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Earlier today, I suggested that Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus had, to a great extent, left the fate of health care reform in the hands of a couple very conservative Republicans. Others have noticed, too. According to Roll Call, "One Senate source said [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid told Baucus earlier this week that if the Finance group could not produce an agreement by the end of next week that the Majority Leader's office would likely end up taking over the negotiations."

This has apparently ground negotiations to a halt, at least for today. Soon, though, Baucus and Reid will have to make a decision: humor the Republicans and delay completion of a committee bill until September, or scrap the consensus language and advance a partisan bill.

Unless, of course, Republicans suddenly decide they have no interest in slowing down health care negotiations. Cough. "[Y]es we're being rushed," said Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), a key conservative negotiator. "It's possible to get it right. It just can't be done by next weekend."

On the campaign trail, Obama boosted his blue collar cred by sharing beer with citizens. Here, he takes a swig at Sharky's in Latrobe, Pa., in March 2008.

Newscom/Rapport Press

The future president toasts the owners and patrons of Bethlehem Beer Works in Bethlehem, Pa., in April 2008.

Newscom/Rapport Press

At the Raleigh Times Bar in Raleigh, N.C., in May 2008.


The president takes a swig while watching the Washington Wizards play the Chicago Bulls in February 2009.

Newscom/UPI Photo

Obama relaxes with Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and hall of famer Hank Aaron after throwing the first pitch at the All Star Game in July 2009.


Did Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who is now running in 2010 for the Senate seat formerly held by President Obama, violate military regulations when his campaign put up Twitter posts about his active service in the Naval Reserve?

This all started when The Capitol Fax Blog, a well-known state political site in Illinois, reported that Kirk (or his campaign) put up this Twitter post several days ago: "On duty @ the Pentagon's National Military Command Center. All is currently (relatively) quiet. Honor 2 be back w/ my fellow Navy colleagues"

Kirk's campaign now says that Kirk himself did not put up either this Tweet or another one. Instead, they say a staffer posted the pre-approved messages.

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Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank have received subpoenas from a Senate committee that's probing whether they committed fraud in connection to last year's financial collapse, the Wall Street Journal reports (sub. req.).

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Carl Levin, is said to be looking into whether those firms, and perhaps others, had private doubts about the mortgage-backed securities they were putting together, despite their rosy public pronouncements about the complex products.

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President Obama said today that he's "fascinated with the fascination" about tonight's beers with Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley.

"This is not a summit, guys," he told reporters during a press availability after a meeting with Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. "It's just three folks having a drink at the end of the day."

Discussion on cable news about the meeting has accelerated as we approach 6 p.m. ET, when Obama is scheduled to meet Gates and Crowley at a picnic table near the Oval Office. In the past half hour, CNN and MSNBC have both displayed countdown clocks to the meeting.

The campaign Health Care for America Now doesn't like the Blue Dog compromise either--but they aren't drawing a line in the sand about it either.

"The demands made by some Blue Dog Democrats will result in higher costs for families," says HCAN's national campaign director Richard Kirsch.

First, they will weaken the public health insurance option's ability to drive down prices, and second, they will shrink the amount of assistance provided to middle-class families who buy health coverage.

We are confident that the House ultimately will pass legislation that includes a strong public health insurance option that lowers prices and provides financial assistance so that health insurance is truly affordable to all

So what will the parties be doing over the August recess, to reach swing voters to in the health care debate? An NRCC source told TPM that August will be taken up by a comprehensive blitz of both paid and earned media, with candidates and incumbents holding town halls and other events against the bill.

"Those who cut the deal in committee are now guaranteed to be recipients of the August offensive," the source said, also adding: "The fact that it doesn't reduce costs, will run up the deficit, and will be financed with tax hikes and Medicare cuts is a rather easy and salient argument to make. The script writes itself."

On the other side, a Democratic source speculated that Dems will likely be seeing movement from President Obama's campaign group, Organizing For America, with the DNC outside groups proving air support. The question, then, will be the degree to which they can effectively retake control of the debate.

The polls at this point show the public to be in favor of government guaranteeing health care, but at the same time an overlapping majority worries about taxes, too much spending, big government, etc. There is a significant chunk in the political middle that simultaneously holds both of these opinions, a longstanding fact of American politics that has bedeviled reformers since even before 1993. And this will take on a heightened importance as we head into a new crunch time this August, with each party striving to get voters to care more about their own side of the argument.

Check out some of these conflicting poll results, after the jump.

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Health reformers have at least one ally on the Senate Finance Committee in Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who's a resolute advocate of a robust public option. But since his panel--or at least the six members of the panel who are designing health care legislation--seems to have settled on a privately held, non-profit co-operative model, Rockefeller has some questions. "Some have suggested that, instead of creating a strong public plan option, Congress should adopt a cooperative approach to health insurance coverage," Rockefeller writes in a letter to the Government Accountability Office.

Like so many Americans, I have set about the task of learning more about cooperatives--with a specific focus on how such cooperatives might be relevant to the discussion on comprehensive health reform. I have been alarmed to learn that there is a dearth of reliable information available about health care cooperatives.

You can read the entire letter here. The government has plenty of experience running a "public option" (see: Medicare, Medicaid). But private sector co-ops have a mixed record and a national health insurance co-operative is an all-but but theoretical construct--so Rockefeller wants the GAO to explain a bit more. He wants answers by early August.

Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) officially does acknowledge that President Obama was born in the United States, Greg Sargent reports.

Blunt's office charged that blogger Mike Stark had selectively edited a video, in which Blunt called questions about Obama's birth certificate "legitimate," in order to make it look like he doubts Obama's natural-born citizenship. The full video, which Stark then release,d shows Blunt saying, "I don't have any reason not to believe that," then going on to dignify the Birthers' complaints.

Greg asked Blunt's office yet again what Blunt himself thinks -- does he accept that Obama was born in the United States and is legitimately president? "Of course he does and this is clear in the unedited interview," Blunt's spokesperson said.

To which Greg says: "This isn't really clear from the interview, but it's certainly clear now, even if it took a bit of effort..."

As if to underscore the extent to which the conservatives negotiating health care reform have slowed the process to a crawl, Harry Reid now sounds lukewarm about the prospects of getting a bill out of the Senate Finance Committee by the end of next week.

"I am still cautiously optimistic that we will get something out of the committee before this work period ends," Reid told reporters.

Contrasting this with his optimistic tone earlier this week, and keeping in mind that Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) is making a lot of demands and expressing doubt about the deadline, and you get a sense for how these negotiations have gone.