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Following on his meeting earlier this week with Democrats from the Senate Finance and HELP committees (the two committees with jurisdiction over health reform legislation), President Obama has sent a letter to the committees' chairmen--Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA)--restating his priorities, and committing to some new spending cuts to generate revenue to pay for comprehensive legislation.

You can see the entire letter here, but some of the key points are:

I am committed to working with the Congress to fully offset the cost of health care reform by reducing Medicare and Medicaid spending by another $200 to $300 billion over the next 10 years, and by enacting appropriate proposals to generate additional revenues. These savings will come not only by adopting new technologies and addressing the vastly different costs of care, but from going after the key drivers of skyrocketing health care costs, including unmanaged chronic diseases, duplicated tests, and unnecessary hospital readmissions.

To identify and achieve additional savings, I am also open to your ideas about giving special consideration to the recommendations of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), a commission created by a Republican Congress. Under this approach, MedPAC's recommendations on cost reductions would be adopted unless opposed by a joint resolution of the Congress. This is similar to a process that has been used effectively by a commission charged with closing military bases, and could be a valuable tool to help achieve health care reform in a fiscally responsible way.

Congress has demanded that health reform efforts be deficit neutral--meaning Obama must pay for the initial costs with a combination of efficiency savings and increased taxes or spending cuts. For more on how the MedPAC plan would work, see this post. Much of this ground, apparently, was covered at the meeting--and soon we'll know whether it's the sort of stuff Congress will go for.

As we've been reporting, earlier today, New York Times business reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin appeared on MSNBC and seemed to question the entire idea of unionization. "Name a successful unionized company. Think. You're going to go to [commercial] break before you come up with one."

Last week, Sorkin moderated a forum, hosted by Vanity Fair and Bloomberg, which included, among others, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch and Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

During the discussion, the Welch trotted out roughly the same that Sorkin brought on to Morning Joe against Stiglitz "[G]ive me a highly successful, unionized American industry," he demanded.

Here's the entirety of the exchange:

WELCH: Joe, do you think that if we trace back things like this, they're going to give us a more competitive America to compete in the global world? Now, do we - should be retained good wages? Should we have benefits? Should we have enlightened management to take care of workers? Absolutely.

But should we get all organized again and get all these work rules and have General Motors and U.S. Steel and the airlines and all these businesses - give me a highly successful, unionized American industry.

STIGLITZ: Well, I do think that - that workers who are treated better or more productive.

WELCH: I agree.

STIGLITZ: Now - now, one of the things that has induced a lot of companies to treat the workers well is the fear of unions coming in. So it has been an incentive device that has, I think, encouraged better treatment of the workers at by some of the non-union firms.Well, I do think that - that workers who are treated better or more productive.

More on the answer to Welch's (and now Sorkin's) question in a moment. Funny how that line made it from the lips of the former chairman and CEO of GE on to a GE-owned cable network. I'm sure Welch is extremely proud.

Late update: You can read Sorkin's apology here.

The PMA story is starting to become a major headache for congressional Democrats.

RollCall reports that Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House number 2, plans this afternoon to offer a measure designed to force the House Ethics committee to reveal whether it's investigating senior Democratic appropriators' ties to the now-defunct lobbying firm.

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New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin went on MSNBC this morning and set off the entire labor movement.

"Name a successful unionized company. Think. You're going to go to [commercial] break before you come up with one. And that's the problem," he said before a room full of unionized NBC employees.

Unions are aghast. "Sorkin and the Morning Joe crew just showed their complete failure to understand how unions contribute to the success of the American economy by blindly assuming that unionized companies haven't been profitable in the last year," said James Hoffa, General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, in a statement to TPMDC.

Off the top of my head I can give you several Teamster-represented companies who continue to thrive, despite the economic downturn, but there are thousands more: UPS, Eight O'Clock Coffee, Coca-Cola Enterprises, PepsiCo, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors. The Morning Joe team really should be embarrassed for showing their lack of knowledge on the subject.

And that's just on the record.

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Check out the latest pearl of wisdom from The Weekly Standard's single most cartoonish neocon blogger, Michael Goldfarb, wondering whether President Obama might be concealing a secret knowledge of the Arabic language -- and the Koran!

Goldfarb focuses on Obama using the Arabic world "Shukran" ("Thank you") when he was received by the King of Saudi Arabia:

Obama has said before that he speaks "barely passable Spanish" and "a smattering of Swahili," as well as some Bahasa from his youth in Indonesia. But Obama has at other times denied speaking a foreign language, saying in July of last year, "I don't speak a foreign language. It's embarrassing!"


It seems there is some legitimate confusion on just what languages Obama speaks, and as far as Arabic, the only real hint has came from Nick Kristof, who heard Obama recite the Muslim call to prayer in Arabic and with a "first-rate accent" back in 2007. With even the White House now smearing Obama as a Muslim, one wonders if the president hasn't been concealing some greater fluency with the language of the Koran.

Look out, Michael -- as Spencer Ackerman has pointed out, General Petraeus has used Arabic phrases, too! And Petraeus is against torture! The Muslim secret agents are everywhere...

It's been tough times for investigative journalists lately. But is Speaker Nancy Pelosi coming to the rescue?

In a letter to the Chief Administrative Officer of the House posted on her blog, the Speaker has directed that the quarterly disbursement statements of members of the House be posted online. The statements document the expenditures of every congressional office. Currently, they're only available by going in person to Congress's Legislative Resource Center.

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Rush Limbaugh has now reacted to the widely-reported "retraction" by Newt Gingrich of his having called Sonia Sotomayor a racist -- and he's going to keep on calling her a racist by himself:

Limbaugh appears not to have read Gingrich's new Web post with the alleged retraction, but he nevertheless has a lot to say about it based on press reports. "Well I have my own theory about what Newt's doing, but since I'm not doing it, I'm not gonna comment," Limbaugh said. "I'm not retracting it. Nobody's refuted it!"

Limbaugh should probably read Newt's actual post, in which case he'll be pleasantly surprised to find that...Newt hasn't actually recanted it! Gingrich has simply tricked that pesky liberal media into thinking he has, while at the same time repeating his message that Sotomayor makes her legal decisions based on race.

At last night's general election kickoff rally for Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ), which I was able to attend due to the good fortune of it being in my hometown, Corzine laid out a clear message he'll be taking into the general election: That he has a strong progressive record that he's proud to run on, that you can count on him as an ally of the very popular President Obama -- and perhaps as the most crucial element, that you simply can't vote Republican, the party of George W. Bush.

Corzine was introduced by none other than Vice President Joe Biden, who praised Corzine as a man who understands the economy, and directly advised Obama and Biden during the transition period, on how to craft the stimulus bill. "And everyone knows," Biden said at one point, "that your state, your state Senate, your state Assembly, your Governor, have inherited a mess left behind by the last administration in Washington, DC."

Corzine's Republican opponent -- who had not yet been determined at that hour, as votes were being counted in the primary, but was widely expected to win -- is former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie. The Democrats will therefore go after Christie using not just the unpopular Republican brand in general, but the Bush brand in particular, since Christie was an appointee of the Bush Administration. It's a strategy that would be inviting for a Dem in any state, but especially in this deep-blue bastion.

"They've got a secret plan. They won't tell you whose taxes they plan to cut," Corzine said during his own speech -- then ad-libbed this line that deviated from the prepared remarks: "They'll check with George Bush about that." So while George W. Bush is out of office, Dems plan to still have him to kick around.

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We've spent a lot of time on this site examining the handful of conservative activists leading the fight against Sonia Sotomayor. It's almost a full time job. Intentionally or otherwise, though, that group of folks has recruited MSNBC analyst Pat Buchanan to do much of their bidding. Herewith, a montage of Buchanan's tireless campaign in defense of downtrodden white male Supreme Court hopefuls:

That video comes courtesy of Media Matters.

As I noted earlier today, Buchanan often saves his most controversial polemics for readers of the conservative magazine Human Events, which runs his column twice a week. Yesterday, in that column, he accused Sotomayor of practicing "tribal justice."

The Washington Post reports today that, during 2005, Dick Cheney sat in on several of those CIA torture briefings, in an effort to persuade wavering lawmakers to keep backing the torture program.

The news doesn't really come as a shock -- indeed, some close observers had already guessed that the then-veep was involved in the briefings. But it does add to the picture of Cheney embarking during the middle years of the Bush administration on a focused, stealthy campaign to make sure the US didn't give up what he saw as its right to torture.

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