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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has added his name to a letter from a group of progressive Senators, calling for the public option to be included in the health care bill through the reconciliation process.

"At a time when there is deep skepticism and mistrust of the private insurance industry, when just last month a major health insurer in California announced it would raise its premiums by a whopping 39 percent in one fell swoop, the American people have made it clear that they want the option to buy their insurance through a Medicare-type, government-run public insurance plan," Sanders said in a press release.

Eight other Senators have signed the letter so far. Its original signatories Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), released the letter yesterday. Four others -- Al Franken (D-MN), John Kerry (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) -- signed on earlier today.

Gay and lesbian state workers in Virginia are no longer specifically protected against discrimination, thanks to a little-noticed change made by new Gov. Bob McDonnell.

McDonnell (R) on Feb. 5 signed an executive order that prohibits discrimination "on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities," as well as veterans.

It rescinds the order that Gov. Tim Kaine signed Jan. 14, 2006 as one of his first actions. After promising a "fair and inclusive" administration in his inaugural address, Kaine (D) added veterans to the non-discrimination policy - and sexual orientation.

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The level of internal tension within the always fractious Tea Party is reaching a boiling point, in the wake of yesterday's meeting with RNC chair Michael Steele and amid early efforts to build a third party out of the grassroots movement.

A major Tea Party group has announced its opposition to the idea of creating a third party -- drawing scorn from at least one activist. And a new anti-Steele website warns of the "'hijacking' of the Tea Party Movement by the GOP." Taken as a whole, the infighting suggests intense and fundamental philosophical differences among Tea Party factions, just as the movement is being hailed as a political force.

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Key House Democrats said today they think the White House health care summit will yield some sort of final agreement allowing Congress to pass a compromise reform measure and get it to President Obama's desk.

When and how remain large outstanding questions, but lawmakers stressed Obama's invitation to bipartisan members to the televised summit is among the last steps on the long road to reform.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) said on a conference call with reporters today they are "not starting from scratch" despite Republicans calls to do just that.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen said repeatedly the compromise is 90 percent done, and said Obama would put "all the facts on the table" and give Republicans another chance to present their ideas.

"The House and Senate are very close to reaching a final agreement," Van Hollen said.

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Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), who was defeated for re-election in 2006 by a whopping 18-point margin, has been slowly but surely re-emerging on the political scene -- and could be a presidential candidate in 2012.

Over the last few months, Santorum has built up a schedule of visits to the top three primary and caucus states: He has already made two trips to South Carolina, one in December and another in January; he visited Iowa this past October, and will be headed back in March; and he just announced a trip to New Hampshire on April 30.

A month ago, Santorum stepped up the rhetoric in an e-mail sent to his supporters. "I promise you, I will stop at nothing when it comes to defending our freedom and our values," Santorum wrote. "That's the real reason why - after talking it over with my wife Karen and our kids - I am considering putting my name in for the 2012 presidential race." So let's take a brief look at what else he's done over the past year.

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A new CNN poll sheds light on who makes up the Tea Party movement. According to the results, tea partiers are richer, more male and have more education than the general population.

Eleven percent of respondents to the poll said that they had in someway participated in the tea party movement, either by going to a rally, donating money, or "taking some other active step to support the movement." The demographics among that 11% are much different from the rest of the U.S. population.

"Of this core group of Tea Party activists, 6 of 10 are male and half live in rural areas," CNN reports. "Nearly three quarters of Tea Party activists attended college, compared to 54 percent of all Americans, and more than three in four call themselves conservatives."

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In the wake of last month's Citizens United ruling, a powerhouse Washington lobbying firm is informing its corporate clients on how they can use middlemen like the Chamber of Commerce to pour unlimited amounts of money into political campaigns, while maintaining "sufficient cover" to avoid "public scrutiny" and negative media coverage.

A "Public Policy and Law Alert" on the impact of the Supreme Court's ruling, prepared by two lawyers for K&LGates and posted on the firm's site last Friday, notes that, thanks to disclosure rules, corporations could alienate their customers by spending on political campaigns -- especially because they could become the target of negative media coverage.

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Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) has written a letter to President Obama asking him to invite U.S. governors to the bipartisan health care reform summit on Feb. 25.

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