TPM News

After a long winter recess, House Democrats will huddle among themselves tonight to share their constituents' concerns about health care negotiations, and provide leaders with the information they need to determine their priorities as they negotiate a health care bill with the Senate and the White House

The meeting will be one of the first chances in nearly four weeks for members to download what they have been hearing in their home districts, and an opportunity for leadership to update the rank-and-file about their ongoing negotiations with the Senate and the White House, according to a House leadership aide.

The aide said it was important for leadership to "get a read" from members about where they feel given press coverage over the long break. That information will allow leadership to move forward with concrete offers on the big issues such as how to pay for the health care plan and how to organize new insurance markets.

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The former Washington Post Company executive who left amid controversy over a plan to hold corporate-sponsored "salons" is doubling down on his bid to get newsrooms more involved in profit-making ventures.

Charles Pelton resigned in September as the Post Company's general manager of events and conferences, after Politico reported on an initiative that would have brought together Post reporters, administration officials, lawmakers, and corporate lobbyists for off-the-record discussions of policy issues -- paid for by the attending corporations -- at the home of Post publisher Katharine Weymouth. (We followed up with our own report on Atlantic Media's series of similar events.)

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Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL) just suffered an embarrassing setback in his Senate primary against the more conservative former state House speaker Marco Rubio, the St. Petersburg Times reports. Crist lost a GOP straw poll in Pinellas -- his home county.

The vote was not even close, either, at 106-54. While it's possible that Crist could carry the greater number of voters in the actual primary, this development is definitely not a vote of confidence from the party activists.

"I volunteered for Charlie for nine years. I love Charlie as a person. If he was here, I would give him a big hug. He actually called me about this (straw poll) yesterday," said straw poll participant Wilna Varney, who voted for Rubio. "But I'm a more conservative person, and I'm going to support the more conservative candidate."

Former Sen. Strom Thurmond's youngest son, the 33-year-old Paul Thurmond, may run for the U.S. House from South Carolina.

Paul Thurmond, a lawyer who currently serves as vice chair of the Charleston County Council, has established an exploratory committee, Politico reports.

"I will move forward with this exploratory process emboldened by the belief instilled in me by my father, Strom Thurmond, that public service is a privilege and an honor," Thurmond said in a statement.

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National Republicans are excited about Sean Duffy, a Wisconsin district attorney and one-time "Real World" star who is attempting to unseat Rep. David Obey (D-WI). Duffy is raising money, nabbing mentions on conservative blogs and has earned attention on the National Republican Congressional Committee "young guns" list of potential stars.

But he's got a tea party candidate, produce and dairy farmer Dan Mielke, labeling him as the establishment's favorite at every turn.

Will this primary stop being polite?

The usual indicators of cash and organization suggest that Duffy will at least mount a serious challenge against Obey and the NRCC freely praises him despite not officially taking sides in GOP primaries.

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If Republican Scott Brown pulls an upset and wins the Massachusetts special election on Jan. 19, Senate Democrats would lose their filibuster-proof 60-seat majority and health care would be all but doomed.

So some, including the Boston Herald, have suggested that Democrats might stall Brown's swearing in until after the final vote on a revised health care bill.

The idea apparently comes from Brown himself. After Interim Sen. Paul Kirk said he would vote for health care reform if it comes to a vote before the new senator is sworn in, Brown fired off a statement claiming Kirk was "suggesting" that Democrats in Boston and Washington "intend to stall the election certification until the health care bill is rammed through Congress."

But can they? Technically, it is up to Senate leadership when they swear in a new senator. But Senate Majority Harry Reid's office says they'll swear in the winner of the Massachusetts election -- whether it's Brown or Attorney General Martha Coakley -- as soon as possible.

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Reports have come in of potential push-polling in the Massachusetts Senate race -- a practice in which the perpetrator pretends to be a pollster but isn't really gathering data, instead very quickly begins doing nothing but attacking an opposed candidate.

Boston-based blogger Dan Kennedy reports on the stories coming in. Liberal political caricaturist John Doherty said he received an automated phone call asking him whether he supported Republican Scott Brown or Democrat Martha Coakley. After he pushed the button for Coakley, he was asked whether it would change his vote if he knew Coakley supported taxpayer funding of abortions.

"I'm a poli-sci major, I know what a push poll is, and I knew this was one," Doherty told me.

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Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D) will run for governor of Colorado, the Denver Post reports.

Hickenlooper is a top-tier name in Colorado politics. He was first elected mayor of Denver in 2003, and was easily re-elected in 2007. Before going into local politics, Hickenlooper was a businessman in Denver, owning several restaurants and a microbrewery.

Hickenlooper's expected entry into the race comes after incumbent Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter announced his retirement. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former U.S. Senator and Colorado state attorney general, decided last week not to run. A recent Rasmussen poll has Hickenlooper trailing Republican former Rep. Scott McInnis by 45%-42%, though this was a better showing than Salazar in the same poll, and better than Ritter in the Rasmussen poll from the month before.

Last night, Obama administration officials, and the President himself, met with the most influential leaders in organized labor to brainstorm ways to fix to a controversial provision in congressional health care legislation, roundly opposed by unions. And it appears the White House is trying to hit the right notes to keep its fragile alliance with unions alive.

At issue is whether there's any way to square the administration's support for a tax on high-end health care plans--a major source of funds--with the concern, articulated by myriad progressives and union officials, that the tax will impact many middle class Americans, and ultimately ensnare more and more of them.

"My understanding it was really discussions surrounding policy fixes that could, to at least try to delay the impact and look at maybe raising the threshold a little more," said one top labor official briefed on the meeting.

"Secretary Sebelius was there for part of the discussion," the official went on. "They are exploring, at least, some modifications that might take into account some collectively bargained plans, maybe trying to tie some exclusion for plans that are covered by a collective bargaining agreement."

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