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If it was up to reformers, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) probably wouldn't be anywhere near the heart of health care negotiations. But unfortunately for them, he's right in the middle of the action. Yesterday he said he'd vote against the legislation he's helped craft in the Senate Finance Committee unless Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate guaranteed they wouldn't make it any more liberal. And now he's suggesting that, after months of delay, the committee probably won't settle on a final product before adjourning for August recess at the end of next week.

Enzi's access infuriates liberals--but in a way his presence at the negotiating table is emblematic of the Finance Committee's entire process.

If after the Democrats' historic election in November, I had suggested that one of the Senate's most conservative Republicans would stand a chance of hijacking President Obama's health care proposal, you might have waved off the threat, and rightly so. But thanks to Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus--who has insisted on passing a consensus bill at the expense of a number of liberal goals--that's basically what's happening.

Enzi, the ranking member on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, isn't without health care knowledge--but he's also not the sort of Republican who comes to mind when Democrats need a few Republicans to pass a major piece of legislation. He probably less in common with Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) than do most Democrats. In fact, he vociferously opposed the HELP Committee's reform bill, and is basically insisting that that bill, and House legislation, be completely scrapped before he and other conservatives hop on board. But despite that distinctly GOP-first outlook, Baucus gave him a seat at the table.

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A senior American military adviser in Baghdad, whose memo arguing that the U.S. should leave Iraq is currently the top story on the New York Times website, is also the author of an unhinged online screed against health-care reform.

The health-care post, by Colonel Timothy Reese, sketches far-fetched scenarios about forced abortions and accuses President Obama of being "deceitful" in telling Americans they can keep their doctor under his plan. Its harsh tone raises questions about an active duty officer inserting himself into the political arena. And it suggests that that his widely-publicized military advice -- which was posted on the same blog as the health-care post -- should perhaps be treated more skeptically than is currently being done.

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Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) is in a bit of a murky situation, as to whether he believes President Obama was in fact born in the United States, in the wake of comments he made the other day that seemed to back up the various objections made by the Birthers.

Greg Sargent asked Blunt's office whether he believes Obama is legitimately the president, and they instead complained that the video had been edited. Greg asked again what Blunt believes, and still did not get a straight answer.

In response, Mike Stark at Fire Dog Lake has released his full videos. In their first encounter, Blunt made a barely-audible comment that seemed to indicate to he believed Obama was born in the United States. Then Stark went back a second time:



Stark asked Blunt for confirmation that he believes Obama was born in America. "I don't have any reason not to believe that," Blunt said. When Stark asked about Birthers being "kooky," Blunt then immediately dignified them. "What I don't know is why the president can't produce a birth certificate," said Blunt. "I don't know anybody else that can't produce one. And I think that that's a legitimate question -- no health records, no birth certificate."

Stark e-mailed us a lengthy comment, available after the jump.

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A new Rasmussen poll out this morning shows that President Obama may have some work to do with the American public at today's "Beer Summit," with an overall negative review of his handling of the Gates-Crowley situation so far:

How do you rate the way the President has handled the situation over the past week?

13% Excellent
17% Good
18% Fair
44% Poor
8% Not sure

The Hill reports that some liberal members of the Senate are toying with the idea of stripping Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) of his chairmanship of the Finance Committee. Well..."toying" maybe a bit too strong. But they're not happy. Without naming names, they're nodding toward the idea of creating a referendum system, which would allow caucus members to decide every two years whether particular committee chairmen get to keep their gavels.

Most senators would be in fine shape under such a system--but Baucus hasn't won many friends over the years. He was instrumental in the passage of Bush tax cuts and in Republican Medicare reforms and has provoked the ire of senior Democrats many times in the past. In 2003, The New Republic suggested stripping Baucus of his seniority on the Finance Committee; and in a 2006 article that's been lost to the magazine's archive abyss its editors argued that he should be kicked off the Finance Committee altogether.

Not to suggest that anything like that anything like this is in the works. But in addition to past heresies, Baucus' broken health care process--and the degree to which he's let that process be held hostage by Republicans--hasn't gone unnoticed by many of his peers.

Jon Stewart is further exploring something we've also noticed over here: That the right-wingers who oppose President Obama have taken to using some pretty racially-charged, amazingly paranoid rhetoric:

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Jon Stewart is right -- really anything can become scary if you put the score music from The Omen behind it.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has accused the Democrats of using race as a wedge issue in the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation process -- that is, the Dems have been "giving cover to groups and individuals to nurture racial grievances for political advantage."

Cornyn was responding to statements from Harry Reid and other Democrats, that the GOP's opposition to Sotomayor will hurt them among Latino voters.

"I don't think it influences people's votes, but what it does encourage is a very poisonous -- indeed a very toxic -- tone of destructive politics," said Cornyn. "They ought to be ashamed of themselves."

Of course, this accusation can certainly cut both ways. Remember how the right wing celebrated the New Haven firefighters case?

After several derailings, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is once again on track to mark up health care legislation, and should resume deliberations this morning.

After brokering a deal with Blue Dog Democrats yesterday, chairman Henry Waxman thought he'd cleared the last big pre-recess hurdle standing in the way of a committee vote on health care legislation. He expected to resume mark up yesterday afternoon en route to a Friday passage. But then, House progressives--reluctant to further weaken the public option, but, moreover, displeased with leadership's solicitousness of conservative Democrats--threw another obstacle in the way, and threatened to block the bill once more. Addressing those objections proved challenging for House leaders, and led Waxman to (again) delay proceedings.

But last night there was yet another breakthrough, as House progressives agreed, reluctantly, to let the bill move forward. They note that there remains plenty of opposition among House progressives, and are still holding out the possibility of opposing the final legislation. But for now it looks like the committee will wrap things up before recess and a final bill will be put together for a likely floor vote in September.

CBS/NYT Poll: Public Conflicted About Health Care A new CBS/New York Times poll finds the public feeling conflicted about health care reform. On the one hand 66% of adults favor a public options, and 55% say the government should guarantee health coverage for all Americans. On the other hand, 56% are very concerned that businesses would cut jobs if government acts to cover all Americans, and a 45% plurality are very concerned that their own taxes would go up.

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will meet with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines, at 3 p.m. ET. He will meet with Treasury Sec. Tim Geithner at 4 p.m. ET, and with Vice President Biden at 4:30 p.m. Then at 6 p.m. ET, he will meet outside the Oval Office with Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley and Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr, for that round of beer that was announced last week.

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Some commentators on the right have been pointing to an interesting number that has been coming from the Rasmussen daily tracking poll, which Rasmussen bills as the "Presidential Approval Index," which Scott Rasmussen only began bringing out in late 2008. The key questions then are: What is this number, and is it a valid measurement of real popularity? In an interview today with TPM, Rasmussen defended the index's validity against some harsh criticism, saying that intensity of opinion -- the true figure measured by his index -- does indeed matter.

The thing to remember is that this is not simply subtracting all the respondents who disapprove of President Obama from the people who approve. Instead, Rasmussen takes the numbers who strongly approve or disapprove, and then performs this math. As of today, that index number is -10, compared to an overall rating of +1 in Rasmussen's daily tracker.

It would seem at first glance that this number can skew negative -- that is, the people who disapprove of a president are inherently more likely to feel strongly about it, compared to a certain level of lukewarm support for a president. For example, the 2004 exit poll put George W. Bush's strong approval at 33%, to strong disapproval of 34%. But his overall approval was 53% to disapproval at 46%, and he was re-elected 51%-48%.

I asked three prominent polling experts about this, and they all lambasted it.

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