TPM News

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele defended Senate Republicans' tactic of reading a 700-plus-page amendment today to stall debate on the health care bill.

The amendment, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), calls for a single-payer system and will likely be voted down.

"You've had members admit they haven't read the underlying bill, so I think it's kind of a good idea to read the amendment to the bill you haven't read," Steele told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell.

We should note that as RNC chair, Steele doesn't have any power when it comes to what Congressional Republicans on the House or Senate floor. But his answer is a good example of Republican justification for delaying health care.

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With Democrats closing in on passing a Senate health care bill, Republicans are upping the obstruction--and they're playing chicken with U.S. troops to do so.

Way back on December 2nd, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) filed a single-payer amendment to the Senate health care bill, which was supposed to come up for a vote this afternoon. But at the last moment, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), at the behest Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), demanded that the entire 700-plus page amendment be read aloud on the floor. That's happening now.

Under normal circumstances, this would be a 10 or 12 hour dilatory tactic. But not today. Today, Democrats were planning to file for cloture on the Defense Appropriations bill, in order to get it passed by Friday before midnight when department funding runs out. If the entire amendment is read aloud, it's likely that the Senate won't be able to pass the defense bill until Saturday at the earliest, and would have to pass a short-term continuing resolution to keep money flowing.

"The only thing that Sen. Coburn's stunt achieves is to stop us from moving to the DoD appropriations bill that funds our troops - not exactly the kind of Christmas gift that our troops were expecting from Dr. No," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

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Freshman Sen. Mark Warner has spent a lot of time with President Obama lately.

Warner (D-VA), is one of a handful of former governors serving in the chamber and has deep concerns about the nation's fiscal health. That's one reason he signed a letter suggesting he would not vote to raise the debt limit unless the long term problems were addressed.

But in a broad interview with TPMDC, Warner said while he is worried about the swelling deficit, Congress can't avoid raising the debt limit because it would rile the markets if they didn't.

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The SEIU was supposed to join AARP and pro-reform organizations this morning in urging an end to the filibuster of the Senate health care bill. But they didn't show.

It turns out that they're not so sure they want to give the bill their implicit endorsement.

"We were supposed to do a press conference this morning with AARP, etc. around supporting the cloture vote," says an SEIU official. "We decided yesterday that it would be imprudent."

"Tonight, we're holding an emergency meeting with our executive at least start the discussion of how we are to proceed," the official said. "It's a come to Jesus moment."

By what the official insists is a complete coincidence, the AFL-CIO is holding a similar meeting.

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The local Fox affiliate reports that President Obama called the new mayor-elect of Houston, Annise Parker, to congratulate her.

Parker wasn't around to take the call, so it went to voicemail instead.

"I'm just calling to congratulate you on an extraordinary victory, a victory of the people of Houston as well as yourself. I think you're gonna be just a great mayor," Obama says. "Hopefully we'll get a chance to see each other soon. ... We were watching, and are very proud."

The hotly contested race was watched nationwide because Parker is openly gay. When she takes office, it will be the first time such a major U.S. city will have a gay mayor.

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On Fox News this morning, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) predicted that a health care bill would not pass anytime soon. Boehner cited the apprehension of lawmakers from both parties. But the main obstacle to reform, the House Minority Leader claimed, is a U.S. public that has "soundly rejected" the efforts.

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A new survey of North Carolina by Public Policy Polling (D) finds first-term Republican Sen. Richard Burr in a vulnerable position headed into 2010, with narrow leads over three unknown Democratic challengers.

Burr leads former state Senator and Iraq War veteran Cal Cunningham by 45%-36%; he leads attorney Kenneth Lewis by 43%-37%; and he leads Secretary of State Elaine Marshall by 42%-37%. Against a generic Democrat, he has a statistically insignificant edge of only 42%-41%. The margin of error is ±4%.

Burr's approval rating is 35%, with 37% disapproval. As we've noted before, Burr's problem is not that he's unpopular -- it's that he hasn't made much of an impression at all with the voters, and his fate will rest heavily on the nature of the overall political cycle.

For all three Democrats, anywhere from 69%-81% of North Carolina voters don't have an opinion of them. And in the case of Kenneth Lewis, PPP's Tom Jensen speculates that respondents might have him confused with the very unpopular Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis. Jensen writes: "Lewis may need to invest down the road in some direct mail or Charlotte tv time to make sure voters in the area know he's not that Ken Lewis!"

The executive director of the Arizona GOP used a Republican voter database to stalk a female grad student, the woman has alleged in a criminal complaint.

The complaint, filed last month with the local sheriff's office and reported by the Huffington Post, alleges that Brett Mecum "is using Voter Vault to stalk." That's the sophisticated voter-targeting program that the GOP uses to turn its supporters out to the polls.

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In the midst of speculation about whether various swing-seat Democrats could end up retiring -- which would set back the Dems' chances of maintaining their majority -- two Blue Dogs are going out of their way to make it clear that they're staying.

Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-TN) declared: "Come hell or high water you can count me as a candidate." Davis, age 66, was re-elected with 59% of the vote in 2008, at the time as his district voted 64%-36% for John McCain.

Meanwhile, Rep. Colin Peterson (D-MN) dismissed any talk of him retiring. "I don't know why anyone would give credibility to these Republican rumors," said Peterson, also adding: "As for why they are working so hard to circulate this baloney, I think they're just trying to stir things up because they don't have a candidate to run against me." Peterson, age 65, was easily re-elected with 72% of the vote in 2008, while his district voted 50%-47% for John McCain.