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Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA)--who has signed a letter urging the Senate to pass the public option through the budget reconciliation process--says don't hold your breath.

"I think the public option ought to be done, but it's a long shot," Specter said on a conference call in response to a question from TPMDC.

"Regrettably the case, which started with the town meetings in August...has persuaded the American people that the public option would be a governmental takeover of health care," Specter went on. "It's really not, it's an option."

The public option actually has the support of a significant majority of the country. Pressed to square that fact with his sense that voters don't support it, Specter clarified: "I get that sense from my travels throughout the state and around the country. People are madder than hell at the government," he said.

It's no secret that in seeking to fend off a conservative primary challenger, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been scrambling to his right faster than you can say "cap-and-trade." But now, in a bid to explain his vote for the bailout, the Arizona senator is flat out rewriting history.

McCain said recently that he only voted for the $700 billion package because Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke misled him, by assuring him it would focus on the housing meltdown, rather than on Wall Street. But that appears to be directly contradicted by the record.

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We reported earlier that Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) said he would be signing Sen. Michael Bennet's letter urging that a public option be passed through reconciliation.

His spokeswoman now tells us the senator misunderstood the question, thinking that we were referencing another proposed letter which promises House Democrats that fixes to the Senate bill would be passed via reconciliation.

It's a letter basically to shore up commitment from wary House Democrats that if they pass the Senate bill in its current form they won't be hosed.

"The senator just misunderstood your question, thinking you were talking about the proposed reconciliation letter," the spokeswoman said. "He does not support public option in reconciliation."

TPMDC has learned the additional House Democrats who will attend Thursday's health care summit at the White House.

In addition to the relevant committee chairmen and Democratic leadership, each side was allowed to invite a handful of members.

A leadership aide tells us that on the House Democrats' side, they are Reps. Xavier Becerra (CA), Louise Slaughter (NY), Rob Andrews (NJ) and Jim Cooper (TN).

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President Obama today officially declared his support for repealing an anti-trust exemption for insurers. The House of Representatives will vote on a bill repealing the exemption tomorrow. Here's the full text of the statement, as released by the White House:

The Administration strongly supports House passage of H.R. 4626. The repeal of the antitrust exemption in the McCarran-Ferguson Act as it applies to the health insurance industry would give American families and businesses, big and small, more control over their own health care choices by promoting greater insurance competition. The repeal also will outlaw existing, anti-competitive health insurance practices like price fixing, bid rigging, and market allocation that drive up costs for all Americans. Health insurance reform should be built on a strong commitment to competition in all health care markets, including health insurance. This bill will benefit the American health care consumer by ensuring that competition has a prominent role in reforming health insurance markets throughout the Nation.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today he has some instructions for Republicans balking at the probable reconciliation route Democrats will take to pass health care.

"Look at history," Reid (D-NV ) told reporters who asked about GOP complaints. He said Republicans used reconciliation for Contract with America legislation and major items such as the Bush tax cuts.

"They're the ones who used it more than anyone else," he said.

Reid said "nothing's off the table" for ways to finally finish health care.

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Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) tells TPMDC that he plans to sign a letter urging Senate leadership to pass a public option via reconciliation.

"I expect that I will" sign, Carper said. The letter, written by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), has been signed by 23 senators so far.

That's a bit of a departure from his position just yesterday. Asked by TPMDC if he thought passing a public option via reconciliation was appropriate or desirable, Carper said he thought it wouldn't fly procedurally.

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Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) issued a statement today on the White House's health care reform proposal:

I was pleased to see that President Obama's health care proposal did not include several of the sweetheart deals provided to select states in the Senate bill. Unfortunately, the President's proposal encompasses the Senate language allowing public funding of abortion. The Senate language is a significant departure from current law and is unacceptable. While the President has laid out a health care proposal that brings us closer to resolving our differences, there is still work to be done before Congress can pass comprehensive health care reform.

In today's press briefing, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said President Obama didn't include a public option in his health care plan because it doesn't have the votes to pass.

"We have seen obviously that though there are some that are supportive of this, there isn't enough political support in a majority to get this through," Gibbs said today, according to Sam Stein. "The president ... took the Senate bill as the base and looks forward to discussing consensus ideas on Thursday."

The White House released Obama's new proposal this week ahead of a bipartisan health care summit planned for Thursday.

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