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If you've been following the health care debate in Washington, you know that the issue of a public insurance option--whether to create one, and, if so, how robust it should it be--is proving to be a thorny one.

But there are other, somewhat less pyrotechnic issues that will have to be resolved before Congress can deliver a bill--and one of those is the question of how to pay for it. Industry representatives have pledged to pitch in for part of the cost, and Democrats have floated various ideas--slashing Medicare and Medicaid spending, taxing employer-provided health benefits--but thus far, they've released no specific proposals.

But that'll all change soon enough. House Democrats will release bill text at the end of the week explaining how a reform package will be financed. The situation's a bit less clear in the Senate, where the Finance Committee has yet to unveil it's legislation.

On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden is expected to announce that three major hospital associations have agreed to provide $160 billion in savings for the overhaul--a substantial chunk of the price tag which is expected to run upwards of one trillion dollars.

Late update: According to Ryan Donmoyer of Bloomberg, the House is likely to propose taxing high income earners. "Two people familiar with closed-door talks by committee Democrats said a House bill probably will include a surtax on incomes exceeding $250,000, as Congress seeks ways to pay for changes to a health-care system that accounts for almost 18 percent of the U.S. economy." That'll be a tough sell to Republicans (then again, what isn't?) but will probably appeal more to most Democrats than the idea of taxing employer-provided health benefits.

Atlantic Media publisher David Bradley is defending the corporate-sponsored, off-the-record "salon" dinners that his company has been organizing since 2003, in response to TPMmuckraker's report yesterday on the dinners.

In a 1500-word "letter" posted on The Hotline, Bradley refers to "concerns I'm reading now on the web" (no attribution, naturally), before explaining why he thinks the salons -- which, as we wrote yesterday, are very similar to the Washington Post's planned event that ignited a furor last week -- "are full of good purpose." (He adds that they're also "part of my best thinking on how we carry forward (read fund) modern journalism.")

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The South Carolina Republican Party has formally voted to censure Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) over his extra-marital affair and his disappearance from the state -- an interesting development, the closer one looks at it.

Of the 41 members of the state GOP's executive committee, a bare majority of 22 voted to censure him. Ten members voted to ask him to resign, and nine others in fact voted in support of him.

Funny thing: Sanford voted to impeach Bill Clinton over a sex scandal in 1998, and at the time a whole lot of Republicans said that a mere censure of Clinton was insufficient -- only impeachment or a resignation would truly satisfy the moral and legal problems at hand.

Franken Being Sworn In Today Sen.-elect Al Franken (D-MN) will be sworn into office today by Vice President Biden, at about noon. This ends a Senate race that lasted eight months beyond Election Day itself, and involved six months of litigation after the State Canvassing Board had completed the recount. Franken will take office six months plus one day after he would have been sworn in with the other Senators who were elected in 2008, if not for the sheer closeness of his race and the resulting litigation.

Obama's Day In Russia President Obama had a working breakfast in Moscow with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, at 1 a.m. ET (9 a.m. local time). At 3 a.m. ET, he met with former President Mikhail Gorbachev. AT 3:15 a.m. ET, he delivered the commencement address for the 2009 graduation of the New Economic School. At 5:40 a.m. ET, he met one-on-one with President Dmitry Medvedev, and he and First Lady Michelle Obama attended a reception hosted by Medvedev at 6:10 a.m. ET. At 7:25 a.m. ET, Obama and Medvedev met with the Parallel Business Summit, and Obama met with the Parallel Civil Society Summit at 8:20 a.m. ET. AT 9:35 a.m ET, Obama will meet with Russian opposition leaders.

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If you're a long-time politico, you may have seen it coming: Standing between progressives and fundamental health care reform is a 30-year Senate veteran with a reputation cemented long ago as a deal-maker -- or less charitably, as a sellout. Montana's Max Baucus is exactly the sort of centrist often embraced by Washington insiders for "getting things done"--but whose record of acquiescing to special interests makes progressives cringe. As chairman of the Finance Committee he's weathered his share of controversies. There's no bypassing Baucus entirely. And he's enjoying his position at the nexus of the reform battle.

"It's a parade of lobbyists going in and out of that office every day," says a Senate aide. "Everyone involved has strong ties back to the industry. And anyone who understands Baucus' record understands that neither he nor his staffers want to make them unhappy."

The Senate returns from a brief recess this week to round out--or try to round out--a tough task: finalize, and merge, two substantially different health care bills, and then vote on a final product. All along, the key sticking point in that process has been the question of the public option--but now that every other committee of jurisdiction has settled upon a version of a public option, all eyes are on Baucus and Finance.

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The July 4 tea party in Washington, D.C.


The July 4 tea party in Washington, D.C.


The July 4 tea party in Washington, D.C.


The July 4 tea party in Washington, D.C.


The July 4 tea party in Washington, D.C.


Independence Day tea party in Austin, Texas.

Flickr user Bonzo McGrue




Independence Day tea party in Austin, Texas.

Flickr user Bonzo McGrue




Independence Day tea party in Austin, Texas.

Flickr user Bonzo McGrue




Independence Day tea party in Austin, Texas.

Flickr user Bonzo McGrue




Independence Day tea party in Austin, Texas.

Flickr user Bonzo McGrue

TPMDC's update on the biggest legislative initiatives on the Hill:

  • Health Care: The Senate returns from recess this week with a tremendous amount of work to do if they plan to complete their work on health care reform by August recess. Key senators are beginning to suggest that the timeline may be too ambitious, but a spokesman for Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid tells The Plum Line they should prepare themselves to work weekends if that's what it'll take to get the job done.


  • Nominations: As conservatives and Republicans pore over documents relating to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's tenure on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Senate Judiciary Committee readies itself for a July 13 confirmation hearing.


  • Senate Politics: After more than six months of waiting, Minnesotans will have their second senator tomorrow, when Sen.-Elect Al Franken is finally seated.

The pro-Obama group Americans United For Change is going nationwide with a new ad campaign, praising members of Congress who voted for the energy bill. The ad campaign brings a patriotic fervor to the pro-bill side, boasting of the "uniquely American" solution that will create energy jobs here instead of other countries.

Here's the version running in the district of Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN):



The ad is a localized version of a spot they premiered last week for the D.C. media market -- which is basically a testing ground for response from the media -- with the names of individual Congressmen inserted in to be praised for voting in favor of the bill.

The list of Democratic House members for this ad campaign: John Boccieri (OH); Mary Jo Kilroy (OH); Steve Driehaus (OH); Mark Schauer (MI); Betsy Markey (CO); Baron Hill (IN); Ben Chandler (KY); Frank Kratovil (MD); Dan Maffei (NY); Mike Doyle (PA); Tom Perriello (VA); Rick Boucher(VA); Paul Hodes (NH), who is also running for the Senate; and Carol Shea-Porter (NH). There will also be a generic version in the Detroit media market, and on national cable for CNN and MSNBC. This list has some overlap with the NRCC's new ad campaign against the bill.


President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrive for a joint press conference in the Kremlin on July 6.

Lu Jinbo /Xinhua / Sipa Press




Obama and Medvedev speak while Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen signs documents.

UPI Photo/Anatoli Zhdanov




Obama and Medvedev sign a preliminary agreement to reduce nuclear arms.

White House photo




The two leaders exchange the signed documents before their joint press conference.

UPI Photo/Anatoli Zhdanov




Russian First Lady Svetlana Medvedeva and U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama visit the Dormition Cathedral of the Kremlin in Moscow.

Vladimir Rodionov/ITAR-TASS/ABACAPRESS.COM




The Red Square from the Kempinski Hotel July 5, the night before President Obama arrived in Moscow.

White House photo




The first ladies meet in Moscow.

Vladimir Rodionov/Itar-Tass/Abaca Press/MCT

Here's another Republican who will openly express his puzzlement at Sarah Palin's latest move: Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who doesn't seem to think that Palin has a political future anymore.

"I don't know of anyone who has successfully and voluntarily pulled themselves out of political office and been able to leverage that into more political success," King told The Hill, also adding: "I hope there's something brilliant behind this because she's entirely capable of actually having a grand strategy that the rest of us don't understand."

So think about that: Sarah Palin has managed to do something that even Steve King thinks is odd.

TPMLivewire