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The story of the day on the health care beat belongs to Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Carper (D-DE). Their new proposal to devise a national public option in such a way that states could choose not to participate quickly overtook yesterday's news from the CBO that the Senate Finance Committee bill would save billions of dollars. But is it the long-sought solution to the public option conundrum?

The short answer is: it's way too early to tell.

"The amount of ink and media attention being spilled on this issue bears little relationship to where it is in the process," said one leadership aide.

Conversations with a number of Senate aides from across the Democratic spectrum all touched on the same theme: The idea may be decent on the merits, and appealing to some key conservative Democrats. But all 60? Or 59 plus Olympia Snowe? That's hard to answer when the concept hasn't even been fully fleshed out. And yet, it's almost certain that, as an amendment to the bill that ultimately reaches the Senate floor, it would need 60 one way or another.

Then there are House liberals, who remain extremely focused on a Medicare-like public option, available everywhere. They're not saying much about this idea just yet, but from initial conversations with House aides, it's unlikely that they're going to drop their campaign for a robust public option and get on the "opt-out" bandwagon. Whether they would ultimately settle for such a compromise if it came out of a conference committee is a question whose answer enters the realm of multiple levels of speculation. There's no denying that the initial reception by both liberal and conservative Democrats has been generally positive. But as the quote above indicates, we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

Late this afternoon, NRSC communications director Brian Walsh responded to Marco Rubio's claim today that national Republicans are shrill and lazy. The NRSC has publicly endorsed Rubio's opponent in the Florida senate race, Gov. Charlie Crist (R), and it's fair to say Rubio's take on the tone in D.C. was aimed squarely at many of the group's senior leadership.

Walsh writes,

"I'm going to decline to comment. If Marco think[s] it's useful to spend time attacking fellow Republicans that's his decision. We're focused on building on the momentum Republicans have been seeing in the polls the last few months as more Americans make clear they do not support the big spending, big government policies that are being pushed by President Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi."

NRSC officials pointed to Crist's continuing lead in polls and money to show that Rubio's message was falling on deaf ears.

On Larry King Live Wednesday night, former House Majority Leader and erstwhile Dancing With The Stars contestant Tom DeLay remembered the good old days, when we had bipartisan dance parties and the simple destruction of opponents' good names.

"I'm suggesting we have a dance once a week in Washington where the Democrats and Republicans come together and party together," DeLay said. "We used to do that, by the way, in the [Texas] state legislature. ... It's hard to get mad at someone you dance with."

Larry King then asked DeLay what he thought about the viciousness of today's political atmosphere.

"It's getting really nasty," DeLay said. "The paradigm of politics used to be, just ruin someone's reputation and you could beat him. But now, there's the criminalization of politics. You want to bankrupt people, destroy their families, send them to jail."

"It's really sad," he said.

Democrats in Connecticut are up in arms today after it was revealed that Gov. Jodi Rell (R) has been using taxpayer money to fund a secret series of polls and focus groups aimed at testing the political viability of her programs a year before she's up for reelection.

The political operation was kept secret and was hidden inside a grant given to a University of Connecticut professor that was supposed to fund a study into ways to "streamline state government," according to the New London Day, which broke the story today after a month-long investigation.

Records from the project obtained by the paper show that Dr. Kenneth Dautrich, the professor awarded the $220,000 grant and a "confidant of Rell's chief of staff," used the state money to "pepper" Rell's office with advice "on everything from income taxes to leadership qualities to the public's opinion of a potential political rival."

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The American Spectator reports that the House GOP could be seeing a minor revolt among its members over the NY-23 special election, in which the local Republican Party nominated a candidate who is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage.

State Rep. Dede Scozzafava, the Republican candidate, is in a three-way race with Democratic attorney Bill Owens and Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. The third-party candidate Hoffman has received the endorsements of the Club For Growth, Gary Bauer and former Sen. Fred Thompson. And it appears that some House GOPers would rather be helping him than the socially liberal Scozzafava:

[NRCC Chair Pete] Sessions was called out by conservative members of the caucus, and challenged when asked why NRCC resources -- cash and personnel -- were being used for Scozzafava. "We have a conservative running in this race, and the Republican Party is not with him," says a conservative House member who attended the meeting. "There are a number of us who are profoundly embarrassed by this race, and while we don't blame Pete, we do blame the NRCC staff for apparently not doing its job."

On Fox this afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said his party does not support a public option compromise that would allow states to opt-out of the government option.

"I think they [Democrats] would love to have the government in control of our health care if they could. ... They may look for some circuitous route, some way to try to get it by indirection," McConnell said.

"All of my members think it's a bad idea, no matter what you call it. Whether you call it a co-op, whether you call it outsourcing it to states, I don't think we need any more government health care," he said.

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The new Washington Post poll of the Virginia gubernatorial race finds Republican Bob McDonnell expanding his lead over Democrat Creigh Deeds, suggesting that attacks over McDonnell's right-wing grad school thesis may have worn off or even backfired on Deeds.

The numbers: McDonnell 53%, Deeds 44%, with a ±3% margin of error. Two and a half weeks ago, when McDonnell was more intensely battling the thesis controversy, he had much narrower lead of only 51%-47%.

The poll also finds that Deeds has suffered from launching too many attacks: "Deeds, a state senator from western Virginia, is widely seen by voters as running a negative campaign, a finding that might indicate his aggressive efforts to exploit McDonnell's 20-year-old graduate thesis are turning voters away."

House Democrats are telling me they aren't paying much attention to the scuttlebutt on the opt-out public option idea that we've been covering all day at TPMDC.

As Brian detailed earlier, when asked about it, Speaker Nancy Pelosi reaffirmed her stance the House bill will have a "robust" public option.

All day the Dems I've checked in with have echoed the line, but privately some House aides are saying they have tuned out that debate. They are confident their bill will put more heft behind the public option and figure whatever the Senate has to do to get something passed will happen but may not look anything like the final compromise that reaches President Obama.

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Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and 29 of his colleagues have sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid supporting a public option.

"Support for the public option runs deep in the Senate," Brown said. "Health insurance reform is all about lowering costs, improving care, and increasing choice for consumers. In too many parts of the country, one or two insurance companies control the majority of the market. This isn't good for consumers, businesses, or taxpayers. As we finalize health reform legislation, we shouldn't forget that a majority of Americans, doctors, and Members of Congress support a public option."

You can read the letter below the fold. In it, Brown notes that one of the major differences between a public option and a private co-op proposal is that a public option would be "available continuously in all parts of the country." That's by way of contrast to a new proposal, gaining traction right now, to let individual states opt out of any national public option.

Tonight, I'm told, Brown and several of his colleagues will present it on the floor and push the line that the public option has significant support in the Senate.

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