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Someone forgot to remind Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that it's the Democrats' job to make Granny's life tougher. On the Senate floor yesterday, Coburn blocked a vote that would have prevented a reduction in Social Security payments next year.

Coburn stood in the way of unanimous consent to a House bill setting 2010 Medicare premiums at 2009 levels. As the National Journal reports (sub. req.), Coburn's move means "seniors are facing uncertainty over Medicare costs next year" and that "would see a net reduction in their Social Security benefits."

The back story:

The House bill, which passed 406-18 on Sept. 24, is needed to freeze monthly Part B insurance premiums, which pay for seniors' physician visits, at $96.40 next year. Those premiums are usually deducted from Social Security checks.

But because of deflation, there is no Social Security cost-of-living adjustment planned for 2010 -- yet Medicare premiums are set to rise anyway to keep pace with the program's overall costs. Thus, seniors would see a net reduction in their Social Security benefits without the fix.

Asked during the briefing just now about the idea of an opt-out public option, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was pointedly non-committal.

"I have not talked to them about that but I can certainly ask if that's something that's been evaluated," Gibbs said, presumably referring to the White House policy shop.

Asked again what President Obama thought about the idea, Gibbs offered one of his most frequent dodges: "I have not talked with him."

Gibbs added the White House is "pleased" with the progress on health care and said when the legislation finally makes it to the Senate floor, "There will be a lot in the legislation that we hope members representing a lot of different constituents can support. I think they will, and I think we'll get health care reform done this year."

White House aides haven't responded to questions about the new idea today.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tried during this afternoon's press briefing to draw a distinction between al Qaeda and the Taliban. While it's hardly a sure thing, it's possible that such a distinction might foreshadow a shift in U.S. strategy focusing more on counterinsurgency against al Qaeda than traditional military operations against the Taliban.

"There are differences between al Qaeda and the Taliban," he said.

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The new Democracy Corps (D) poll of New Jersey gives Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine a narrow lead over his Republican opponent, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie.

The numbers: Corzine 41%, Christie 38%, and independent Chris Daggett 14%, with a ±4% margin of error. Two weeks ago, Christie led with 40%, Corzine at 39%, and Daggett with 11%. The result is within the margin of error, but this also means that there have been two separate polls this week showing Corzine with some kind of lead, following a Fairleigh Dickinson poll from two days ago.

The pollster's analysis suggests that Corzine's attacks against Christie over mammogram coverage are working among women voters: "He [Christie] now posts a net favorability rating of -19 with women, down from -7 two weeks ago. Among independent women, the drop is even more pronounced: from -7 two weeks ago to -34 today, with half of independent women giving him an unfavorable rating. This has clearly benefited Corzine in the vote as the governor now leads among women by 14 points (up from 6 points two weeks ago)."

Marco Rubio, the man who hopes to deny Gov. Charlie Crist the Republican Senate nomination in Florida next year, is blasting his party's leadership in Washington for "shrill" rhetoric that he blames on "laziness."

In an interview with TPMDC this morning, Rubio said he's gaining traction against Crist because he's taking a different tack from national Republicans.

"In essence, that shrillness is a product of laziness," he said. "It's a lot harder to defeat people intellectually than it is to smear them. That's true on both sides, by the way."

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I just caught up with Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and asked him about a new idea floating around the Hill that would give states the choice to opt out of a national public option. Just, how nascent is the idea?

Here's what he said: "I've heard about it, I've not seen one...I was in a group like this somebody talking to somebody else, kind of raising it."

Does it sound like something that you could support?

"Honestly, I just don't know enough about it," he said.

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The Corzine campaign is going after Chris Christie for trying to back away from some very strong language he used when he was tacking right during the Republican primary -- attacking Corzine's pre-school programs as "baby-sitting."

Corzine jumped on that in one of his ads, which slammed Christie on education. In an interview Tuesday night with New Jersey political pundit Steve Adubato, Christie said that the attack was "out of context." When Adubato asked whether Christie did in fact use the term "babysitting," Christie responded: "I used it in an answer, but I did not use it pejoratively, as they're trying to make it sound in the ad."

Check out the new Web video from the Corzine campaign, where you can see Christie attacking Corzine's pre-K funding, "because he decided that the government should babysit for children. It's simply wrong."

Remember that move by Texas governor Rick Perry to not to reappoint the chair of a panel looking into a flawed arson investigation that may have led to the execution of an innocent man? Well it's looking dodgier than ever.

Last week, Perry announced he would not reappoint Chair Sam Bassett and two other members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which is looking into the probe that led to the execution of Cameron Willingham -- despite strong evidence that he may have been innocent. The panel members terms had expired.

Perry himself, as governor, had signed off on the 2004 execution, leading critics to charge that the decision on Bassett -- who had appeared to push for an aggressive inquiry into missteps in the original probe -- was an attempt by the governor to short-circuit an effort that could have been politically damaging as he faces a tough re-election campaign.

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At a press conference today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she is considering imposing a windfall profits tax on health insurers in order to pay for health care reform.

"I believe that all of the participants, whether it's the insurance companies or the pharmaceutical industry, have much more they can put on the table to help reduce cost," she said.

She said she's asked Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, to look into such a tax.

"When we see that, maybe that's something we can put in the mix," she said, warning that the idea is "very preliminary."

Meet Randolph Bragg, a Northern Virginia actor who was paid $150 to educate the public about the national debt by standing outside the White House in a tattered Uncle Sam costume.

The 17 bearded "Sams" were all over the D.C. area Tuesday, holding signs and handing out fancy brochures sending people to Defeat the Debt to get a handle on "why you should care" about skyrocketing debt. The group also ran a full-page Wall Street Journal ad.

The Employment Policies Institute is behind the effort, which senior research analyst Justin Wilson told TPMDC has cost them "millions" and is funded by private donations.

TPM readers may be familiar with EPI front man Rick Berman, a conservative who is affiliated with tons of groups working to "defeat" various things, including the Employee Free Choice Act.

"People accuse us of being a front group on this issue ... there's no hidden agenda," Wilson said.

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