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Right after President Obama was elected in November, Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) released a fairly ambitious health care reform policy white paper and held a series of events rolling out his vision for health care reform. Then, in negotiations with his colleagues on the committee, Baucus spent the intervening months chipping away at the key provisions of his plan, including the public option, which has reportedly been dropped and replaced by controversial, private, non-profit co-ops.

Now Baucus says that's all a matter of political necessity. "I want a public option too!" Baucus reportedly told about 40 Montana Democrats a week ago, adding that he also doesn't trust private insurance companies to police themselves and rein in profits and other excesses.

Though the call took place last Monday, the details weren't reported until yesterday, and were quickly picked up by online media outlets including Politico and Huffington Post.

Baucus' staff says that the apparent disconnect between what he's telling party members back home and what he's doing in Washington isn't particularly significant--it's all about the politics. "Senator Baucus included a public option in his November 2008 White Paper, which is essentially his blueprint for reform. A public option has always been on the table," a Finance Committee aide says. "He's said all along that he wants to hold the insurance companies' feet to the fire and there are a lot of ways to do that. The key is putting together a bill that will hold insurance companies accountable and - most importantly - that will pass the Senate."

What exactly does that mean? It's impossible to know what's in Baucus' heart of hearts. But whether he truly supports a public option or not, the aide says that the bill the Finance Committee eventually unveils will represent "what he thinks can pass the Senate."

And given that almost all reports suggest the committee will not endorse a public option, this may well cause reformers some heartburn.

Ed. note: This is an edited version of the original post.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, released this statement on the DOJ torture probe:

I applaud Attorney General Holder's decision to appoint a prosecutor to review the shocking violations of law that took place under the Bush administration. We cannot simply sweep these abuses under the rug. This investigation should not be limited to those who carried out interrogations or to whether the abuses they engaged in were officially sanctioned. The abuses that were officially sanctioned amounted to torture and those at the very top who authorized, ordered or sought to provide legal cover for them should be held accountable.

A good catch by McClatchy on the CIA torture report...

The 2004 report, by CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, contains ten recommendations for action on the part of the agency. But all ten are redacted. So we still don't know what the CIA's internal watchdog urged be done about torture -- including whether it recommended prosecutions.

Of course, the report had been released previously, but in an even more redacted form.

Late Update: Helgerson has issued a statement expressing disappointment that his recommendations were redacted.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released a statement on Attorney General Eric Holder's investigation into torture:

I recognize how difficult this decision has been for Attorney General Holder, and I am grateful that the Justice Department is finally being led by an independent Attorney General who is willing to begin investigating this dark chapter in our country's history. I had no doubt that he would put the interests of the law ahead of politics, and he has demonstrated that. While I still believe that a nonpartisan, independent review is the best way to get the full picture of how our laws were applied or broken, I hope this investigation will also bring a measure of accountability to the American people in holding responsible those whose decisions may have undermined our values and our laws.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, released a statement on the DOJ's torture investigation:

This is clearly a significant issue, and I applaud Attorney General Holder's move to conduct a preliminary review into the interrogations conducted by the CIA," Whitehouse said. "Holder has given this issue the consideration it deserves, and I am confident that the rule of law, which was so blatantly ignored during the Bush Administration, will be vindicated.

The Louisiana Democratic Party really seems to be enjoying the material they have to work with in the 2010 Senate campaign, considering that the opponent is none other than Republican Sen. David Vitter.

The Louisiana Dems have unveiled a new Web site to go after the incumbent. Keep in mind that Vitter is a champion of the religious right who in 2007 was implicated in the D.C. Madam prostitution scandal and admitted to an unspecified "serious sin." The Web site is named "Doing A Vitter," a pretty clear reference to Vitter's baggage:

Officially, the site defines "Doing a Vitter" as an act of hypocrisy. As a practical consequence, however, this Web site itself tells us that this race is only going to get dirtier and dirtier as the campaign cycle goes on.

Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bart Stupak (D-MI) won headlines last week for kicking off an investigation into health insurance company excesses, and executive compensation in particular. But Sen. Jay Rockefeller has similar questions, and he's firing off some missives of his own.

"I am writing to request information about how your company spends the health insurance premiums it collects from consumers and businesses," read letters Rockefeller sent Friday to the chief executives of the nation's 15 top insurance companies. "I am particularly interested in determining the percentage of policyholders' premium dollars that your company uses to pay actual health care claims as compared to administrative costs and profits."

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Some top Democrats are expressing disappointment with Eric Holder's announcement of a probe into Bush-era torture, and specifically with Holder's apparent decision to ensure the probe doesn't look at the Bush officials who authorized the policy.

In just-released statements, Reps John Conyers and Jerry Nadler of the House Judiciary committee applaud the decision to probe torture, but add that "it would not be fair or just for frontline personnel to be held accountable while the policymakers and lawyers escape scrutiny after creating and approving conditions where such abuses were all but inevitable to occur."

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Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the Judiciary Constitution subcommittee, released this statement on Attorney General Eric Holder's appointment of a special prosecutor in the torture probe:

"I applaud the Attorney General's decision to appoint a special US Attorney to review the interrogation abuse cases that were rejected for prosecution by George Bush's Justice Department," said Conyers. "The Obama Administration also deserves praise for the release of the 2004 CIA Inspector General report as well as related DOJ memos. These materials are truly disturbing, including the CIA's basic conclusion that 'unauthorized, improvised, inhumane, and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques were used' in its program. Reading about misdeeds such as threats to kill a detainees' children or the staging of mock executions leaves us appalled.

"Today's release -- even of these still heavily redacted materials -- is thus an important step toward restoring the rule of law in this country, and rebuilding our credibility around the world. But much more remains to be done. The gruesome acts described in today's report did not happen in a vacuum. It would not be fair or just for frontline personnel to be held accountable while the policymakers and lawyers escape scrutiny after creating and approving conditions where such abuses were all but inevitable to occur.

"I have long believed that Department rules require a special counsel to review the entire interrogation program to determine if any crimes were committed. An independent and bipartisan commission should also be convened to evaluate the broader issues raised by the Bush Administration's brutal torture program."

"The CIA Inspector General's report on interrogation practices under the Bush administration is a disturbing record of abuse that details why this must never happen again and why action on the part of the Justice Department is essential," said Nadler. "Today's news that the Attorney General has listened to our many requests and is poised to appoint a special counsel is very much welcome. I applaud the Attorney General for this first step. But, we must go further. As I have said for many months, it is vital that this special counsel be given a broad mandate to investigate these abuses, to follow the evidence where it leads, and to prosecute where warranted. This must be a robust mission to gather any and all evidence without predetermination of where it may lead. Seeking out only the low-level actors in a conspiracy to torture detainees will bring neither justice nor restored standing to our nation."

The White House released this statement on the DOJ's torture investigation, from Press Secretary Robert Gibbs:

The President has said repeatedly that he wants to look forward, not back, and the President agrees with the Attorney General that those who acted in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance should not be prosecuted. Ultimately, determinations about whether someone broke the law are made independently by the Attorney General.