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This is somewhat complicated, and I'll flesh it out and get you video just as soon as I can. But with Democrats anxious to pass a health care bill, and avoiding delays seen as a high political priority, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) indicated today that there may be major delays in the health care process going forward. During today's health care hearing, he told CBO chief Doug Elmendorf today that the Senate Finance Committee must be provided with a complete CBO score of the final package before the panel can hold a vote on it.

"With respect to the issue of when scoring might be available, because...it is critically important that we have scoring before a final vote is cast in the committee," Conrad said, "it is important for us to know, once there is a package, after the amendment process here, can you give us some rough estimate, in days to have a CBO score."

How long will that scoring take?

Elmendorf estimated that the full reporting could take two weeks:

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At a press briefing today following trilateral talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Middle East Envoy George Mitchell dodged several questions about the administration's position on an Israeli settlement freeze.

Mitchell attended the meeting with President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and shared notes with reporters before taking questions.

One asked if the administration had pushed Israel on a settlement freeze. Mitchell responded that the freeze "was discussed in all of the meetings," but quickly emphasized that Obama was pushing for the re-launch of negotiations.

Reporters took this to mean that the administration was backing off demands for a settlement freeze, and asked more questions to that effect, to which Mitchell responded that there's been no change in position.

The questions persisted, and Mitchell finally tried to stop them:

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Zack asked this question earlier, and we're still waiting for an official answer, but news stories from back in April strongly suggest that Humana wasn't the only insurance company enlisting seniors (legitimately and otherwise) to lobby against changes to Medicare Advantage. In fact, the problem may have been industry-wide.

Here's an April 13 story from the Eagle Tribune in Massachusetts:

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We've told you about Hassan Nemazee's leading role in raising money for the Democrats' climb back to power over the last few electoral cycles. But a longer look back shows that the New York financier -- who was charged yesterday with running a $292 million Ponzi scheme -- began building his influence by wrangling cash for the Clinton-Gore team during the 90s. And that his largesse also extended to the GOP.

Based on news reports accessed via Nexis, here's a quick time-line on Nemazee's political and fund-raising work during those years:

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The special election in New York's 23rd District has just barely started, and a date hasn't been formally set -- in fact, former Rep. John McHugh (R) only just resigned yesterday, in order to become President Obama's Secretary of the Army -- but the TV ads are already airing from both sides.

Democratic candidate Bill Owens, an attorney and Air Force veteran -- who was also a registered independent before launching his campaign -- has this ad introducing himself to voters. "In all, I've helped to attract over 2,000 jobs to upstate New York," Owens says. "I'm running for Congress, and I approved this message, because my family taught me to fight for what matters, and right now, we need to fight for upstate New York."



Meanwhile, the NRCC has a new pair of attack ads -- one on TV, one on radio -- against Owens and promoting their own candidate, state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, by tying Owens to the right's most frequently invoked menace, Nancy Pelosi, and also to President Obama.

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As Zack noted in great detail here, the Obama administration is investigating the activities of health insurance giant Humana--a participant in Medicare Advantage that's been telling its aging consumers that the government plans to slash benefits, and urging them to tell Congress not to touch the program as it reforms the U.S. health care system.

Medicare Advantage plans are private health care plans that seniors can buy into with federal assistance in lieu of participating in traditional Medicare. Under terms the government erected when it created the system, those insurers face strict limits on how they communicate to beneficiaries--regulations that exist to protect seniors from acting under the pressures of insurers, who control their benefits. In response to a request from Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services has demanded the lobbying effort cease, and is investigating the company to determine whether it violated those rules.

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House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) appeared yesterday at a health care reform discussion hosted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. As the newspaper reported, constituents "listened without booing" and "left in an orderly fashion -- without shouting, fighting or the escort of law enforcement." What a refreshing change of pace.

As Think Progress pointed out, there was only one glitch: Cantor told a woman whose uninsured relative needs a tumor operation that she ought to look into "an existing government program" or seek charity to pay for the operation. Way to stick to conservative principles.

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