TPM News

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has bought $567,000 in TV ad time for the Massachusetts special Senate election, is up with its first attack ad against Republican nominee Scott Brown.

The ad looks to take apart Brown's folksy, populist image, by telling voters to look "under the hood" of the pickup truck that he's been driving around the state. "On health care? Brown wants to be the deciding vote to kill Ted Kennedy's legislation," the announcer says, tying the debate over the health care bill to the legacy of the late Ted Kennedy.

The announcer then says that Brown has voted against funding for education, as well. "That's the real Scott Brown," the announcer concludes, with on-screen text also reminding voters in this Democratic state that Brown is a Republican. "Don't let him take us - or our kids -- for a ride."

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For weeks now, we've been reporting that there's a deep divide between the House and Senate on key provisions of the health reform bill.  The House wants health care to be implemented and regulated at the national level. The Senate wants to leave it up to the states.

The House wants to tax the wealthy to pay for near-universal health care. The Senate wants to shift the burden to the middle class through an excise tax on so-called "Cadillac" insurance plans. (And let's not forget the House has already given up one of it's top priorities, the public option, to appease certain senators and end a filibuster threat.)

But now it's down to crunch time and the House and Senate have to come up with a compromise that can win 218 Democratic votes in the House without upsetting a delicate, filibuster-proof balance in the Senate. And we're seeing some small progress on one of the main sticking points -- the taxes.

Frustrated House progressives have grappled with the Senate (and ostensibly the White House, which supports the Senate plan) over their plan to pay for health care reform. These lawmakers have suggested in no uncertain terms that, without significant changes to it and other measures, they will oppose a final bill.

"If the Senate bill is our final bill, I'd vote against it," Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) told me outside a Democratic caucus meeting last night.

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President Obama will speak today about the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and administration officials huddled all night in the Situation Room to coordinate the government response.

An administration official told TPMDC that Obama was updated by his national security staff at 8:30 p.m. last night and told them "he expects an aggressive, coordinated effort by the U.S. government."

Yesterday after the quake struck Obama asked aides to check on the status of embassy personnel and kicked the U.S. response into high gear.

The White House said that at 10 p.m. last night Deputy National Security Advisor Tom Donilon hosted a Situation Room meeting with senior officials from the State and Defense departments, the Department of Homeland Security, USAID, USUN, SOUTHCOM, JCS, Coast Guard, and national security and White House staff to coordinate Obama's request.

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This morning, I reported that leading labor officials and the White House had discussed the possibility of exempting collectively bargained health care benefits from a proposed tax on high-end insurance policies as a potential concession to secure union support for health care reform.

This evening, in an interview, Rep. Raul Grijalva--the influential co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus--confirmed that the idea, though nascent, is indeed on the table. But though he believes the potential compromise is a step in the right direction, it's still not enough to secure passage of a final bill in the House, where the so-called "Cadillac tax" remains extremely unpopular.

"Given the precedent of fire fighters and police, If there is a collectively bargained agreement on health care that that would be exempt: it's a good step, but it still does not deal with the reality [that] we're dealing with," Grijalva told me. "As much as it's an important gesture to labor, particularly the trades, it continues to be a problem about: [number one] how you're going to administer that...number two I still think we're still dealing with a fundamental problem of creating a real class conflict here between those people that are having to pay, through their taxes, health benefits for those people that have none."

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We've hit crunch time. With just a week to go until the special Senate election in Massachusetts, top Democratic Party leaders are descending on the state in an effort to help Martha Coakley pull out the win. And, both sides are raising and spending massive amounts of money in the final push to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Massachusetts is getting a mini-stimulus this week, with capital flowing rapidly into the state's economy. Yesterday, of course, Republican Scott Brown conducted a money-bomb fundraiser, claiming to have brought in $1,303,302.50 in one day. Today, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee purchased $567,000 in ad time for the Boston and Springfield markets. Massachusetts Democrats have already spent $288,000 for a race that seemed like a lock just a few days ago.

Massachusetts should be an easy walk for the Democrats. But over the last couple of days, the polls have tightened. According to the latest Rassmusen poll, Brown has pulled to within two points of Coakley, within the margin of error of ±3%. The Democrats have moved into crisis mode, deploying such heavy-weights as former President Bill Clinton and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). Clinton will headline a rally for Coakley in Boston this Friday at 2 p.m. ET.

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The White House released a statement this afternoon from President Obama following reports of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have been affected by this earthquake. We are closely monitoring the situation and we stand ready to assist the people of Haiti," Obama said in the statement.

The White House also released some background information:

The President was informed of the earthquake at 5:52pm. The President asked his staff to make sure that embassy personnel are safe, and to begin preparations in the event that humanitarian assistance is needed. The Department of State, USAID and the United States Southern Command have begun working to coordinate an assessment and any such assistance.

The new Rasmussen poll of the Massachusetts Senate special election shows a dead heat between Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown.

The numbers: Coakley 49%, Brown 47%, plus 3% for independent libertarian Joe Kennedy, with a ±3% margin of error. In last week's Rasmussen poll, Coakley led by 50%-41%, with 2% for an unnamed "some other candidate." This new poll is roughly in line with this past weekend's survey from Public Policy Polling (D), which had Brown with a 48%-47%. A Boston Globe poll conducted last week put Coakley up by 15 points, and the Coakley campaign released an internal poll with themselves up by 14 points.

The pollster's analysis makes it clear how much Democrats need to rev up their base: "All polling indicates that a lower turnout is better for the Republican. The new Rasmussen Reports poll shows that Brown is ahead by two percentage points among those who are absolutely certain they will vote. A week ago, he trailed by two among those certain to vote."

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) says he's revisited his initial concerns over Obama Justice Department nominee Dawn Johnsen, and has decided to support her confirmation.

"After voting 'pass' (which means no position) in the Judiciary Committee, I had a second extensive meeting with Ms. Johnsen and have been prepared to support her nomination when it reaches the Senate floor," reads a statement Specter sent to TPMDC.

Johnsen's nomination languished all of last year, in part because Specter, and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) had both suggested they'd join a GOP filibuster of her confirmation vote. However, Johnsen has always enjoyed the support of Republican Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN), meaning leadership needed only one of the two Democratic hold outs to change their positions in order to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster.

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