In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) is vowing a rapid push on health reform this year, telling reporters yesterday that he would introduce a bipartisan health bill by June alongside Sen. Chuck Grassley (IA), the Finance panel's senior Republican.

Baucus and Grassley are known for working closely together, particularly on the 2007 reauthorization of the children's health insurance program (CHIP), which didn't make Grassley's fellow GOPers too happy (though the Iowan ultimately opposed the CHIP re-up that President Obama signed this year).

So Grassley enters the health care debate with a good deal of power -- and he's using it to warn Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to stay out of his and Baucus' way. When Grassley was asked this morning whether Baucus "answer[s] to" Reid on health care, he replied:

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Michael Steele is firing back at his critics inside the Republican Party, who privately complain that he's failed to properly organize the party, does too many gaffe-riddled interviews, and overall keeps everyone out of the loop. In fact, he says, this is just how he likes it.

In an interview with the Politico, Steele answered the naysayers:

"I know some folks in Washington feel that they're kind of on the outside of this -- that they don't have the day-to-day blow by blow of what I'm doing," he said. "And that's exactly how I like it. I want to be about the business of putting in place a good infrastructure that will enable me to go out and build a better brand, stronger brand, for the GOP. And I won't get there by tattle-telling every day what I'm doing."

He also had this to say: "If I told folks what I really thought, I'd probably be in a lot more trouble."

The first Democrat to signal his opposition to the Obama administration's $410 billion 2009 spending bill was Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ), who suggested that his vote might be in jeopardy if provisions loosening the Cuban trade embargo were kept in the measure.

But Menendez's complaints look like a drop in the bucket compared with the brewing rebellion among centrist Democrats who aren't sure they can support Obama's push to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans. Politico reports that 14 Dem senators (and Joe Lieberman, naturally) are meeting behind closed doors to discuss their discomfort with Obama's $3.55 trillion 2010 budget.

Before the budget even comes to a vote, however, the 2009 spending bill must be taken care of -- and one of those centrist Dems, Evan Bayh (IN), is urging Obama to veto the $410 billion measure in a Wall Street Journal op-ed today. From Bayh's piece (emphasis mine):

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Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), who is the third-highest member of the House GOP in his role as conference chairman, appeared yesterday on CNN and quite loudly agreed with Rush Limbaugh -- he wants President Obama to fail:

Rick Sanchez: Do you want Barack Obama to fail?

Pence: Oh, come on, Rick. Nice try. I know what Rush Limbaugh meant. I actually listened to him about a month ago when he made this point on the air. I heard much of his speech on Saturday.

Look, everybody wants America to succeed. But everyone like me, like Rush Limbaugh and others who believes in limited government, who believes in conservative values, wants the policies that this administration is bringing forward -- higher taxes, a massive increase in government spending, a huge increase in the role of government in our daily lives, a departure from traditional values -- you bet, we want those policies to fail.

Because, Rick, we know big government, increases in debt, the micromanagement of the economy out of Washington, D.C. is a policy that will fail. It has failed throughout the last century, across the globe...

(Transcript via Nexis.)

Now let's think about this for a minute. When the stimulus bill was just on the verge of final passage, Rush Limbaugh said the following, still posted on his Web site: "And after this stimulus bill package passes, I want it to fail."

And Pence says here that he's a Rush-listener. So please, tell us what Rush really means when he says he wants Obama and his policies to fail.

Labor Group Ad Attacks Rush As GOP Leader The Democratic assault on the GOP as the Party of Limbaugh continues apace, with the labor-backed group Americans United For Change airing this new ad on national cable and in the D.C. media market -- essentially targeted at the political media and high-information voters:

"Call the Republican leadership. Tell them to just say no to the politics of Rush Limbaugh," the announcer says, followed by Limbaugh's signature line: "I hope he fails!"

Plouffe: Party Of Limbaugh Could Fall Even Lower Former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe also has a new op-ed piece in the Washington Post, with the straightforward title "Minority Leader Limbaugh," predicting a long period in the wilderness for the GOP. "But if the GOP sticks with its strategy of failure as the only option," says Plouffe, "further eroding its brand with the people who decide elections, we may find out what it means for a political party to hit rock bottom."

Ex-Bush Speechwriter: GOP Could Be "Marginalized" By Limbaugh Former Bush speechwriter David Frum told the Washington Post that the math surrounding Rush Limbaugh works against the Republicans. "We can't win elections by getting our core voters agitated," said Frum. "But if you're a talk radio host and you have 5 million who listen and there are 50 million people who hate you, you can make a nice living. If you're a Republican Party, you're marginalized."

Obama To Announce Reform Of Federal Contracts President Obama will be speaking at 10 a.m. ET in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where he will lay out a plan to reform the federal contracting process, and promise to save the taxpayers tens of billions of dollars in waste. At 7:30 p.m. ET, the President and First Lady will host a dinner at the White House for the chairs of the Congressional committees.

Gordon Brown To Speak To Congress British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will be speaking to a joint session of Congress today at 11 a.m. ET. Vice President Biden will also be in attendance.

Biden Meeting With Chiefs of Police, Former Secretaries of State Vice President Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder will be hosting a reception this afternoon for members of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Biden will then be meeting with former Secretaries of State James Baker and Warren Christopher, to review a report of the National War Powers Commission. Tonight, Biden will attend the President and First Lady's dinner for the Congressional Committee chairs.

NYT: States Mining Stimulus For Road Projects The New York Times reports that the states are already getting to work on spending the stimulus money, putting portions of it towards road projects that had been on hold: "The work, however mundane much of it is, cannot come too soon for a construction industry buffeted by an unemployment rate that has risen to twice the national average as many states cut back on building."

Steele: People Don't Know What I'm Doing -- And I Like It In an interview with the Politico, Michael Steele fired back at Republican chatter that he isn't doing a good job as chairman -- that he's made gaffes, and he still hasn't put in place an effective organizational structure. I know some folks in Washington feel that they're kind of on the outside of this," Steele said, "that they don't have the day-to-day blow by blow of what I'm doing. And that's exactly how I like it."

The new suggestion by the Coleman legal team, that the whole election could be thrown out, has now attracted condemnation from yet another Democratic leader. Here's the new statement from DNC chairman Tim Kaine:

"The people of Minnesota have spoken. It's time for Norm Coleman to accept the voters' decision, do what is best for his state and country and stop standing in the way of a Senator being seated. The stakes for our country are too high right now to suggest that the results of a democratic election, exhaustive recount, and legal proceedings be thrown out just because Norm Coleman doesn't like the results."

President Obama's budget is a veritable road map to a more progressive tax policy, as I noted earlier today, but it also includes specific plans for regulating carbon emissions to fight climate change.

That, in turn, opens the door for Congress to use "budget reconciliation" process rules that would shield climate legislation from Senate filibusters when it comes to a vote (expected later this year or early next year). Using reconciliation to speed passage of health care reform has been a hot topic since onetime health secretary Tom Daschle flirted with the idea earlier this year, but budget reconciliation for climate change is a relatively new prospect in the Capitol Hill pipeline. And guess who thinks it's a terrible idea, as Roll Call reports today (sub. req'd)?

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At a press conference just now, Coleman spokesman Ben Ginsberg said it very bluntly: He does not believe it's possible for the election court to legally declare a winner.

The Coleman campaign has now been building up a case that there are too many intractable legal problems in this case, and they've gone so far as to openly suggest to the judges that the whole thing just be thrown out. Now Ginsberg is pumping up the volume a little more.

Ginsberg was repeatedly asked whether the Coleman camp wants a new election.

At one point, he said: "We're calling for this court to do its duty and either certify -- which I don't think it can do -- or not certify," adding that once the court realizes they can't certify the vote totals, we can then talk about a remedy.

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A new group called Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR) is about to launch the opening salvo in the fight to sink President Obama's health care plan.

CPR is running TV, radio, and web ads that attempt to stoke irrational fears of "a central national board" in charge of medical decision-making, asking Americans to envision a world where "bureaucrats decide the treatments you receive, the drugs you take, even the doctors you see." Of course, that vision has nothing to do with the president's health care plan, but the truth shouldn't be an impediment to CPR's dream of killing health care reform.

After all, the group has hired Creative Response Concepts, the same PR firm that represented the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during the 2004 presidential race. The "media relations" contact number listed on CPR's website, (703) 683-5004, is the same phone number as Creative Response Concepts, as one liberal organization discovered when researching the new health care group.

Creative Response's past clients also include the Christian Coalition, the right-leaning National Taxpayers Union, and USANext, the front group that led George W. Bush's failed push to privatize Social Security. Hilariously, Politico could only bring itself to observe that CPR has hired "veteran Republican consultants" for its new anti-Obama effort.

No group of congressional Democrats is better at getting under progressives' skin than the House Blue Dogs, the caucus of conservative Democrats that excels at grabbing headlines while watering down and delaying liberal priorities.

But the simmering debate over the so-called "cramdown" proposal, which would change the law to permit loan modifications on primary residences for homeowners declaring bankruptcy, has minted a new villain for many liberals: the New Democrat Coalition, a moderate group of free-traders that claimed White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel as one of their own until recently.

The progressive case against the New Dems predated the cramdown scuffle, but tempers flared last week when Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to delay consideration of a broad foreclosure-aid bill in order to modify the provision on mortgage-holders declaring bankruptcy.

Now, the cramdown plan is a no-brainer and a definite benefit to the nation's at-risk homeowners -- but were the New Dems really trying to kill it?

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