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The Senate Finance Committee today will begin considering amendments and compromises to a long-awaited, and controversial health care bill in a much anticipated hearing chaired by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT). The panel will vote on hundreds of changes to the legislation, with the goal of passing the package quickly on either a partisan basis, or with the support of one Republican: Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

Among the proposed changes include the addition of a public option, a "triggered" public option, enhanced subsidies for middle-class insurance consumers, and a modification to improve the troubled employer mandate provision.

Some committee Democrats have said they'd need to see significant changes to the bill before they can support it. We'll be keeping a close eye on the proceedings, so check back here for important updates.

As part of his media blitz in support of health care reform, President Obama appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman Monday night. The two talked health care as well as the economy, race and kids.

Obama outlined the state of play for health care, saying insurance premiums are going up and employers -- who are "hammered" -- are increasingly dropping people from their plans. He said that, without reform, in five or 10 years many more people won't have health insurance. Further, he said, the government will go bankrupt from health care costs.

"We're closer than we've ever been," he said. "People are gonna realize this was the right way to go."

Of the anger the country's seen lately, Obama brushed off claims that it's based in racism.

"I think it's important to realize I was actually black before the election," he said.

"Whenever a President tries to bring about significant changes, particularly around times of economic unease, there's a certain segment of the population that gets riled up," he said. "It's not atypical. One of the things you sign up for in politics is, folks yell at you."

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In a timely profile this morning by Roll Call's Emily Pierce, Senate Majority Leader explains in his own words something I reported last night.

Reid said he is hopeful the Massachusetts Legislature will soon vote to allow the governor to appoint a replacement for Kennedy so he will again be able to call on 60 Senators, but he said that has not stopped Democrats from pursuing one of the few Republicans seen as open to bipartisan compromise -- Snowe.

"They're working on a Senator up in Massachusetts," Reid said. "There are different ways we can get to 60 votes. It's not just dependent totally on her. I hope we can [get Snowe's vote]. She's a good legislator."

But he said he is doing everything he can to avoid using reconciliation to pass health care reform.

"I would rather do a bill that we can get 60 votes on, either on a bipartisan basis or a partisan basis," he said.


If and when Democrats have a 60 vote majority, that changes the calculus somewhat. And though Snowe will continue to be a focal point of negotiations, the ultimate onus for the passage of health care reform will ultimately be on Democrats.

Bill Clinton: Some Right-Wingers Don't Want Black President -- But Would Be Opposing Obama If He Were White, Too Appearing last night on Larry King Live, former President Bill Clinton weighed in on the question of whether racism has motivated opposition to President Obama, saying that Democrats ultimately have to win the health care debate on the merits. "I believe that some of the right-wing extremists which oppose President Obama are also racially prejudiced and would prefer not to have an African-American president," said Clinton. "But I don't believe that all the people who oppose him on health care - and all the conservatives - are racists. And I believe if he were white, every single person who opposes him now, would be opposing him then."

Obama's Day Ahead: Diplomacy President Obama will deliver remarks at 9:15 a.m. ET, at U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Climate Change Summit. He will meet at 10:30 a.m. ET with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and at 11 a.m. ET with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He will then hold a trilateral meeting at 11:30 a.m. ET with Netanyahu and Abbas. At 1:15 p.m. ET, he will attend a lunch with Sub-Saharan African heads of state, and at 3:30 p.m. ET he will meet with President Hu of China AT 5:15 p.m. ET, he will speak at the Clinton Global Initiative, and at 7 p.m. ET he will attend Secretary General Ban's Climate Change Summit Dinner.

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FOX News entertainer/"journalist" Glenn Beck sat for an interview with Katie Couric and offered a surprising ranking of his preferences from last year's presidential race.

"I can't believe I'm saying this," Beck said when asked about Hillary Clinton, "but I think I would have much preferred her as President, and may have voted for her against John McCain."

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The Wall Street Journal is out with a [story](http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125331620939424307.html#mod=WSJ_hpp_LEFTTopStories) suggesting Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) exerted untoward influence over a US Attorney pick for Georgia by blocking an experienced candidate who had prosecuted a longtime friend.

Is there anything to the story?

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If you're keeping score on the question of passing health care reforms as part of a filibuster-proof budget reconciliation bill, then you know that Democratic leaders in the Senate see it as an absolute last resort; and you know that if they go there, then they don't plan to test the limits of Senate rules along the way. The latter means that the reforms themselves would be subject to a number of arcane procedural tricks that could leave the legislation with some serious holes in it, and Democrats would either have to fill those holes separately, in a regular bill, or cross their fingers and hope things work out OK in the end anyhow. Meanwhile, liberal activists are pretty miffed that Democrats aren't at least threatening to use the process as aggressively as they can, and that's both widening the inter-party rift and leaving the party's legislative efforts without much support from the base.

That way lies the potential for a number of problems, both within the fractured Democratic coalition and for the substance of reform itself.

But if and when the governor of Massachusetts appoints a temporary replacement for Ted Kennedy, there will suddenly be a simpler and more elegant way around this impasse. That is, if only Democrats can stay united against a GOP health care filibuster.

Even if this meant passing a purely partisan bill, this would be the Democrats' preference. "We can get more done through a 60 vote bill than through reconciliation," says a Senate Democratic leadership aide.

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Former President Clinton, in an appearance on Larry King Live tonight, said that not all the people who criticize President Obama are racist, and that if Obama were white, the same people would oppose him.

"I believe that some of the right-wing extremists which oppose President Obama are also racially prejudiced and would prefer not to have an African-American president," he said. "But I don't believe that all the people that oppose him on health care, and all the conservatives, are racist. And I believe that if he were white, every single person who opposes him now would be opposing him then."

"Therefore, while I have devoted my life to getting rid of racism, I think this is a fight that my president and our party, this is one we need to win on the merits," he continued.

Last week, former President Carter said, "An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, however, has said Obama does not believe attacks against him are racially motivated.

In his appearance today on the David Letterman show, airing tonight, President Obama brushed off the talk that opposition to his agenda is motivated by racism. Watch the video below.

"I think it's important to realize that I was actually black before the election," Obama said.

The audience laughed, and Letterman followed up with another question: "How long have you been a black man?"

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