancon...."


You can read the entire letter here. It also cites a separate event on August 17 at which Vitter reportedly urged the crowd to "keep up the pressure on" Melancon, and other Democratic congressmen--which may cross the line into political campaigning. Let's see how the Ethics Committee, and Vitter, respond.

Late update: Vitter says, "The Democrats' reaction to these town halls across America is to try to shut down the debate and suggest that it's somehow out of bounds. Well it's not out of bounds because this is still America."

"Instead of trying to shut down free speech, why doesn't Charlie Melancon have at least a single in-person town hall this month?" he added. "Sen. Vitter is having 19."

Fran Townsend, Bush's Homeland Security adviser and CNN contributor, appeared on the network again this morning to refute Tom Ridge's new claim that he was pushed to raise the terror alert on Election Eve 2004 for political reasons.

She repeated much of what she said on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer last night - namely, that "there was no discussion of politics whatsoever," but she added some new contradictory information about "discussion on the margins."

"The only discussions I recall were on the margin - there was concern that if the intelligence supported raising the threat level, it might actually [be] to the detriment of President Bush because people might perceive it as being political," said Townsend.

Here's the video:

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The National Republican Congressional Committee has a new pair of TV ads targeting Rep. Zack Space (D-OH) and Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-NY), warning of cuts to Medicare under the Dems' health care plan.

The Space version attacks him for having already voted for the plan in committee:



"Higher costs, tax hikes, and, get this, massive cuts to Medicare," the announcer says. "The Obama-Pelosi plan would cut Medicare by 500 billion, and Zack Space already voted for it. Space cast one of four deciding votes to help Pelosi push her plan through. Call Space, tell him to change his mind and oppose Pelosi's cuts to Medicare."

The Arcuri version is available here.

Later this morning, Louisiana Democrats will send a clear message to Sen. David Vitter (R-LA): If you want to bash your political rivals at your rigged town halls, don't do it on the public dime.

State party chairman Chris Whittington is sending a letter to the Senate Ethics Committee requesting an investigation into whether Vitter has violated the Senate code of office conduct by, among other things, using the publicly sponsored forums, where he takes pre-screened questions, to "compare his stance on health care to that of his likely future opponent."

We'll post the letter from Whittington as soon as it's available. Vitter is likely to face a challenge from Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA) for his Senate seat in 2010.

Ironically, for all relevant purposes, the two probably aren't as far apart on health care as you'd assume. Though surely Democrat Melancon has taken some stances to the left of Vitter on certain provisions, he voted against the final health care reform package in the House Energy and Commerce Committee last month.

The three Democrats and three Republicans negotiating health care reform legislation in the Senate Finance Committee convened on a conference call last night--and from all accounts, it seems as if they're ignoring, at least for now, Majority Leader Harry Reid's threat that he'll break health care reform legislation into parts and pass some of them through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process.

According to the Washington Post, one participant said the group reached a consensus to "to take your time to get it right," and to lower the already cut-rate cost of their bill below $900 billion.

"Our discussion included an increased emphasis on affordability and reducing costs, and our efforts moving forward will reflect that focus. We have come a long way, will continue our work throughout August and plan to meet again before the Senate returns in September," said Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus in a statement after the call. The negotiators have no plans to convene again until a week before the Senate comes back into session in September.

The implication is pretty clear: the group is dismissing the threat that they'll be rolled by leadership--at least in public. If leadership is serious, though, the group ought to be getting down to business soon. The deadline for passing a reconciliation bill is October 15, and if an acceptable product doesn't emerge from the Finance Committee soon, then many of the measures the gang of six is currently debating could find their way into the budget bill.

Americans United Ad Targets "Real Death Panels" At Insurance Companies Americans United For Change has this new TV ad, set to run next week on national cable and DC cable, taking the "real death panels" -- the ones in private insurance corporations that will deny necessary care:



The ad has footage of a former medical director for Humana and Blue Cross/Blue Shield: "In the spring of 1987, as a physician, I denied a man a necessary operation that would have saved his life, and thus caused his death...and I am haunted by the thousands of pieces of paper on which I have written that deadly word, 'denied.'"

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will meet with former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who had also been his original nominee for Sec. of Health and Human Services, at 11 a.m. ET. At 1 p.m. ET, Obama will depart the White House, en route to Camp David.

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Maybe the grass really is always greener on the other side.

On a conference call hosted by Americans For Prosperity, featuring Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), the two of them frequently thanked conservatives for coming together and making their voices heard at town hall meetings. But at one point, the two of them also bemoaned that it's so much harder to organize conservatives than it is to keep liberals together.

DeMint explained that conservative people are, by their nature, an independent-minded lot who value their personal freedom. "The Democrats have a different constituency," said DeMint. "The groups supporting them all want more centralized control at the federal level, whether it's energy or health care. So they have united, binding their grievances."

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