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AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, released a statement today about Sen. Harry Reid's announcement that the Senate health care bill will include an opt-out public option. Here's the full text, from AFSCME President Gerald W. McEntee:

"I want to commend Senator Reid and other members of the Senate leadership who have worked so hard to produce this bill, which takes us closer to the goal of health care reform. While the bill is by no means perfect, it is a significant improvement over the proposal crafted in the Senate Finance Committee. Now we will work to improve the bill on the Senate floor and to pass a strong bill in the House. AFSCME continues to support health care reform that includes a robust public option and an effective employer mandate, while eliminating taxes on middle class health plans. The American people are ready for Congress to finish this bill and make quality, affordable health care a reality for all Americans."

One of those big changes President Obama and the Democrats promised during the election is about to become law.

Last week the Senate gave final passage to the bill authorizing spending for the Department of Defense, which included a provision creating a hate crimes designation.

An administration official tells TPMDC Obama will sign the bill at the White House Wednesday. It is named for Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was beaten to death in 1998.

He also will host a reception with gay rights groups and civil rights leaders commemorating the occasion. TPMDC has learned that Matt's mom Judy and brother Logan will attend the signing ceremony.

Last week, the president kept another campaign promise by signing a bill authorizing advanced funding for the Veterans Administration.

Chris Daggett, the independent gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey, is boldly declaring that Republican Chris Christie can't win.

"It's either going to be Jon Corzine or me," Daggett told The Associated Press, adding that Christie's campaign "has gone backward since June."

Christie had previously led Corzine by significant margins in all the polls, but the race has now become neck and neck in most polls. During this whole period, Corzine's support has remained roughly the same, in the high-30's/low-40's range. Christie has been losing support, with Daggett gaining voters from both columns.

The Democratic National Committee, which took over the @BarackObama Twitter handle after President Obama's inauguration, tweeted their congratulations on the Senate health care bill today.

Congratulations @SenChrisDodd, @SenatorReid and Sen. Baucus for your hard work towards health reform with a public option.

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A helpful data point for liberal legislators and progressive activists: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)--the Democrats' main vote counter in the Senate--says that the public option-plus-opt out clause was a pragmatic choice. Liberals wouldn't have supported anything less.

Durbin told Ryan Grim of Huffington Post and a handful of other reporters that Reid may very well have chosen to put Olympia Snowe's trigger compromise in the bill "[i] we thought that just putting the trigger in meant that we'd end with 61 votes."

But they, apparently didn't. Some in the party made clear that they "felt that that just didn't go far enough moving toward a public option," said Durbin.

Undoubtedly progressives will see today's development as a validation of their intense activism--pressure that wasn't always appreciated by Democratic party elders.

As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid prepared to announce the new health care bill with a public option included, Republicans fired off a statement targeting him for reelection that suggests they've chosen a new everything-old-is-new-again talking point.

"As Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) prepares to announce he's ignoring concerns from moderate Senate Democrats and the Obama White House, and moving forward with a government-run health care option at this afternoon's press conference, please consider the National Republican Senatorial Committee's statement regarding this latest example of heavy-handed partisanship," NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh told reporters.

Sue Lowden (R-NV), hoping to challenge Reid in 2010, sent out her own fundraising message with similar language.

"The American people are outraged with the Democrat's government take over of health care and the public option. Now there is news that Democrat Majority Leader Harry Reid is again ignoring our voices and is pushing a public option health care bill through the Senate," Lowden wrote, accusing Reid of "discarding any attempts at working with Republicans."

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Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT)--who lead the HELP committee's health care process, and supported the public plan behind the scenes--is a very big reason this compromise came to life. He wants you to know that: "I fought for a strong public option - in the HELP Committee and in this merger process - because it is the best way to keep costs low and insurance companies honest," said Dodd.

Majority Leader Reid has made a bold and right choice to endorse the HELP Committee public option, along with a provision allowing states to opt out. At its core, health care reform is about making insurance more stable and affordable for those who have it, and available to those who don't, while improving quality and lowering costs. I believe that the public option is a key component to successful reform, and I will continue to lead the fight for it on the Senate floor.

In a press release sent out by the Dede Scozzafava campaign, the moderate Republican running in the three-way special election, several GOP state legislators call upon Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman to drop out of the race -- and declare that a new poll from the pro-Hoffman Club For Growth showing him ahead is false:

"Doug Hoffman must do the right thing and drop out of this race right now," said Assemblywoman Janet Duprey. "This is a campaign for Congress -- not an audition to be a talking head on a cable news program. Doug Hoffman doesn't live here, he doesn't understand our local issues and, regardless of his campaign's theatrics and false polls, he knows he is completely unelectable. Make no mistake about it -- Doug Hoffman is a spoiler, and by staying in this race he will jeopardize a seat the Republican Party has held here since the Civil War. It's high time that Hoffman puts the good of this community over his personal ambition and endorses our Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava," she concluded.


Hoffman spokesman Rob Ryan gives us this comment: "This just proves many Republicans don't know how to read polls or sense the groundswell of support that's taking place in the district. Dede Scozzafava is the spoiler in this race, because she's so liberal. Doug Hoffman will be the next Congressman, because Republicans from throughout the district will vote for him on election day."

MoveOn.org released a statement today about Sen. Harry Reid's announcement that the Senate health care bill will include an opt-out public option. Here's the full text, from Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org:

"Today, Senator Reid announced a bill will move to the Senate floor with the "opt-out" version of a public option. We applaud Senator Reid's leadership in standing up to the special interests who are trying to kill the public option outright, or through mechanisms like a 'trigger.'

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Is Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) a definite no vote now? In response to the news that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will include a public option (with an opt out clause) in his health care legislation, Snowe says she's not happy.

"I am deeply disappointed with the Majority Leader's decision to include a public option as the focus of the legislation," Snowe said in a statement. "I still believe that a fallback, safety net plan, to be triggered and available immediately in states where insurance companies fail to offer plans that meet the standards of affordability, could have been the road toward achieving a broader bipartisan consensus in the Senate."

How explicit a statement is that, though? I could be over-parsing here, but it sounds to me as if she's leaving a door pretty wide open to supporting this bill down the line. Note, she doesn't say she's withdrawing her support. And note as well that she says she thinks triggers could have been the path to broader bipartisan consensus--i.e. instead of being the path to just one Republican vote (hers), triggers might have won over a few more GOPers.

She's said she doesn't support the opt out. She's also said it would be very hard for her not to join a Republican health care filibuster under these circumstances. But, despite what Reid said, it's not clear to me that she's completely jumped ship.

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