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Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND)--one of six Finance Committee members writing that panel's health care reform bill--has been leading the charge for creating a system of regional private health care co-operatives instead of a public option. All along, he's said that he supports the co-ops because a public option doesn't have the votes.

But what he's mostly elided is the fact that he himself would vote against a bill that called for a public option.

That's what he told a crowd of about 100 in North Dakota today.

Of course, there's still a question of whether he'd support a filibuster of a health care bill with a public option. But in case it wasn't obvious before, his position has probably had more to do with his ideological opposition to the public option than with a dispassionate analysis of Senate politics.

Conrad also said he'll oppose a health care bill that provides government funds for abortion, or care for illegal immigrants.

Via Firedoglake.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) was an early White House health care ally, and, despite a recent controversy, has teamed with some unlikely interest groups to spend millions advertising in support of reform. But according to a report in Politico, they also have produced an ad--in the can, ready to go-- attacking one of the key Democratic proposals emerging on Capitol Hill.

PhRMA senior Vice President Ken Johnson denies the report unequivocally, saying the notion that there's any such ad is "absolutely false."

"We have two plans for health care reform," he told TPM, "'a' and '1a' and they both stress the importance of passing health care reform this year."

Whether or not such an ad exists, the controversy over it goes to the heart of the highly tactical game the major health care industry stake holders have played as nominal supporters of the White House's push for reform. Early in 2009, pharmaceutical manufacturers, insurers and other trade groups aligned themselves with the White House figuring reform was unstoppable and that their best play was to influence its scope from the inside--that they needed the White House more than the White House needed them. But that balance is changing. And the groups now show a greater willingness to jump ship if it becomes clear the final deal is not sufficiently in their interests or, more tellingly, if the political climate suggests there's more to be gained by going into outright opposition.

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Earlier today, I reported that Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) planned to call his old friend Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to admonish him that health care legislation will not result in the creation of death panels.

Well, Grassley never picked up. So Specter tweeted all about it.

And Grassley is not pleased.

And in a narrow sense, Grassley's right. He didn't use the term "death boards" or "death panels." He said "There is some fear because in the House bill, there is counseling for end-of-life. And from that standpoint, you have every right to fear.... We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma."

But in the broader sense, Specter's got Grassley pegged.

And in the broadest sense, it's easy to imagine these guys starring in an Internet-themed sequel to Grumpier Old Men.

Here are the line-ups for the Sunday talk shows this weekend:

• ABC, This Week: Sec. of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius; Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT).

• CBS, Face The Nation: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs; Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE); Former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-IN); Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

• CNN, State Of The Union: Sec. of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius; James Carville and Mary Matalin.

• Fox News Sunday: Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL); American Medical Association president J. James Rohack; AARP executive vice president John Rother.

• NBC, Meet The Press: Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), now the head of FreedomWorks; Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK); Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD); MSNBC host Rachel Maddow; Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY); Chamber of Commerce executive vice president Bruce Josten; Gov. Bill Ritter (D-CO).

Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) is stepping up the death-panelism, with a new letter warning that President Obama's socialized medicine scheme will kill your mama with a slow, agonizing death! Literally.

In a new letter sent out from the American Conservative Union, Broun issues the following warning:

And if these federal bureaucrats decide that your treatment is not "Government Approved," then your doctor will be ordered to deny you treatment... or risk facing stiff penalties!


In other words: When mama falls and breaks her hip, she'll just lie in her bed in pain until she dies with pneumonia because her needed surgery is not cost efficient.

(Emphasis in the original.)

Broun spokeperson Jessica Morris confirmed that Broun did help write an ACU letter, though she herself had not seen it. When presented with this excerpt, she did not have any further comment on its contents.

Check out an excerpted page from the letter, after the jump.

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Despite of an overflow crowd of 650 people on both sides of the health care debate, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) held a town hall in Philadelphia Wednesday night that, overall, went smoothly with all attendees well-behaved.

It had a decidedly different tone from town halls held earlier this week by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), which were marked by shouting, near-fistfights and hostile questions, nearly all from opponents of reform. Sestak's meeting, though, seemed to have a better balance of liberals and conservatives -- which may have contributed to the overall harmony.

A local coordinator said the organization and others made a big Internet push to get supporters to turn out, which they did in droves.

Some conservatives reportedly had another theory: that Sestak had stacked the deck by holding the meeting in liberal Philadelphia, instead of his district's more conservative suburbs.

Outside, people lined up early to get in, many of them holding signs from Health Care for America Now. But where, at other events, waiting attendees have gotten into screaming matches, these people mostly kept their cool.

That, despite Lyndon LaRouche supporters holding up signs that showed President Obama as Hitler. At one point, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, a reform opponent approached the LaRouche table and asked for a "big sign" to compete with all the Health Care for American Now signs.

The woman manning the table didn't have any, but offered him some literature showing Obama as Hitler.

"I don't want to hold up a picture of Hitler," the man said. "Let's be sensible."

Pictures from the Inquirer show Sestak speaking with some of the people holding the Hitler signs.

Inside, there was one contentious moment, reports the Inquirer. A man stood up and yelled, "I'm a veteran, and I should be heard!" before turning to leave the room.

"Chris, is that you?" Sestak asked. Chris he was. "There's a wonderful biker VFW post that I often go to, and Chris and I sometimes have disagreements," Sestak explained. "But he's actually got my cell phone and called me today."

Sestak promised the man he'd get the next question. He did, and asked whether his employer could stop providing insurance if a public plan was enacted. Sestak said no.

Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, the Republican nominee for Governor of New Jersey this year, is facing a new line of attack from Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, based on Christie's recently-revealed conversations with Karl Rove: That he may have potentially violated the Hatch Act.

A longstanding government ethics law passed in 1939, the Hatch Act forbids government officials from engaging in political activity on government time, as well as preliminary activities to set up a campaign. After an Associated Press report noted that Christie's conversations with Rove years ago may have violated the act (because the two of them discussed a possible Christie bid for governor) Corzine picked up on the theme.

"The Hatch Act is very clear in saying political activities are off limits," Corzine said yesterday afternoon. "It is very hard to understand how someone who is responsible and mission is law enforcement should be violating -- potentially violating -- laws like the Hatch Act."

The Rove attack has two damaging aspects for Christie. First, it could potentially hurt Christie's clean-government, corruption-busting image, which has helped him take a substantial lead over Corzine in the polls. And furthermore, it serves to remind New Jersey voters that Christie worked in the Bush administration, which was hardly well-liked in this liberal state.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) just told a crowd of skeptical progressives that he's willing to take up and dispel the death panel rumor with perhaps its most respected proponent: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

Specter said he'd call Grassley from back stage and tell him "it's not a death squad."

Progress. Earlier this week, Grassley endorsed the false rumor that Democrats were proposing a "pull the plug on granny" provision in their health care reform legislation, then turned around and scotched an end of life counseling measure the Senate Finance Committee's bill, alleging that it could be "misinterpreted" by the public.

Late update: Awwww. How sad. Seems Grassley didn't pick up the phone when Specter called him. Wonder if he got tipped off!