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The conventional wisdom on Capitol Hill is that a restrictive abortion amendment to the Senate health care bill, authored by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) does not have the votes to pass, and that its failure presents substantial risk to the legislation's prospect for passage.

Well, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a cosponsor of the amendment, seems to agree. I asked him if he sees any way for his plan--which would prevent millions of consumers from buying insurance that covers abortion--to make it into the greater bill.

"No," Hatch said laughing, "I don't think it has the votes. That's the game."

"He did say he would vote against cloture," Hatch said. "That's very important."

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Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) is one of the first senators to publicly criticize a Medicare buy-in proposal offered by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), telling reporters today that he opposes plans that use Medicare levels of reimbursement, which he's long said would harm hospitals in North Dakota.

Conrad says he needs answers: "If you expand medicare, what kind of a risk pool is that going to be? How is that going to affect the Medicare risk pool? What's that going to do to rates, what's that going to do to medicare solvency?" he asked rhetorically. "We don't have answers to those questions."

Rockefeller didn't take too kindly to this.

"I'm really very tired of hearing about that from him," an exasperated Rockefeller told reporters. "And it's always about North Dakota, and it's never about any other part of the country. And I thought, you know, that's what we're trying to do--we're trying to do the best thing for the country as a whole."

Ouch! We'll try to get more clarity on how far Conrad's opposition stretches. The key question in all of this, after all, is whether the compromise that comes out of the negotiating sessions between liberal and conservative Democrats can garner 60 votes. A Medicare buy-in would allow some people under the age of 65 to purchase their insurance through Medicare, which would likely charge much lower premiums than the private market.

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Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), the staunch social conservative who was implicated in a prostitution scandal and admitted to a "serious sin," could be facing a challenge in the Republican primary from Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne. But before he gets in the race, Dardenne wants to conduct a poll -- which would involve forming an exploratory committee.

Dardenne told the Baton Rouge Advocate that he's considering having a poll conducted. "I've had a lot of people suggest that I do that. I'd have to raise some money. I may do that," said Dardenne. He added: "A lot of people have suggested that's a step that should be taken before making a final decision."

A number of key Senators--including Chuck Schumer (D-NY), John Kerry (D-MA), and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) confirmed today that a Medicare buy-in is being discussed as an option as part of a grand compromise on a public option.

"It's an option, it's being discussed, it does have some issues that are being raised, but it remains--it's on the table," Kerry told reporters.

The idea was introduced to the discussion by Rockefeller, who told reporters that it's still unclear whether it would ultimately be a replacement for the public option.

"I think that's one of the reasons it was brought up, but you don't do everything in juxtaposition with something else always."

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Former New York State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R) has been convicted on two counts of wire fraud, the Albany Times-Union reports, connected to charges that he'd used his office to enrich himself through payments for non-existent consultant work.

Bruno, age 80, was acquitted on five counts in the scandal, but was convicted for receiving 11 payments from companies controlled by businessman Jared Abbruzzese.

Bruno was first elected to the state Senate in 1976, became Majority Leader in 1994, and resigned from office in July 2008. He was later indicted in January 2009.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office is criticizing the GOP's "feigned outrage" in response to comments he made on the Senate floor this morning. In his speech, Reid whacked Republicans for attempting to kill health care reform, comparing their obstructive tactics to those used to prolong slavery and stall women's suffrage and civil rights.

Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all the Republicans can come up with is this:, 'slow down, stop everything, let's start over.' If you think you've heard these same excuses before, you're right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said, 'Slow down, it's too early, let's wait, things aren't bad enough.'

When women spoke up for the right to speak up, they wanted to vote, some insisted they simply, slow down, there will be a better day to do that, today isn't quite right.

When this body was on the verge of guaranteeing equal civil rights to everyone regardless of the color of their skin, some senators resorted to the same filibuster threats we hear today.


Republicans lashed out.

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The Federal Aviation Administration investigated an episode in which an AirTran flight was taxied back to the gate in Atlanta last month and found no violations of safety rules, another blow to the story of a NASA employee who says he helped thwart a dry run of Muslim hijackers on the plane.

"The FAA is charged with enforcing civil air safety violations and among those are rules that require passengers to comply with flight attendant instructions and about use of electronic devices," FAA spokesperson Kathleen Bergen tells TPMmuckraker. "We found no violations of the regulations." She said the investigation of the Nov. 17 incident was closed Friday.

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Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) promised that his abortion amendment would be "as identical to Stupak as it can be," and one key women's rights groups says he's made good on his promise.

"As with Stupak-Pitts, this amendment would restrict abortion coverage well beyond the status quo and could have profound implications even for coverage in the private market, paid for with private funds," emails Adam Sonfield, senior public policy associate of the Guttmacher Institute. "It also, like the Stupak-Pitts amendment, takes what had been even-handed language respecting and protecting the conscience of providers on both sides of the abortion divide and turns it into biased language that allows for discrimination against health care providers willing to provide or refer for abortions."

So there you have it. Now the questions is what happens if it fails somehow? Nelson has threatened to join a filibuster of the health care bill if his language isn't adopted. Will he make good on that promise? Or will a new round of negotiations begin. If Nelson defected, it could dramatically impact the course of negotiations over the public option and, indeed, imperil the legislation. We'll be keeping a close eye on this. You can read the language of the Nelson amendment below the fold.

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