TPM News

For days there was silence. And then this morning and afternoon, the floodgates opened. Senators began saying, on the record, that Democratic leadership was leaning toward putting a public option--with an opt out clause--in the base Senate health care bill.

But, as a source close to the negotiations told me, there's more to leadership's inclination than meets the eye. Part of the play here is to see whether this news causes Senate centrists to flip out. A classic trial balloon. So far, only Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) has said it will likely cost Harry Reid her cloture vote. Conservative Democrats might not be pleased, but so far they're keeping it fairly bottled up. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) voiced some displeasure, but nobody's gone into revolt.

Assuming the calm endures, chances seem pretty good that this is the direction Reid will take. But it won't be set in stone...until it's set in stone. As Greg Sargent has noted, the votes aren't there yet for a straightforward public option like the level-playing-field plan in the Senate HELP Committee's bill. In other words, negotiations will continue.

Former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio, the conservative insurgent candidate in the Republican primary for Senate, appeared on the Fox Business Channel to draw contrast between himself and the moderate Gov. Charlie Crist -- and gave a very broad, telling statement about the direction of the Republican Party.

Rubio attacked Crist for supporting President Obama's stimulus bill, supporting cap-and-trade, and for raising taxes and fees in Florida. "I don't believe that's the direction our party should head, and more importantly, I think now more than ever we need to send people to Washington, D.C., that will stand up to the agenda of Barack Obama and of the leaders of the Congress, not cooperate with them on these things -- and more importantly, that will offer a clear alternative."

In the current battles between the party establishment and the grassroots right -- such as Rubio vs. Crist in Florida, and Scozzafava vs. Hoffman in NY-23 -- this has become the big issue, of the GOP base wanting to see Republicans who will fight Obama at all fronts, and not cooperate.

Appearing on MSNBC tonight, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) asserted that the Democrats have the votes to break an expected Republican filibuster on health care -- with or without Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

"We have 60 votes without Sen. Snowe, so we can still invoke cloture and move to a vote on the public option," he said. Some moderate Democrats, he added, might oppose the public option, but they'd still vote for cloture.

On Snowe, he said, "I hope we have her, but we may be able to do it without her."

Read More →

Bob McDonnell weighed in on a health care public option in an interview on Fox this afternoon. The issue, front and center in the national debate, made its way into the Virginia gubernatorial contest this week after Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds said he'd consider opting Virginia out of a public plan if a federal health care bill allows it.

In an appearance on Fox News this afternoon, McDonnell suggested he'd do the same thing. "Turning over the best doctors, the best hospitals, the best pharmaceutical research and development system to the federal government for a co-op or a public option is [an idea] I don't hear Virginians very excited about," he said.

Read More →

Right-wing pundit and neo-conservative think tank head Frank Gaffney had some very strong words against the more dovish Ron Reagan, the liberal son of the late President Ronald Reagan, during a heated argument over Afghanistan on Hardball.

"Your father would be ashamed of you," Gaffney said.

"Oh Frank," Reagan replied, "you better watch your mouth about that, Frank."

When Chris Matthews cut to the commercial break, Reagan said: "I'll see ya later, Frank."

Moments ago, I spoke with Richard Kirsch, campaign director for Health Care for America Now. I described the public option proposal that's being considered in the Senate (outlined by Sen. Tom Carper here) and asked whether it would meet HCAN's muster.

Kirsch said it's too early to tell. "There are a lot of rumors right now," Kirsch cautioned.

He said HCAN will wait until there is a finalized bill on the table before weighing in on whether the public option meets HCAN's principles, which, he reminded me "are that it's national, that it's run by the government or an agency accountable to the government, that it's available on day one," and that it provides competition necessary to drive down premium prices.

In the meantime, he notes, HCAN will be pushing for the most robust public option possible, praising the ideas on offer in the House of Representatives.

Gov. Charlie Crist's senate campaign alerted reporters this afternoon to the results of a new private poll fielded by Crist supporters early last week. The poll, fielded by the Florida police union that endorsed Crist in the GOP primary on Monday, shows Crist with more than 20 point lead over former state House Speaker Marco Rubio.

The poll, first reported by the St. Petersburg Times, shows Crist leading the race 53-29. That flies in the face of recent public polling showing Rubio gaining on Crist.

How could a top government scientist with clearance to view a dizzying range of Top Secret weapons and technology information simultaneously work for an aerospace firm owned by a foreign government?

The question is prompted by one of the more curious sections of the criminal complaint against Stewart Nozette, who is accused of passing classified information to a person he believed was an Israeli agent.

"It's hard to imagine that there are many individuals who had a broader cross section of classified access -- overhead reconnaissance, signals intelligence, space technology, and nuclear weapons," secrecy expert Steven Aftergood told TPMmuckraker. "He was all over the place, probably because he was an exceptionally skilled and competent technologist," says Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy of the Federation of American Scientists.

Read More →

On October 21, First Lady Michelle Obama held a "Healthy Kids Fair" on the South Lawn of the White House. At the event, Obama spoke to children about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity, before moving through different healthy food stations and participating in obstacle courses and games of jump rope. Here, the First Lady is joined on the South Lawn by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Newscom/Gary Fabiano/Sipa Press

In her remarks, Michelle Obama said that one of her goals was "to begin to talk about nutrition and to highlight the little ways that each of us can add more healthy fruits and vegetables to our diet, something that I think about all the time as a mother. We felt that this was especially important right now when so many children in this nation are facing health problems that are entirely preventable. So we've got our kids who are struggling with things that we have the power to control."

Newscom/Gary Fabiano/Sipa Press

"Medical experts are now warning that for the first time in the history of this nation, we're headed for the next generation being on track to have a shorter life span than us," she said. "That's the way we're going right now. And none of us wants that. None of us wants that for our children and for our children's futures. Even if we don't care about ourselves, we don't want that for our kids."

Newscom/Gary Fabiano/Sipa Press

"We want our children to eat right, not just because it's the right thing to do but because quite frankly healthy good food tastes good and we want them to experience that...But it's hard to do everything," the First Lady said. "And when you come home from a long day at work, and the refrigerator is empty, and you know you don't feel like cooking -- the easiest and sometimes the cheapest thing to do is to get in a fast food drive-thru. We've all done it because we are overwhelmed and we don't know what the options are."

Newscom/Dennis Brack

"And today life is so different from when I was growing up, kids. And I know your parents tell you this," she said. "I tell my kids this. When I was growing up, fast food was a treat...And we didn't have dessert every single night. My mother would tell us, 'Dessert is not a right. It's a treat.' So we had it on special occasions. We didn't have -- and I have to tell my kids this -- you don't get dessert every night of the week. Otherwise it's not a treat; it's just something that you do...So these are the kind of rules that I grew up with, that all of your moms and your dads grew up with, and these are the kind of rules and boundaries and guidelines that we want to set for all of you."

Newscom/UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg

"But in my household, there were no absolutes, right? I mean, we love good food, too," the First Lady said. "That's why I always say there's nothing that the First Family loves more than a good burger, right? And look, my favorite food in the whole wide world are French fries. I love them. Dearly. Deeply. I have a good relationship with French fries and I would eat them every single day if I could. I really would. But I know that if I'm eating the right things -- and I tell my girls this -- if you're getting the right foods for most of the time, then when it's time to have cake and french fries on those special occasions, then you balance it out.

Newscom/Gary Fabiano/Sipa Press

"Many kids don't have any access to physical education in the schools -- and that's also something that's also changed," she said. "When I grew up -- and I went to public schools in my neighborhood -- I don't care what you did; you had recess and you had gym on a very regular basis. So even though we're encouraging our kids to exercise, if they can't go to school and that -- get the same kind of exercise opportunities, then it makes our jobs as parents harder."

Newscom/Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT

"We don't just want our kids to exercise because we tell them to. We want them to exercise because it's fun and they enjoy it. And we want them to learn now how to lead good, healthy lifestyles so that they're not struggling to figure out how to do that when they're older."

Newscom/Gary Fabiano/Sipa Press

"And that's one of the reasons why we're here today, because we know that schools can play an important role in the work that we hope to achieve. And that's why the Department of Agriculture has started this wonderful challenge called Healthier U.S. School Challenge. And the goal of this challenge is to find schools who are going to commit to making fresh healthy food available -- we want them to pledge that, that's part of the challenge -- but in addition to making healthy foods available, getting rid of the junk food in the school, making that pledge, get rid of it, but also to be sure that they're setting aside time for physical activity during the day in the curriculum and teaching kids about healthy food choices during the day."

Newscom/Gary Fabiano/Sipa Press

"In our household, no TV during school days. And only a couple hours during the weekend, I'm sorry. But because the TV is off, my girls get up and they move. Even if they're pushing each other down, they're running. So we're going to need you to help your parents. Turn off the TV on your own. Get up and throw a ball. Run around the house. Don't break anything, but move. Try to go outside if you can."

Newscom/Gary Fabiano/Sipa Press

"And of course changing old habits is never easy. That's why it's going to take a broader team effort with everyone pitching in, and it's going to take government doing its part."

Newscom/Gary Fabiano/Sipa Press

Senate Democratic leaders have arrived at the White House for what administration officials are calling a "check-in." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) will be meeting with President Obama and (probably) top health care adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle and chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who have been on Capitol Hill all week helping negotiate the merger of the two versions of the Senate health care plan.

A source tells TPMDC there isn't a laser focus on all of the public option news breaking over on the Hill (Brian's latest is here) but rather a talk about everything being floated as a potential compromise.

"I think there are a lot of moving parts here and don't think anything is close to being settled," the source said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had a private lunch with Obama today and aides on both sides are mum on what they discussed.

TPMDC is camped out here at the White House to get a sense of how the talks are going, and we'll keep you posted.