TPM News

After a big hurdle was cleared yesterday when the White House struck a deal with Congressional leaders and labor unions on the excise tax, the team went right back to negotiating late last night.

An administration official told us that several top leaders huddled in the Cabinet room from 9:15 p.m. until 1:25 a.m. That's after a more than 8-hour meeting Wednesday. (President Obama left just before 1 a.m., the official said.)

"The President and congressional leaders continued to work through the differences in the health bills. They made solid progress toward a final package, including common-sense adjustments that strengthen the legislation and make sure it works for middle-class families while bringing down costs and expanding coverage to millions of Americans," the official said.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) was at the White House this week discussing health care, TPMDC has learned. Officials wouldn't disclose details of what was discussed, but to be sure Obama and Democratic leaders want to make sure they keep his vote in place for the final health care compromise.

Members attending last night's meeting after the jump.

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Obama Pledges Campaign For Health Care Bill And Democrats Speaking to the House Democratic caucus yesterday, President Obama pledged to mount a nationwide campaign for them in this year's elections, promoting the health care bill: "I'll be out there waging a great campaign from one end of the country to the other, telling Americans with insurance or without what they stand to gain."

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will receive the presidential daily briefing at 9:30 a.m. ET, and meet at 10 a.m. ET with senior advisers. He will receive the economic daily briefing at 1:45 p.m. ET, and he will meet at 3:45 p.m. ET with Secretary of Treasury Tim Geithner.

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The latest poll in the Massachusetts Senate race shows Scott Brown (R) taking a slim lead over Martha Coakley (D) as the clock ticks down in the special election to replace Ted Kennedy in the Senate.

The poll, conducted by Suffolk University Jan. 11-13, shows Brown leading Coakley by four, 50-46. It's the latest in a string of polls showing the race is too close to call less than a week before voters go to the polls Jan. 19. The Suffolk poll has a 4% margin of error.

Yesterday, both the Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Political Report officially listed the race as a "toss up." National political forces have shifted their attentions to Massachusetts, with both Brown and Coakley backers dispatching millions in money and resources to the state in the final days of the campaign.

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With the public option now a distant memory, a group of House Democrats are now insisting that President Obama and Congressional leaders adopt separate measures to ensure competition in the health insurance market. Thirty four Democrats, lead by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) have signed their names to a letter, obtained by TPMDC, demanding that health care legislation include a provision repealing the industries antitrust exemptions.

"Since we all agree that containing the rising cost of health care is one of the overriding goals of health reform, we insist that the House demand an alternative cost cutting tool," the letter reads. "One tool that stands out for attracting strong bipartisan support is removing the current antitrust exemptions enjoyed by the health insurance industry."

The House must insist on the House language that repeals the health and medical malpractice insurance industries' exemptions from all federal antitrust laws. Subjecting the health and medical malpractice insurance industries to the antitrust laws is a vital step toward reforming health care, lowering prices for consumers and doctors, and leveling the playing field for American businesses. The Consumer Federation of American has said that consumers would save over $40 billion in insurance premiums if the antiquated law was repealed for all lines of insurance. It is estimated that subjecting the health insurance industry to federal antitrust laws would lower premiums by 10%.

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Congressional progressives have had to swallow a number of hard health care concessions over the last several months. Just today, an agreement was reached between the Obama administration and Labor to largely preserve an excise tax on expensive health insurance policies, opposed by the overwhelming majority of House members, that could impact middle class Americans. But nonetheless one of the leading progressives in the House says both chambers are ready to pass reform.

"I heard that we're very close to a final decision, that we will be having a bill soon, and it's not going to have everything anybody wants in it, but it will be a bill that can pass the House and the Senate and it will be a start for health care reform in the United States of America," Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA)--co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told me in an interview this evening. "It is moving ahead. [Obama is] very committed to having a health care bill that will be good for America."

"I think we're beyond any one caucus," Woolsey said, before correcting herself to point out that pro-choice Democrats could still withhold their support over the issue of abortion.

Nevertheless, that could be an indication that, despite all the heartache and all the compromises, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi might not lose many progressive votes when health care comes to a final vote.

President Barack Obama made a hard sell to House Democrats to support a compromise health care bill, the details of which are finally taking shape. He applauded the work members of Congress have put into creating health care legislation, acknowledged the concessions progressives have been forced to accept, and thanked vulnerable members for casting tough votes during a difficult political year.

According to a Democratic aide, Obama told progressives--bruised over the loss of the public option, and the persistence of the excise--that they could have another crack at the bill in the future.

"This is not the last health care bill ever passed," he said.

"Once we have a final bill, we can really talk about how it's going to help all Americans," Obama told the caucus. "This is something that will last. You'll look back and say this is one of the most significant accomplishments you've ever made."

At one point, Obama turned to members in vulnerable districts, including Reps. Tom Periello (D-VA) and Steve Driehaus (D-OH), to offer his appreciation and support.

"You've had to take tough votes. I understand it. I really appreciate it. The country is better off because of these tough votes you've taken. I want you to know I'm behind you 100 percent."

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It's not over, but an agreement on one of the stickiest of the sticking points on health care clears a path for a final health care bill to pass Congress and reach President Obama's desk.

After the deal with Congressional leadership and labor unions was reached on how to handle the excise tax that funds a large portion of the health care bill, administration and union officials tonight offered a broad outline for how it would work.

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The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced today a list of target races for 26 House seats, almost all of them held by the GOP.

The list is a sign that the Democrats aren't intending to totally play defense this year. It is of course a widely-held view that the Democrats will lose seats this year, and probably a significant amount, after two consecutive wave elections in which they've gotten all the way up to 257 House seats.

But for their part, the Democrats are trying to stay on offense. "These strong candidates are getting the attention of folks back home because of their willingness to be independent voices for their districts and prevent a return to the same failed Bush policies that drove America into an economic ditch," said DCCC executive director Jon Vogel, in the press release. "As these strong candidates continue building excitement for their campaigns to create jobs and help middle class families back home, the DCCC will help them become even more competitive in November."

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Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) just can't get any respect. Nearly a month ago, he went to the climate change conference in Copenhagen to explain that global warming was a "hoax" conceived by the United Nations and spread by the "Hollywood elite." But the European press would have none of it. A German reporter even told the the cowboy boot-wearing senator that he was "ridiculous." Inhofe suffered his latest indignity at the hands of Rolling Stone, which awarded him the 7th spot on its list of the "planet's worst enemies."

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