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At an AFL-CIO reception moments ago, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) got the crowd all worked up--not by lampooning politics, but by participating in them. "I just became a cosponsor of my first bill in the Senate, the Employee Free Choice Act."

EFCA's been out of the headlines in recent weeks as Congress tackles a major health care overhaul. But labor must nonetheless be thrilled to have a new, high profile ally in the Senate.

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

  • Health Care: On the House-side, a phantom CBO score, trumped up by Republicans, plagued Democrats for much of the afternoon, before it was conclusively revealed to be a fiction. In the Senate, as the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee completed marking up the long-term care provisions in its health care reform bill, Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee began to tiptoe away from efforts at bipartisanship. An end-of-the-day report suggests that, with time running out to pass a bill before August recess, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid laid down the law and demanded an end to efforts to bring Republicans aboard.


  • Climate Change: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing today on "moving America toward a clean energy economy." In an embarrassing twist, though, a number of conservative cap-and-trade foes became convinced that the the Senate was voting on climate legislation and embarked on a brief but hilarious Twitter rampage urging all concerned to "LIGHT UP THE SWITCHBOARDS" on the Hill.


  • Senate Politics: As reported, Sen. (!!!) Al Franken (D-MN) was sworn in today--the 60th member of the Democratic caucus.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) takes his knocks for not driving a hard bargain with Republicans and conservative members of his own party. But a breaking report suggests that might be changing on the issue of health care reform. According to Roll Call Reid "ordered" Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus (D-MT) to "drop a proposal to tax health benefits and stop chasing Republican votes on a massive health care reform bill."

That tax provision--more regressive than other financing proposals--is how many expected the committee to pay for their forthcoming health care bill. This jibes well with an earlier report that Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND)--an influential member of the panel--was walking away from the idea.

According to Roll Call "Reid told Baucus that taxing health benefits and failing to include a strong government-run insurance option of some sort in his bill would cost 10 to 15 Democratic votes."

If Baucus got the message, it would indicate a major change in the committee's direction. His is the only relevant panel not to have introduced a draft of health care reform legislation thanks in large part to internal wrangling over provisions like financing and the public option. Finance was widely expected to eschew a public option in favor of privately run health care co-operatives, and to propose paying for the bill by taxing employer-provided health care benefits. Neither idea has support among liberal Democrats.

If the Finance Committee does indeed change course, then all committees of jurisdiction, in both the House and Senate, will be working with legislation that calls for the creation of a public option--something Republicans have vowed to oppose.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who has been a staunch supporter of the recent coup in Honduras against leftist President Manuel Zelaya, made a rather interesting comparison on the Senate floor today:



"On what basis does the Administration demand Zelaya's reinstatement?" DeMint asked. "His removal from office was no more a coup than was Gerald Ford's ascendance to the Oval Office, or our newest colleague Al Franken's election to the Senate."

Um...I thought Republicans were calling Franken's election an illegitimate coup!

President Obama may have acted swiftly to put out the fire Rahm Emanuel set when he suggested the White House might support delaying a public option. But he seems to have missed some embers. The progressive group MoveOn--which has taken an active role in campaigning for the public option--is now urging its members to call the White House and demand they reject the idea of a trigger mechanism altogether.

"President Obama has been speaking out for weeks about the heart of health care reform: a public health insurance option that will lower costs and help cover everyone," the letter reads.

But yesterday, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel signaled support for a "trigger" provision--a proposal that would undermine the public option, and put off real reform for years....

Right now, when key committees are finalizing health care legislation, Emanuel's remarks will only embolden conservative opponents of reform. He should be standing with the majority of Americans for a strong public health insurance option--not disastrous half-measures like the "trigger."

Can you call the White House switchboard and tell them you're disappointed in Chief of Staff Emanuel's comments supporting the "trigger"? Tell them voters want a strong public health insurance option--not half-measures like the "trigger."


Earlier today, I noted that some reformers remained concerned that the White House hadn't gone far enough in responding to Emanuel's comments. You can read the entire letter below the fold.

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This afternoon, Congress Daily reported that the Congressional Budget Office had scored the House's health-care overhaul bill--the so-called tri-committee bill--and determined it would cost $1.5 trillion over 10 years. That's at least a couple hundred billion dollars more than Democrats really want to see, and they were no doubt alarmed when the information began to spread.

The only problem is, it there is no CBO score. A joint statement from the House Committees on Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor, clears the air none-too-subtly.

"This report is premature and entirely fabricated. In fact, none of the reporters working on this piece contacted our press offices to fact check their story. The three House committees are still working to develop legislation and have not yet received a score from CBO on the discussion draft. As the three chairmen have made clear, our health care reform legislation will be paid for and we're still considering revenue options."

The CBO confirms this account. But that, unsurprisingly, isn't stopping Republicans from trying to make hay out of fiction. According to Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) "Today's CBO announcement demonstrates the enormous cost that a new, government-run bureaucracy will create, and cutting Medicare funding by $500 billion to pay for a new, government program will limit treatment options for thousands of patients."

Which might be perfectly fair if any of it were true.

It's only early July, but the gloves are fully off in this November's election for Governor of New Jersey. Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine's campaign just launched this new attack ad against Republican former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, who is currently ahead in the polls:



"A million lawyers in America. So who did Chris Christie give contracts to?" the announcer asks. "The Bush Attorney General who was Christie's boss. He got a $52 million no-bid contract."

Beyond the accusation of ethical impropriety, there's an even more damaging attack here: The Corzine campaign is reminding people that Christie worked in the Bush Administration.

New Jersey is a very Democratic state, but to a certain extent this is in a negative sense -- a good portion of swing voters are casting their ballots against the Republicans, rather than for the Democrats. If Corzine is to win this race, he'll need to remind those voters just how much they hate the GOP.

Late Update: Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien has released the following statement: "While Chris Christie is out on the trail talking about real solutions to turn around Corzine's failing economy, Governor Corzine responds with what he does best - throwing his millions behind negative, misleading attacks. New Jerseyans are frustrated with Mr. Corzine's tired and out of touch tactics, and who can blame them when they're facing skyrocketing unemployment and suffocating new taxes."

We can now add another group to the list of people who don't think Sarah Palin's resignation as Governor of Alaska was a good move: Republican voters, according to a new Rasmussen poll.

The numbers: Of the likely Republican voters surveyed, only 24% think her resignation helps her chances for the Republican nomination in 2012, compared to 40% who say it's hurt her chances.

At the same time, 61% of Republican voters think it's somewhat likely or very likely that she will run, with only 29% saying it's not very likely or not likely at all.

When asked who they prefer, 25% of GOPers said Mitt Romney, 24% said Palin -- the same percentage who said her resignation is a plus, interestingly -- 22% chose Mike Huckabee, and 14% chose Newt Gingrich, with 1% each for Haley Barbour and Tim Pawlenty.

New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, who is resigning in order to run for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2010, gave an interesting explanation to the Union Leader about an attack on her that's come from Dem Gov. John Lynch's office: That when he reappointed her, she promised to serve her full term through 2013, rather than resign to run for elective office.

"I would say that at the time of my reappointment no one could have predicted the political future. The political landscape has changed drastically since then," said Ayotte. "Clearly the intent was to continue serving, but I think in fairness no one could have predicted the changes that have occurred on the political landscape."

That really makes a lot of sense. You see, when Ayotte made the promise that she wouldn't resign as Attorney General in order to run for something else, she didn't realize that she might be a viable Senate candidate in the future.

Late Update: New Hampshire Dem chairman Raymond Buckley has released a statement that, among other things, compares Ayotte to Sarah Palin: "We're seeing a national trend where Republicans have abandoned their responsibilities to their constituents in favor of political gain. From Alaska to New Hampshire, Republicans just can't seem to honor their commitment to the public. Not unlike Sarah Palin, Kelly Ayotte has broken her promise to the people she represents and put politics before public service."

It's looking more and more like Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) will be able to ride out this whole scandal, now that media coverage has moved on to other topics like Sarah Palin and Michael Jackson, and serve out the remaining year and a half of his term without having to resign.

Yesterday evening, the South Carolina Republican Party's executive committee voted to censure Sanford for his moral transgressions -- defeating those on the committee who had wanted to call for his resignation.

Sanford's communications director Joel Sawyer put out a brief statement today, responding to the party's censure: "The governor fully appreciates the party's position, and he intends to work diligently to earn back its trust."

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