TPM News

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MS) is continuing to fight for national health care reform while battling brain cancer.

Steve Brusk of CNN reported today that the "ailing senator" has spoken to President Obama twice in the last two weeks about health care legislation.

A Los Angeles Times story published yesterday states that Kennedy's wife prepares a packet of news clips for him every morning at their house in Cape Cod. "If there's a hearing going on in Washington, he watches on his computer," the article continues.

The LA Times piece also notes that Kennedy has been advising his aides in D.C. via phone on health care reform issues, and, perhaps more importantly, includes this anecdote about his continuing commitment to what the Massachusetts senator calls the "cause of his life":

Democratic leaders plan to bring him back to the Senate floor later this year in a wheelchair, or a bed if necessary, to cast his vote for healthcare reform.

Kennedy has also taken his battle to the pages of Newsweek, where in the most recent issue he details his legislative and personal health care issues from 1964 to the present.

Kennedy was diagnosed with brain cancer in May 2008.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) is set to give the House Republicans a chance to put up or shut up on the Birtherism that is circulating among their grassroots base, Greg Sargent reports: A House resolution recognizing Hawaii as President Obama's birthplace.

Technically, the resolution's main purpose will be to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hawaii's statehood. And while commemorating that grand history, the resolution will of course mention how the state is Obama's birthplace.

This gives Republicans a choice: Vote yes on the resolution, which would repudiate the Birthers; vote no, to endorse them; or skip the vote, which would basically be the same as voting no.

Abercrombie spokesman Dave Helfert seemed to be humorously denying that this was an effort to put the GOP on the spot. "Far be it from us to try to stir things up," said Helfert. "The president was born there, so what are you gonna do? Not mention it?"

Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) has announced that he will not run for re-election in 2010, after months of speculation about what he would end up doing.

In most cases, an open seat is a blow against the party controlling it. But this time, Bunning may have done the GOP a favor. Previous polling had shown Bunning running much poorer against his Democratic challengers than Kentucky Sec. of State Trey Grayson, the likely Republican nominee now that Bunning is out. In both his 1998 and 2004 races, Bunning just barely defeated his Democratic opponents in a state that is usually much more friendly to Republicans at the federal level.

Bunning had previously made open accusations against his party's leadership, accusing them of trying to force him into retirement by undercutting his efforts to raise money. About three months ago, he gave a green light to Grayson to start raising money for the race, apparently a sign that he was anointing his successor.

On the Democratic side, there is currently a primary between Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, who just barely lost to Bunning in 2004, and state Attorney General Jack Conway.

Late Update: In his official statement, Bunning again slams his party leadership for sabotaging him:

"Unfortunately, running for office is not just about the issues. To win a general election, a candidate has to be able to raise millions of dollars to get the message out to voters. Over the past year, some of the leaders of the Republican Party in the Senate have done everything in their power to dry up my fundraising. The simple fact is that I have not raised the funds necessary to run an effective campaign for the U.S. Senate. For this reason, I will not be a candidate for re-election in 2010."

Senate Democrats are perhaps set to start the ball rolling on repealing the ban on gays in the military, with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announcing that hearings have been scheduled for the Armed Services Committee to examine the impact of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

"This policy is wrong for our national security and wrong for the moral foundation upon which our country was founded,'" Gillibrand said in a press release. "I thank Chairman Levin for agreeing to hold this important hearing. Numerous military leaders are telling us that the times have changed. 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is an unfair, outdated measure that violates the civil rights of some of our bravest, most heroic men and women. By repealing this policy, we will increase America's strength - both militarily and morally."

Some people might suspect that Gillibrand could have a political motivation. She is an appointed Senator facing a 2010 primary challenge in a liberal state -- with the polls putting her challenger, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, narrowly ahead -- and would have something to gain from taking the point position on this. A spokesman said this is not politically motivated, drawing attention to the fact that Gillibrand had already been on the record for repealing DADT when she was still in the House.

On Saturday, for about the third time since the health care debate really picked up steam on Capitol Hill, the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis that triggered bad headlines for health care reformers and big head aches for the White House.

According to CBO Director Doug Elmendorf, a proposal widely touted by the White House to give an external panel the authority to reform Medicare and Medicaid would save a mere $2 billion over a 10 year time horizon--less than one percent of the overall cost of the legislation.

"CBO deals new blow to health plan" blared a headline at Politico--conventional wisdom that threatened to provide new momentum to reform opponents on the Hill and within the greater Republican machine.

There are a number of analytical problems with this framing--sort of what you'd expect when cool kids (like, ahem, the Politico team) stop tormenting their favorite dweebs and start trying to understand their science projects. But as if to underscore just how seriously the administration took the political threat, the White House quickly blasted out a response from Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, which called the CBO's work--and by proxy its director--into question.

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It control's about 50 percent of the state's health insurance market, so it's no real surprise that Anthem sells coverage to the Virginia Organizing Project--a activist group dedicated to, among other things, reforming the health care system.

But it's a bit ironic that Anthem would try to enlist VOP members to call on Congress to oppose a public health insurance option.

We strongly support reform that builds a strong, sustainable private-sector health care system - and strongly oppose creating a government-run health plan. We are urging our elected officials in Washington to take bipartisan action that will accomplish that. We are educating policymakers in Washington and working with our trade associations to encourage Congress to build on the current system and not disrupt the quality, affordable coverage on which our members depend....

As our elected officials debate health care, they need to hear directly from you.

You can imagine how well that went over. On Friday, VOP staged a protest at Anthem's Richmond headquarters, demanding that the company refund any money it spent on lobbying--and its executive director, Joe Szakos was arrested for trespassing. "The Virginia Organizing Project pays more than $300,000 per year in health insurance premiums. I walked into our health insurance company Friday to ask why they recently increased our premiums 14.1 percent and I walked out in handcuffs," Szakos said.
This is an excellent example of the relationship the health insurance industry has with its customers. They do not feel that have to explain or account for anything. Anthem has little competition and they know their customers have few choices. Anthem and other health insurance corporations are spending $1.4 million per day lobbying Congress to make sure that Americans do not have a choice.

You can read the entire Anthem solicitation below the fold. I'll try to get a few more details about the incident and pass them along to you. Whatever happened, though, and whether or not you agree with the tactics, the precipitating events--and the more general fact that insurers spend consumer health care dollars lobbying against efforts to decrease health care costs--bring to light just one of the many perverse aspects of the for-profit health insurance industry.

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MoveOn is up with a new week-long ad in DC and on national cable hitting Republicans for attempting to kill health care reform for political game.

Perhaps just as interesting, though, is this note from the accompanying press statement.

The ad kicks off a month of field campaigning and advertising in districts and states over the August Congressional recess. MoveOn will air ads in both Republican and Democratic districts while lawmakers are home, reminding them of the urgency of addressing our nation's health care crisis and the political and economic cost of inaction. The ads will be accompanied by a month-long grassroots offensive where MoveOn members will lobby their representatives and Senators and educate their communities about the urgency of passing strong health care reform, including a real public health insurance option.

Who said anything about summer doldrums?

The Feds may be circling uncomfortably close to Rep. John Murtha as they probe kickbacks to defense contractors and possible earmarks-for-campaign-cash deals. But the veteran Democratic power-broker doesn't seem to be sweating it. In fact, he's acting as defiant as ever.

A Murtha spokesman tells TPMmuckraker that the Pennsylvania congressman has not hired a lawyer in connection with the investigations.

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Check out this new video from Fire Dog Lake's Mike Stark, in which he asks multiple House Republicans -- including a high-ranking member of the GOP leadership -- whether they believe President Obama is a natural-born citizen.

The most interesting non-answer came from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who happens to be the Vice-Chair of the House Republican Conference -- the fourth-highest position in the leadership -- and also gave the Republican YouTube address this past weekend. "We're all going to find out," said McMorris Rodgers. When asked again, she said: "Oh, I'd like to see the documents."

And by the way, some thanks are due to Reps. Mike Coffman (R-CO), Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Trent Franks (R-AZ) for affirming that they believe Obama is a natural-born citizen, ranging from Coffman's short and simple "Yeah" to Franks' detailed statement that his office researched the matter and concluded that the facts are clear.

We've asked McMorris Rodgers' office for further clarification, and are waiting for them to get back to us.

This is just part of the reason reformers wanted the House and Senate to wrap up their work on health care legislation before recess:

The Republican National Committee will spend nearly $1 million on campaign activities over the next month in an effort to cast doubt on President Obama's proposal to reform health care, a GOP official tells CNN.

The Republican campaign will include television commercials already running in Arkansas, Nevada and North Dakota and new radio ads announced Friday that will air in 33 states.

The RNC did not reveal Friday who the radio ads would target, but CNN has learned the 60 second commercials will run against 60 House Democrats.

The prevailing assumption at the RNC seems to be that the House--like the Senate--will adjourn without voting on legislation. But either way, with cheap media markets in these states, senators like Kent Conrad, Harry Reid, and Blanche Lincoln can look forward to a lot of jockeying along these lines.

Via CNN, you can read the entire list of targeted House Democrats below the fold.

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