TPM News

Here's an interesting window into the legislative sausage-making process - and a classic example, among countless others, of the way in which Senate leaders working on health-care reform are having to walk a tightrope between well-meaning policy goals and crude political imperatives.

As we reported last week, Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) has sponsored a measure designed to crack down on "pay-for-delay" deals by pharmaceutical companies, in which the maker of a brand-name drug pays a generic to hold off on marketing its cheaper drug, thereby preserving the brand-name's monopoly. This textbook anti-competitive tactic is hugely valuable to drug-makers, because it essentially allows them to buy more protection than their patent confers. But by keeping cheaper generic drugs off the market, it costs consumers billions -- and those costs fall disproportionately on the uninsured.

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We asked the White House what they think about the statue going up in Jakarta honoring President Obama's few years living in Indonesia as a young boy.

"The president is flattered," National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer told TPMDC.

"He recalls fondly his time growing up in Indonesia and looks forward to visiting next year," Hammer said.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) has formally introduced his war bonds bill, proposing to finance the Afghanistan surge and other military efforts through a targeted borrowing endeavor.

Nelson is pitching this as an alternative to war-tax proposals that have been floated by liberals.

"I believe that we need shared sacrifice and fiscal discipline in financing the war effort," Nelson said in a statement. "I don't believe our first instinct should always be a rush to tax. The government has gone to great lengths to address the economic downturn and adding new taxes right now could undermine those efforts."

As we reported last week, Nelson previously told reporters: "Some people jumped right out and said you need a war tax, and I said, Whoa! We didn't have a war tax in the Second World War." In fact, taxes were increased during World War II, in addition to the war bond campaign, thought the tax increases were not literally called a "war tax."

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) says a Medicare buy-in approach will be a hard sell with her. She told reporters this afternoon that she's not inclined to support the idea, currently being discussed by liberal and conservative Democrats seeking a compromise on the public option.

"We looked at it...we evaluated that, because it's an attractive approach. This has appeal...but we examined that issue this summer and a number of issues cropped up."

She's expressed her doubts to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "I told him I have concerns," she said. "The Medicare buy in is problematic."

A reporter asked if that meant she's not inclined to support the idea. "Correct," she said.

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The influential reform campaign Health Care for America Now says thanks but no thanks to the idea of trading away the public option for a system modeled on the one that covers members of Congress.

The statement declares that "a public option must be publicly established and accountable and operating nationally when the Exchanges start. Using nonprofits to replace a public option won't work."

Note that HCAN does not address the prospect of a Medicare buy-in option for people aged 55-64, so this may not be the final word from the group. But it's an early sign that they don't like what they're hearing.

The full statement is available after the jump.

(Additional reporting by Brian Beutler.)

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The Senate's chief vote counter told reporters today that the votes likely aren't there for Sen. Ben Nelson's controversial abortion amendment to the Senate health care bill.

A tired and concerned looking Dick Durbin told reporters, "The whip count says it's close, but at this point it appears there are more senators who would vote to table than those who would oppose table."

Durbin cautioned that even if Nelson does defect from the bill, there's no sense in wondering what might have happened if the abortion amendment had passed. "This is a zero sum situation. We could gain one senator and lose several other [pro-choice Democrats]," Durbin said.

If Nelson joins a health care filibuster, both Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) would become must-get votes for Democrats. I asked Durbin if he knew, one way or another, whether either senator supported the ideas being kicked around to replace a public option.

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House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters today that he understands it's hard out there these days for his counterpart on the other side of the Capitol. That in mind, he suggested that House Democrats would be willing to embrace the Medicare age compromise reportedly on the table in the Senate to ease a health care reform bill through.

"I congratulate him for the extraordinary, herculean efforts that he is making to to bring 60 votes together to get something done in the United States Senate," Hoyer said of Harry Reid, "so I think that's an idea worth consideration."

"I don't want to anticipate what is acceptable or not acceptable," he said of the Medicare compromise plan's chances in the House. "I think it's an interesting idea," he added.

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As I wrote earlier, the Obama administration has been using social networking technology to spread his foreign policy message abroad.

The State Department has been at the forefront of the technology push, coordinating with the private sector abroad with a focus on connectivity.

Alec Ross, senior adviser for innovation at State, told TPMDC about several projects being done in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help bridge those communities in ways diplomats thing will help forge peace.

"The premise is that connectedness is a net positive," Ross said.

"The more voices there are, the more points of view," the better it gets, said Ross, who ran technology media and the telecommunications policy for the Obama campaign, including the text message rollout of Joe Biden as the Democratic vice presidential pick.

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Monday, December 7, 2009 marked the 68th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks. Survivors of the assault participated in a commemorative wreathlaying ceremony at the Navy Memorial in Washington, DC. The presiding officers of the memorial were (from left to right) Retired Rear Admiral Edward "Ted" K. Walker, Jr. (second from left), Rear Admiral Patrick Lorge, Retired Commander John Budzik, and Mr. John Carl Mindte.

All photos by Jeff Malet /

The ceremony began at 1:00 p.m. on Monday, December 7 and featured performances by the United States Navy Band.

Photo by Jeff Malet /

Jeff Malet /

Jeff Malet /

Retired Commander Budzik, a survivor of the 1941 attacks, lays a wreath during the ceremony. Budzik joined the Navy in 1939 and retired as a commander with 28 years of service.

Jeff Malet /

Survivors of the attack preside over the ceremony, including Retired Admiral Edward "Ted" K. Walker Jr. As a nine-year-old son of a naval officer, Walker directly witnessed the Pearl Harbor attacks. He now serves on the Board of the United States Navy Memorial.

Jeff Malet /

Retired Rear Admiral Walker, Rear Admiral Lorge, and Retired Commander Budzik.

Jeff Malet /

Retired Commander Budzik.

Jeff Malet /

The Navy Ceremonial Gaurd.

Jeff Malet /

The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, the Naval group that attends the annual commemoration, said that next year's ceremony may the group's last "given the age of their members." From the AP report: "The youngest survivors are now about 85 years old, and their numbers are dwindling. Richard Laubert, 89 years old, said he hopes to return for the 69th anniversary next year."

Jeff Malet /

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), the co-chairman of the House Progressive Caucus, released a statement today calling a reported compromise on the public option "troubling."

Leaders "have already compromised far too much," Grijalva said.

Ten Senate Democrats -- five conservatives and five progressive -- have been meeting to work out a compromise on the public option. One option on the table is to water down or remove the public option but allow some people between 55 and 65 buy into Medicare. Another is to lower the eligibility age altogether.

Here is the full text of Grijalva's statement:

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