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Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus is unsurprisingly cheered by the news out of the Congressional Budget Office. "Our balanced approach to health reform has paid off yet again with the news today that the America's Healthy Future Act remains fully paid for, begins to reduce the federal deficit within ten years and makes significant reductions in federal debt over the next several decades," he says.

Most importantly, it improves and expands health care coverage for tens of millions of American families. This legislation is a smart investment on the federal balance sheet, and it's an even smarter investment for American families, businesses and our economy. Health reform will modernize the health care system for the 21st century by reducing inefficiencies, focusing on quality and ensuring we are getting the best bang for our health care buck. Health reform should be fiscally responsible as it expands and improves coverage and these numbers reiterate that real reform can be just that.

It wasn't exactly potato/potahto, but before reporters this afternoon the two senators most prominently on opposite sides of the debate over what to do next in Afghanistan each said the recent report by Gen. Stanley McChrystal supported their view of the conflict.

At a Capitol Hill press conference announcing the final version of this year's defense appropriations bill, Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) took questions about their differing views on the future of the Afghanistan conflict a day after both men joined President Obama in a White House meeting on the subject. As has been the case all week, the focus turned to McChrystal's recent report calling for more troops and new attention on winning Afghan hearts and minds.

Levin, who has been vocal with his skepticism toward the idea of more troops in Afghanistan, said McChrystal's report vindicated his view of the conflict. Levin is supportive of Obama's push for a new strategy in the conflict and said McChrystal's report and recent London speech showed he and the general agree.

"He said we need a change in strategy," Levin said. "Those are his exact words."

McCain, who has supported a so-called "surge" strategy in Afghanistan, said it was clear it was he and McChrystal who shared the same view on the war. "I didn't say it has to be the exact number of troops General McChrystal has requested," he said. "But I've been to Afghanistan many times -- I understand it. And I support a surge-style strategy."

There was one thing both men agreed on at the press conference. Levin and McCain refused to say Obama is "dragging his feet" on making a decision about the future of the conflict. Levin said McChrystal's report showed support for what Levin called "the usefulness of a deliberative process" over what to do next.

McCain said he supported the idea of a review but cautioned that "delays" in announcing and implementing a new strategy "are being interpreted as vacillations on the part of the Americans" in Pakistan and regions of Afghanistan.

"There is a true sense of urgency," McCain said, pointing to rising American casualties in recent weeks as evidence that Taliban forces feel the deliberations in Washington are an advantage.

"There are lives at stake on the time and right strategy side of things," Levin responded. "We have to ensure that our troops are doing the right thing."

The Congressional Budget Office delivers good, but unsurprising news to the Senate Finance Committee. They say the panel's health care reform legislation will require $829 billion in new spending--but that every penny will be covered, and, moreover, that it will reduce the deficit by $81 billion over 10 years, and then continue to reap even greater savings.

Director Doug Elmendorf writes, "According to CBO and JCT's assessment, enacting the Chairman's mark, as amended, would result in a net reduction in federal budget deficits of $81 billion over the 2010-2019 period.

All told, the proposal would reduce the federal deficit by $12 billion in 2019, CBO and JCT estimate. After that, the added revenues and cost savings are projected to grow more rapidly than the cost of the coverage expansion.

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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters today that President Obama is getting closer to a decision on troop levels in Afghanistan.

"We're getting there," Gibbs said.

As I laid out earlier, Obama is in the Situation Room this afternoon talking Pakistan, and has another meeting Friday.

Gibbs wouldn't give a timeline, saying only that Obama has six hours of meetings scheduled over the next few days.

"It's not just a military question. It has to be looked at and focused on a number of different areas at a number of different levels. And that's what the president's intent on doing," Gibbs said. "We're still in the process of -- of working through this. I don't -- if the president's come to a decision, he hasn't told me."

That Republican resolution demanding that Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) give up his committee chairmanship was referred to the ethics committee in a 246-153 vote this afternoon.

The roll call of the largely party-line vote is here. Six Republicans voted yes, and two Democrats voted no. The ethics committee is already probing Rangel. The vote today represents the failure of the GOP effort to formally demand he step down from his chairmanship.

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Organizing For America has sent out an e-mail to its Virginia list -- which contains a very large number of Obama supporters in the state -- seeking to mobilize support for Creigh Deeds in the gubernatorial race.

The e-mail attacks Republican nominee Bob McDonnell's right-wing grad school thesis, which denounced working women:

In his masters thesis, written when he was 34, McDonnell clearly spelled out his regressive vision for life in Virginia -- including his view that women working outside the home are "detrimental" to the family, that couples should not have access to contraception and that the government should "restrain, punish, and deter" homosexuality.

...

In the 2008 election we faced a choice between fear and division, or coming together to build a stronger future. We chose that path forward last year, and if you're able to help now, it will make a huge difference in making sure Virginia says no to Bob McDonnell's destructive vision for the Commonwealth.


The full e-mail is available after the jump.

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Notorious anti-immigrant sheriff Joe Arpaio is working with a husband-and-wife GOP lawyer team that was one of Bill Clinton's biggest tormentors during the 90s, to go after a local Arizona official. But critics are calling the effort a politically motivated fishing expedition. And the defense lawyer on the case knows something about politicized justice: he was one of the US attorneys improperly fired by Alberto Gonzales.

Here's the back-story. It's got a few twists and turns. But stay with us -- it's worth it:

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Two men were arrested when police found a pipe bomb, two shotguns, bomb-making materials, ammunition, a can of propane and SWAT costumes in their car Tuesday night in New Haven, Conn.

So far the police don't have a clear sense of what the pair were planning to do, New Haven Police spokesman Officer Joe Avery told TPM.

"They're not talking much," Avery said.

Police received a call just before midnight about a suspicious car with weapons on the backseat, he said. Police surrounded the car, a Mercedes, and pulled the two men out. A bomb squad detonated the pipe bomb.

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Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is about to embark on a major fundraising push, with several top dollar events scheduled in the coming weeks, but one in particular caught TPMDC's eye.

That's an Oct. 30 fundraiser hosted by former Arizona Gov. Fife Symington in the state's Camelback Mountain. Symington was convicted of bank and wire fraud and resigned in 1997, but the conviction was overturned and President Clinton pardoned him in 2001.

The event is listed on a document circulated among donors and obtained by TPMDC listing several upcoming fundraisers for Republican Senate candidates.

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