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There's a lot to dig into on this story about New Jersey mayors, lawmakers, and rabbis being charged in connection with a federal corruption and international money laundering probe.

But we've been focusing on one of the few New Yorkers: Issac Rosenbaum, a Brooklynite who works in real estate -- and has been charged with trafficking in human kidneys. It's not clear how or whether this case is tied to the public corruption probe. But with details like these, who cares, frankly...

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Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) gave a sharp response last night to a new Democratic National Committee attack ad against him, over his statement that Republicans can make health care into President Obama's "Waterloo," and that it would "break him." Demint said: "It's disappointing that President Obama has lowered the discourse of this important debate with false personal attacks," DeMint said in a statement." (Emphasis ours.)

So on that subject, let's look at DeMint's own contributions to the political discourse -- let's see what his idea of "raising" it has been over this past year.

• In January, DeMint said that the way to stop the stimulus was to "get people angry."

• "This bill is not a stimulus, ladies and gentlemen," he also said -- then ventured into some very interesting language. "It is a mugging. It is a fraud."

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The Arkansas Republican Party sure seems to have an interesting line-up of Senate candidates. Check out these statement from retired Army officer Curtis Reynolds.

"When I joined the military I took an oath to defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic," Reynolds said. "I never thought it would be domestic, but in today's world I do believe we have enemies here. It's time for people to stand up. It's time for us to speak out."

He added: "We need someone to stand up to Barack Obama and his policies. We must protect our culture, our Christian identity."

When he got to the Q&A session, he said that he would be careful with his answers, "I don't want to do a Kim Hendren," and later clarified that he was not categorizing President Obama as a domestic enemy.

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A coalition of 19 major interest groups--including AARP, and AFL-CIO--is urging House leaders--not to cave to Blue Dogs. "We commend you for providing sliding-scale premium subsidies to families up to 400 percent of the federal poverty line," reads a letter the coalition sent to key Democrats.

This is particularly important in rural and other areas where most residents have modest incomes and need assistance for coverage to be affordable.With family health premiums now averaging close to $13,000 per year, premiums alone constitute a significant portion of income even for people at the upper end of this standard. That is why this provision in the House bill is so important.


You can read the entire letter here. It's addressed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, and Education and Labor Chairman George Miller.

Right now, one of the key sticking points in House negotiations between Blue Dogs and health care leaders is the question of financing--how to pay for the bill? Leaders had initially endorsed a surtax on high income earners to cover about half the bill's cost--but, under pressure from Blue Dogs, they're now walking that back. The original proposal had been to initiate the tax on families making over $350,000 a year, or individuals making over $280,000 a year. But now, they say, they might limit the tax to millionaires only.

But that creates a cost hole that needs to be filled. And Blue Dogs have suggested extracting it from working- and middle-class Americans. The bill, as proposed, would have provided subsidies for people living under 400 percent of the poverty line to buy health insurance--and Blue Dogs are suggesting that the line be lowered to 300 percent.

Right now, the average national premium for family coverage is $12,600--or $1,050 per month. Presumably, over time, reform legislation would lower that cost, but in the interim, it will continue to cost nearly that much. House legislation would help more middle-class people cover that cost--unless Blue Dogs get their way.

Those affected by the change would be people and families living between 300 and 400 percent of the poverty line, who don't already have employer-provided health insurance.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been pretty adamant: She would prefer to pass a health care bill by early August, and would be willing to hold the House in session past a scheduled recess to get there. But she's also unwilling to move unless the Senate does...something.

'[I]f we're done, and they're not done and they're gone, what is the point?" Pelosi said in a meeting with reporters yesterday. "It's interesting to me that people are saying, 'Don't leave until it's done.' I don't know how much more we can do if the Senate is not going to move."

The concern, as I suggested earlier today, is that the Senate may be on a completely different script. Nobody knows--or at least no Democrats know. And it would be politically risky for Pelosi to ask her vulnerable members to take a vote on a big issue if the Senate is doing something significantly different.

And on that score, she's also willing to wait. "I'm not afraid of August," Pelosi said at a press conference today. "It's a month."

Her mark seems to be the Senate Finance Committee: "I think that some of the negotiations that are going on now [with House Blue Dogs] will be facilitated by the Senate doing something, because it removes some questions as to what are they doing," she said. "What is it that they are doing?"

In other words, if the Senate Finance Committee comes forward with a bill, then you'll likely see the House push something through before recessing. "They could come out with something in the next 24 hours," Pelosi told the reporters. "I'd be a little more concerned if it were next Wednesday and they still hadn't shown anything, but they have another week."

But that's all assuming congressional leaders don't decide to work well into August--and it's still somewhat unclear how likely that is.

The chief of staff for Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) is resigning, reports the Las Vegas Sun.

John Lopez has worked with Ensign since the mid-1990s. He was named chief of staff in 2006, replacing Scott Bensing.

But, as TPMmuckraker reported last month, Lopez had to split his chief of staff duties with Doug Hampton -- the husband of Ensign's mistress, Cynthia Hampton, who was also a former Ensign staffer. A source familiar with the situation told us that Lopez was less than pleased with the arrangement, which had him handling political and legislative work and Hampton running the Washington office and staff.

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These are tough times for C St.

The usually low-profile Capitol Hill-based Christian dorm and bible study group has been at the center of a media frenzy after three separate Republicans with ties to C St admitted to extra-marital affairs in recent weeks. And now, things have gotten so bad that one Christian lawmaker is treating the issue like a state secret, refusing even to say whether he lives there.

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Roll Call is up with an interesting piece about increasing Democratic frustration with the glacial pace of Sen. Max Baucus' bipartisan health care negotiations in the Senate Finance Committee. Interestingly, though, it seems as if one of the chief sources of irritation is a disparity in access--namely, that senior Democrats are being frozen out, while senior Republicans are completely keyed in.

[T]he level of consultation with Democrats stands in contrast with how Republican negotiators are briefing their Members. Senators said Enzi, who is the ranking member on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, briefs leaders every day on the talks. And all three of the GOP negotiators have agreed to brief the entire GOP Conference before they sign on to any deal with Baucus.

But Democrats said Baucus is unlikely to run any deal by his caucus before he shakes hands on an agreement with Republicans.


Also troubling Democrats: the growing realization among some that Baucus may simply be trying to run out the clock.

After saying a health care vote before August was all but hopeless yesterday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) just said it's possible--though not certain--that the Senate will 'go into overtime' to pass a bill. In other words, to delay recess.

Yesterday, President Obama was silent on the question of the August recess, but said that deadlines--even if not officially met--can be key to making progress. In other words, this could be a push to meet interim goals, or to actually get work done.

Durbin said he hopes the Senate Finance Committee finishes work soon, but Democrats are growing increasingly frustrated with the secrecy and lack of access they're getting from chief negotiator Max Baucus--especially compared to their Republican counterparts, who seem much more keyed in.

In a letter sent Tuesday, 23 House members who've served in the military demanded that a Fox analyst apologize for implying that the Taliban should kill a captured U.S. soldier. One congressman went further, saying Fox should fire both the analyst and Bill O'Reilly.

The letter, sent to Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, called the comment by Lt. Col. Ralph Peters "repulsive and deserves to be repudiated" by Fox. The letter demanded that Peters apologize to the family of the soldier, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, "and to the thousands of soldiers who put their lives on the line for our country." The letter (PDF) was signed by 14 Democrats and nine Republicans.

Mr. Peters' comments are so far beyond the pale that they don't even approach the decorum and respect deserved by a member of the United States Armed Forces. Mr. Peters' indefensible comments call into question, without any supporting evidence whatsoever, PFC Bergdahl's patriotism and commitment to his country, and suggest in a non-subtle way that he deserved to be captured. The events surrounding the capture of PFC Bergdahl are irrelevant at this point. The only priority should be his safe and immediate release to U.S. forces.


One of the letter's signers, Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY), demanded Wednesday that Fox fire both Peters and Bill O'Reilly. Peters went on the O'Reilly Factor Tuesday night, when both men referred to Bergdahl as a deserter who may be "mentally disturbed." Massa said:

I want to see Mr. Peters and Mr. O'Reilly fired immediately for their inexcusable attacks on a prisoner of war. Their comments aid and abet our enemies during a time of war and the burden is on Fox News to prove that they reject this by taking the tangible action of issuing an apology and firing both of them.


Peters first made the comments -- that the Taliban would save the U.S. "a lot of legal hassle" by executing the soldier, if he was a deserter -- on Sunday. On Tuesday night, he backpedaled a bit, saying he hopes for Bergdahl's safe return. But he still said the private is a "deserter," citing an anonymous military official, and called him a liar and a "nut."

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