TPM News

In an unscheduled White House health care speech this afternoon, President Obama reiterated his commitment to accomplishing health care reform "this year."

Notably absent from his statement was any reference to the looming August congressional recess, or the mid-October deadline he and Democratic leaders had set for signing a bill into law.

The House of Representatives will recess on August 3, and the Senate on August 10, and Obama has insisted in the past that both chambers complete work on individual health care bills before adjourning for the summer.

As I've detailed previously, there are a number of reasons the administration wants swift action, and today's speech is among the first public signs that the White House might be girding itself for possibility that Congress will miss its deadlines.

In a nod to new concerns that House and Senate proposals don't do enough to curb long-term health spending, Obama noted his work with Congress on an initiative that would create an "Independent Medicare Advisory Commission" which would have the power to set the rates Medicare pays for services. Currently, Medicare seeks advice on those issues from MedPAC. This plan would strengthen that commission, and make its findings binding, unless overridden by the President or Congress.

The White House announced today (via Twitter) that President Obama will be holding a primetime news conference on Wednesday, July 22 at 9 p.m. ET.

Here's the tweet:

You heard it here first: Primetime presidential news conference at the White House, Wed. 7/22 @ 9PM EDT

Rep. Silvestre Reyes, who chairs the House Intelligence committee, has announced an investigation into the secret CIA program that Leon Panetta recently ended, and which Dick Cheney reportedly ordered kept secret from Congress.

From Reyes's statement:

After careful consideration and consultation with the Ranking Minority Member and other members of the Committee, I am announcing an official Committee investigation into possible violations of federal law, including the National Security Act of 1974.

This investigation will focus on the core issues of how the congressional intelligence committees and Congress are kept fully and currently informed. To this end, the investigation will examine several issues, including the program discussed during Director Panetta's June 24th notification and whether there was any official decision or direction to withold (sic) information from the Committee.

Earlier today, I highlighted an error-plagued New York Post article, complete with an error-plagued infographic, which claimed that House Democrats' health care bill would result in an astronomical tax increase for wealthy Americans. The author--seemingly unaware that Democrats were proposing an increase in marginal tax rates--reported that high-income earners would be on the hook for thousands, or tens-of thousands of dollars per year if Democrats get their way, when the the reality is much less extreme.

One of the author's sources for the piece was the anti-tax group The Tax Foundation--but now The Tax Foundation is disavowing the article. In an email, Tax Foundation economist Gerald Prante notes, "the Tax Foundation did not produce the results for the NY Post graphic. The only thing in that graphic that was from Tax Foundation was the 58.68 top rate for New York. We refused to do the calculations."

The NY Post interpreted that 58.68% as being an average rate, and we were explicit in our paper: that it was an effective marginal tax rate.

A call to the Post this morning went unanswered, but clearly responsibility for the misinformation in the piece--which was spotlighted on The Drudge Report--falls to the paper itself.

The Charleston Post and Courier has posted online (pdf) all 570 pages of emails obtained from the office of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford.

There's a bevy of information in there, but one exchange that jumped out at us was the one between Sanford's press secretary, Joel Sawyer (who just today announced he's quitting -- good for him!) and David Gregory, the host of NBC's Meet the Press. In courting Sanford's office, Gregory wrote that "coming on Meet The Press allows you to frame the conversation as you really want to."

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The reform campaign Health Care for America Now, in partnership with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is airing television ads targeting two senators and seven congressmen. Here's the version that's running in the district of Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI)

The ad will run for five days, targeting Suptak, as well as Reps. Bart Gordon (D-TN), Mike Ross (D-AR), John Barrow (D-GA), Baron Hill (D-IN), Zachary Space (D-Oh), and Charlie Melancon (D-LA). Starting Monday it will air in North Dakota, home of Sen. Kent Conrad. AFSCME is also sponsoring the ad in California, whose senior senator Dianne Feinstein has been lukewarm about the prospects of reform.

Stupak is threatening to derail health care reform efforts in the House unless his fellow Democrats agree to major changes to the legislation.

In a schedule change, President Obama will give public remarks on health care this afternoon at 3:15 ET in the White House.

Obama's speech, part of his public push for health care reform, is bumping the daily press briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

Late Update: Although he's replacing the briefing, the president will not be taking questions, the press office tells us.

If you're thinking TPMDC hasn't written enough about tea parties this week, you're in luck. One of the overlooked anecdotes from the July 4 tea bagging bonanza came out of Bristol, Rhode Island, a town of about 20,000 people which every year draws over 100,000 people to a weeks-long Independence Day festival.

This year, though, a group of tea party tax protesters entered a float into the fourth of July parade and things quickly became controversial. In violation of parade bylaws, a number of teabaggers, clad in yellow "Don't Tread On Me" T-Shirts, took to the parade route to distribute pocket-sized Constitutions, setting off a bit of a ruckus. From all accounts it doesn't seem like anything bad happened, but it was enough of a nuisance that the parade committee banned the protesters from all future parades.

That set off a bit of a firestorm. One of the tea party organizers--whose email handle is "Galt"--fired off an email to several hundred fellow party-people, informing them of the penalty. "Today, we received news from the Bristol Parade Committee that the RI Tea Party is to NEVER apply to appear in the Bristol Parade again," wrote Marina Peterson. "We were told unequivocally that our group was 'horrible', 'not to waste the stamp to send in an application in the future', and that the Committee never wanted 'those people' of the RI Tea Party to participate in the parade in the first place...."

We encourage you to contact the Bristol Parade Committee...and let them know how you feel about their discriminatory behavior towards a group which represents Liberty, particularly in celebration of an event dedicated to our country's freedom....

They will not squelch our voices! We have only just begun!

Yours in Liberty

The state's Republican governor, Donald Carcieri, waded into the controversy this week, with an insinuative statement about the parade organizers. "The RI Tea Party movement has energized the citizenship of many Rhode Islanders as they call for more responsible government."
It seems that the Parade Committee has singled them out for punishment. How ironic that a movement that draws from American patriotic spirit would be excluded from an Independence Day parade. Sadly, they are being sanctioned for distributing copies of the U.S. Constitution. One wonders about the forces behind such a decision.

That may have had its intended impact. Yesterday, the overexcited tea baggers got word that the lifetime ban had been lifted. Now the balls are back in the teabagger's court--it seems they'll have a second chance to make a first impression next Independence Day.

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Six key Senate Centrists--Ben Nelson (D-NE), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Ron Wyden (D-OR)--are asking Democratic and Republican leaders to slow down the pace of health care reform efforts.

"[I]n the view of [CBO Director Doug Elmendorf's] statement, there is much heavy lifting ahead," reads a letter the group signed today. "We look forward to working with you to develop legislation that is vital to the well-being of the American people and urge you to resist timelines which prevent us from achieving the best results."

According to Huffington Post's Ryan Grim, who first obtained the letter, "The organized effort to slow down the process is a blow to the reform effort." And, indeed, there letter exemplifies a growing sense among centrists and health reform skeptics that the pace of reform should be slowed down. But it's also a restatement of very publicly held views. Earlier today, Nelson himself appeared on CNN and suggested congressional health care leaders should not to move too quickly.

The Democrats may have a 60-member caucus--large enough in theory to circumvent enough a Republican health care reform filibuster. But two of those 60 are gravely ill, and one is Ben Nelson.

The Senate Finance Committee--of which Ben Nelson is not a member--has yet to introduce health care legislation after falling several weeks behind schedule. It has been unable to reach agreement in that time on key issues like the public option, and has reportedly dropped, for largely political reasons, a financing mechanism that would have lifted the tax-exclusion on employer-provided health care benefits.

And, it seems, the panel has also rejected the House's broadly popular proposal of paying for health care reform by imposing a small surtax on wealthy Americans.

If the Finance Committee's bill serves as the basis of reform, many observers think it will be inadequate, or that its legislation will arrive too late to pass, as members gear up for the 2010 mid-term elections. Yesterday, President Obama said, "we have finally reached a point where...the choice to defer reform is nothing more than a decision to defend the status quo."