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CNN just broke some important news. House leaders and Blue Dog Democrats have reached an agreement--the terms of which remain mostly unclear--that will allow the Energy and Commerce Committee to pass health care legislation by weeks end. As part of the arrangement, though leaders have agreed to postpone a vote on the final legislation until after August recess comes to an end.

In the meantime, leaders will stitch together a final package, stitching together the portions of the bill that have been amended by the Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor Committees.

The only figure that's been reported thus far is that Blue Dogs have lowered the cost of the legislation by about $100 billion. But we'll get you more details the moment they're available.

Earlier this week, delegates from China met with U.S. officials as part of the first U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. In this group photo, taken on Monday, July 27, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan (first row, sixth from left) stands next to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner stands on Hillary's other side.

Newscom / Zhang Yan / COR / EBF

On Tuesday, Vice Premier Wang Qishan met with President Obama in the Oval Office.

Newscom / Zhang Yan / GXR

Obama presented Qishan with an autographed basketball.

Newscom / Zhang Yan / Xinhua

Qishan readily accepted his gift.

Pete Souza / The White House

Later, as Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo (foreground) delivered a closing statement during the China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan brandished his new basketball.

Newscom / Shen Hong / CL

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) is responding sternly to Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), who blamed Southerners for dragging the Republican Party's fortunes down.

"I'm on the side of conservatives getting back to core conservative values," Vitter told the Washington Times. "There are a lot of us from the South who hold those value, which I think the party is supposed to be about. We strayed from them in the past few years, and that's why we performed so badly in the national elections."

As for Voinovich, Vitter said: "He's a moderate, really wishy-washy."

Speaking of conservatives who have strayed from core values...David Vitter was publicly identified as a former client of prostitutes, and admitted in 2007 to an unspecified "serious sin." The Washington Times article did not mention anything about the D.C. Madam scandal.

Late Update: Louisiana Democratic Party spokesman Kevin Franck e-mailed us a fun comment. "Last time I checked, you don't find core Southern values in the places David Vitter has been found," said Franck. "If David Vitter can lead his party back to their conservative values, maybe Larry Craig can give them tips on bathroom etiquette and Mark Sanford can recommend a really good restaurant in Buenos Aires."

It's now looking like a lot of prominent Republicans, ranging from party leaders to big-name pundits that we usually expect to make outrageous partisan attacks, are doing something they'd been previously neglecting: Definitively cracking down on the Birthers, rather than playing to the conspiracy theorists allowing this stuff to continue festering among their activist base.

Until recently, this wasn't the situation at all. Indeed, prominent Congressional Republicans were openly entertaining this stuff. A bill to require birth certificates from presidential candidates has picked up 11 total co-sponsors; Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) declared that the Birthers "have a point," and that he doesn't discourage it. Even House GOP Vice-Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), a member of the leadership, was saying she wanted to see the documents.

But now there's a pattern from on high -- in both the punditocracy and from the party leadership -- of Republicans backing away from this:

• Of course, all House Republicans who were present voted Monday night in favor of the resolution to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hawaii's statehood, which included language recognizing the state has Obama's birthplace. This included Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), the lead sponsor of a bill to require presidential candidates to present birth certificates, and House GOP Vice-Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). Only 20 GOPers missed the vote, which can happen for any number of reasons on a non-binding resolution.

Read More →

Speaking to an audience of small business owners and employees in Raleigh, North Carolina, President Obama said today "we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the recession."

The comment came after he discussed the current cover of Newsweek, which declares "The Recession Is Over."

"I imagine that you might have found the news a little startling. I know I did," said Obama.

"Here's what's true: we have stopped the freefall. The market is up and the financial system is no longer on the verge of collapse. That's true," he said to applause. "We're losing jobs at half the rate we were when I took office six months there's no doubt that things have gotten better. We may be seeing the beginning of the end of the recession. But that's little comfort if you're one of those folks who have lost their job, and haven't found another."

Here's the video:

The town hall in Raleigh is the first of two Obama is holding today on health care; the second will take place later in the afternoon with Kroger Supermarket employees in Bristol, Tennessee. This public push from the White House on health care reform has gone into overdrive over the last week, with Obama hosting a town hall almost every day, including one in coordination with the AARP yesterday.

For full coverage of the battle to reform health care, see TPMDC.

You know what happens when you strip a bunch of benefits out of a piece of legislation intended, in part, to provide benefits? It gets cheaper! The CBO says the Senate Finance Committee's nascent proposal will require $900 Billion in new outlays and cover 95 percent of Americans.

That's news that will please chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) who's said he wants his legislation to come in at under $1 trillion. Many experts suggests that robust reform will likely require more new expenditures than that. But to avoid sticker shock, and win some Republican support, Baucus' committee has cut back on the extent and quality of proposed benefits.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), told a local news radio show in Texas that she plans to resign her Senate seat in October or November in order to focus full-time on her campaign for Governor in 2010.

Hutchison said she'll remain in the Senate long enough to fight President Obama on health care and cap-and-trade. "I'm trying to finish those things in a responsible way and then I'm coming home to try to give leadership to Texas," said Hutchison.

This is in fact a widely expected move, and had been openly discussed by her fellow Texas Senator, NRSC chairman John Cornyn.

A resignation would be immediately filled through an interim appointment by Republican Gov. Rick Perry -- whom Hutchison is challenging in the GOP primary -- and there would then be an expedited special election in May 2010. The Republicans would be initially favored due to the state's natural partisan bent, but the race would likely attract a lot of money from both national parties, simultaneously fighting over a single Senate seat and the whole national political narrative going into the mid-terms.

Below are President Obama's remarks at the town hall at Broughton High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, as prepared for delivery.

It is wonderful to be back in Raleigh and back in North Carolina, a community and a state that has been so good to me. And I don't kid myself. I know why. It's because I always travel with one of your home-town boys, my right-hand man, Reggie Love.

It's not only great to be in Raleigh, it's also nice to get out of Washington every once in a while. With all the noise and fussing and fighting that goes on there, it's pretty easy for the voices of everyday people to get lost, and for folks to forget why they're there.

So when I took office in January, I asked to see ten letters from people across the country every day. And most of the letters these days are all about one thing: the economy. So before I take your questions, I want to spend a few minutes talking about where we are and where we need to go.

I don't know whether you've seen the cover of the latest Newsweek magazine on the rack at the grocery store, but the cover says, "The Recession is Over."

I bet you found that news a little startling. I know I did. Now, it's true that we've stopped the freefall. The market is up and the financial system is no longer on the verge of collapse. We're losing jobs at nearly half the rate we were when I took office six months ago.

So, we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the recession. But that's little comfort if you're one of the folks who have lost their job, and haven't found another. Unemployment in North Carolina is over ten percent today. A lot of small businesses like Sara's are still struggling with falling revenues and rising costs. Health care premiums, for example, are rising twice as fast as wages, and much more for small businesses - something I'll address in a minute.

So, we know the tough times aren't over. But we also know that without the steps we have already taken, our troubled economy - and the pain it's inflicting on North Carolina families - would be much worse.

Let's look at the facts. When my administration came into office, we were facing the worst economy of our lifetimes. We were losing an average of 700,000 jobs per month. It was nearly impossible to take out home loans, auto loans, student loans, and loans for small businesses to buy inventory and make payroll. And economists across the ideological spectrum feared a second-coming of the Great Depression.

At the time, there were some who thought doing nothing was somehow an option. But we knew that what was required was action. We knew that ending our immediate economic crisis would require ending the housing crisis where it began. That is why we took unprecedented action to stem the spread of foreclosures by helping responsible homeowners stay in their homes and pay their mortgages.

Ending this immediate crisis also required taking steps to avert the collapse of our financial system, which, as the Fed Chairman said the other day, was a real possibility. I know it didn't seem fair to many Americans to use tax dollars to stabilize banks that took reckless risks. It didn't seem fair to me, either. And even though the bank bailout began under the previous administration, it still was necessary. Because by unlocking frozen credit markets and opening up loans for families and businesses, we helped stop a recession from becoming a depression. And taxpayers are already being paid back - with interest.

We also took steps to help a struggling auto industry emerge from a crisis largely of its own making. There was a strong argument to let General Motors and Chrysler go under, and I know many of you probably shared that view. If you made a series of bad decisions that undermined your company's viability, your company wouldn't be in business, and many folks didn't see why these companies should be treated any differently.

But in the midst of a recession, their collapse would have wreaked havoc across our economy. So I said, if GM and Chrysler were willing to do what was necessary to make themselves competitive; and if taxpayers were repaid every dime they put on the line - it was a process worth supporting. We saved hundreds of thousands of jobs as a result - and expect to get our money back.

Even as we worked to address the crisis in our banking sector, our housing market, and our auto industry, we also began attacking our economic crisis on a broader front. Less than one month after taking office, we enacted the most sweeping economic recovery package in history - and we did so without any of the earmarks that waste tax dollars on pet projects.

Now, there's a lot of misinformation out there about the Recovery Act, so here are the facts. To date, roughly a quarter of the Recovery Act's funding has been committed, over 30,000 projects have been approved, and thousands have been posted online, as part of an effort to uphold the highest standards of transparency and accountability when it comes to our economic recovery.

The Recovery Act is divided into three parts. One-third of the money is for tax relief that is going to families and small businesses. For Americans struggling to pay rising bills with shrinking wages, we have kept a campaign promise to put a middle class tax cut in the pockets of 95 percent of working families - a tax cut that began showing up in paychecks about three months ago. And we also cut taxes for small businesses on the investments they make.

Another third of the money in the Recovery Act is for emergency relief that is helping folks who have borne the brunt of this recession. For Americans who were laid off, we expanded unemployment benefits - a measure that has already made a difference for 12 million Americans, including over 300,000 folks in North Carolina. We are making health insurance 65 percent cheaper for families relying on COBRA while looking for work. And for states facing historic budget shortfalls, we provided assistance that has saved the jobs of tens of thousands of teachers and police officers.

The last third of the Recovery Act is for short-term and long-term investments that are putting people back to work and building a stronger economy for the future. And we are already seeing the results of these investments here in Raleigh and across North Carolina. The Beltline is being resurfaced between Wake Forest Road and Wade Avenue. The Raleigh Durham Airport is renovating its runways. The City of Raleigh's transit system is building a new operations and maintenance facility. Over 500 young people are going to work as part of a summer youth work initiative. And water treatment plants are being renovated throughout the Triangle.

These are the kinds of projects being launched across this country to rebuild crumbling roads and highways, bridges and waterways with the largest new investment in our national infrastructure since Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s.

Now, I know that some critics in Washington think we've been slow to get these projects started. They are saying we should have broken ground on all our highway projects on the first day. But everyone knows that's impossible, especially because I wanted to be sure we did our homework and invested tax dollars only in those projects that actually created new jobs and jumpstarted our economy. That took time. And we have already eliminated wasteful projects that haven't met this test - because every taxpayer should have an assurance that we are investing their hard-earned tax dollars responsibly.

So it will take time to achieve a complete recovery, and we will not rest until anyone who's looking for work can find a job. But there is little debate that these steps, taken together, have helped stop our economic freefall.

That's the story of the first six months. It has cost some money to do all this, although when I hear critics talk about out-of-control spending, I can't help but remember that those same critics contributed to the $1.3 trillion deficit we inherited when I took office - a debt that is partially a result of two tax cuts that went primarily to the wealthiest few and a Medicare drug program, none of which was paid for.

Now, because of that debt, a lot of people are saying we can't go any further in tackling our problems, and we especially can't do health care. I understand people feel like they have had to cut back, so why do a new government program now?

Well let me explain why the health of America's people and America's economy demand health insurance reform. Let me explain what reform will mean for you.

First of all, no one is talking about some government takeover of health care. Under the reform I've proposed, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. And if you're one of the 46 million Americans who don't have coverage today, you will finally be able to get quality, affordable coverage.

But what a lot of the chatter out there hasn't focused on is the fact that if you're an American who already has health insurance, the reform we're proposing will provide you with more stability and security. Because the truth is, we have a system today that works well for the insurance industry, but it doesn't always work well for you. What we need, and what we will have when we pass these reforms, are health insurance consumer protections to make sure that those who have insurance are treated fairly and insurance companies are held accountable.

Let me be specific. We will stop insurance companies from denying you coverage because of your medical history. I will never forget watching my own mother, as she fought cancer in her final days, worrying about whether her insurer would claim her illness was a preexisting condition so it could get out of providing coverage. How many of you have worried about the same thing? How many of you have been denied insurance or heard of someone who was denied insurance because they have a pre-existing condition? That will no longer be allowed.

With reform, insurance companies will have to abide by a yearly cap on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses. No one in America should go broke because of illness.

We will require insurance companies to cover routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms, colonoscopies, or eye and foot exams for diabetics, so we can avoid chronic illnesses that cost not only lives, but money.

No longer will insurance companies be allowed to drop or water down coverage for someone who has become seriously ill. That's not right and it's not fair.

And we will stop insurance companies from placing arbitrary caps on the coverage you can receive in a given year or in a lifetime. Whether or not you have health insurance right now, the reforms we seek will bring stability and security that you don't have today - reforms that become more urgent and more urgent with each passing year.

In the end, the debate about reform boils down to a choice between two approaches. The first is projected to double your health costs over the next decade, make millions more Americans uninsured, and bankrupt state and federal governments. Now, I know a lot of you are probably thinking, that plan doesn't sound too good. But that's the status quo. That's the health care system we have right now. So we can either continue with that approach, or we can choose another one - one that will bring down rising costs; provide quality, affordable insurance to every American; and help us get our exploding deficits under control. That's the health care system we can bring about with reform.

Back in Washington, there's been a lot of talk recently about the politics of health care; about who's up and who's down; and what it will mean for my party or this presidency if health insurance reform is passed or defeated. But here in North Carolina, you know this isn't about politics. This is about people's lives. This is about people's businesses. This is about our future.

And when our children and grandchildren look back on this moment, I don't want them to say that we were focused on petty politics when we were called to something better. I don't want them to say that we protected the status quo for special interests when we had a chance to reform health insurance for all Americans. I don't want them to say that we wasted our best chance - and maybe our last - to get health care right. I want my daughters and your sons to say that we seized this moment; that we rose to this challenge; and that, like our parents and grandparents before us, we left the United States of America more prosperous, more secure, and more hopeful than we found it.

If you're wondering what all those health insurance lobbying dollars funneling into Washington were really buying, check out this article.

Shares of U.S. health insurers rose broadly on Tuesday on hopes a health reform bill would not include a government-run option, which has drawn strong opposition from insurers who fear it would destroy the private marketplace.

The S&P Managed Health Care index of large U.S. health insurers closed 6.5 percent higher.

Aetna rose 12.6 percent, Coventry was up 12.7 percent and Cigna was 7.7 percent higher, all on the New York Stock Exchange. Centene rose 7.9 percent.

Via Firedoglake. That was less than 24 hours after the Associated Press broke the long-expected news that the Senate Finance Committee would not endorse a government-run health insurance option. And it may be evidence that the market doesn't regard co-operatives as particularly dangerous competitors to major insurers.

One of the people charged in the New Jersey corruption probe has died under suspicious circumstances, Reuters reports.

Jack Shaw, a 61-year-old Democratic operative was found dead in his home Tuesday, and an autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday. A prosecutor said it's possible the death was a suicide, but said it does not look like a homicide.

The sweeping investigation into public corruption, money laundering and organ dealing netted 44 people, including New Jersey mayors and rabbis. Shaw was accused of accepting a $10,000 bribe from an informant posing as a real estate developer. According to investigators, Shaw asked the informant to donate the money to the campaign of Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy. Healy has not been charged. Shaw was also accused of introducing the informant to other officials.


Obama Prepares For DHS Shutdown

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama convened a meeting with key administration officials on Friday…