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This great catch by Marcy Wheeler might be the most shocking nugget of all from the IGs report on surveillance.

The report goes into some detail about that famous visit made by Andy Card and Alberto Gonzales to then-AG John Ashcroft, when Ashcroft was in the hospital, and essentially incapacitated, after gall bladder surgery. The White House needed the Attorney General's sign-off to continue its warrantless wiretapping program.

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Another great nugget from that just-released inspector generals' report on surveillance...

Check out the amazing 2004 letter from Alberto Gonzales, at the time the White House counsel, to then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who had raised "serious issues" about the legal basis of the surveillance program, and particularly the lack of congressional notification.

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After sitting on the fence for several months, and facing pressure both within the Senate and from outside interest groups, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) hopped off this week, and agreed that a health care bill should include a public option.

That hasn't gone unnoticed. "This is great news for the Arkansas families and small businesses who need our broken health care system fixed," reads a letter from President Obama's political arm, Organizing for America.

But the special interests and lobbyists for the status quo will only intensify their pressure -- and we need to show Senator Lincoln that her constituents appreciate her courage and are counting on her to stand firm.

Please take a moment and call Senator Lincoln....

When the senator hears that folks from across the state are calling her offices and encouraging her to stand strong, she'll know she has the public backing in Arkansas to take whatever the Washington lobbyists and entrenched opponents of reform can throw at her.

This is the second time this week we've seen Obama's outside political apparatus using its influence to support a public option. And in this case it seems to indicate that, in addition to being pleased with Lincoln's position, there remains some doubt about her steadfastness. Which is understandable. In her letter to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette she articulated support for either a public option, "or non-profit plan that can accomplish the same goals as those of a public plan."

You can read the full letter below the fold.

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Despite recent disagreements with conservative members of their caucus, House Democrats will unveil their health care reform bill on Monday, and Ways and Means Committee chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) says they will propose a more than $500 billion tax on Americans making more than $350,000 a year to help finance it.

Between the tax revenue, cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, and other savings--including, perhaps, from a public plan--Democrats should have enough money to cover the cost of the bill, which will likely cost about a trillion dollars. Early indications suggested that the Senate might propose a different tax--on employer-provided health benefits--to cover the remaining costs of reform. But more and more that idea looks dead in the water.

Late update: More detail from Jeff Young of The Hill: "There would be different surtax rates, ranging from 1 percent to 3 percent, for workers with annual earnings of $350,000, $500,000 and $1 million, Rangel said."

One passage on the IGs report on surveillance suggests something that perhaps shouldn't come as a surprise -- that President Bush was kept in the dark by members of the White House staff about about serious objections to the surveillance program raised by others in the administration.

To wit:

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So is Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) running for the Senate in 2010, or not?

Kirk began telling people in the last few days that he was running. Then it was reported this afternoon by Chris Cillizza that Kirk was suddenly telling people that he wasn't running.

Not so, Kirk told Roll Call. He is still talking the race over with his potential primary rival, state Republican chairman Andy McKenna.

The issue here appears to be that Kirk might have had trouble winning support from other Republicans in the state's Congressional delegation -- because he broke ranks to support the Democrats' energy bill.

Jon Cohn over at The New Republic is reporting that, in early estimates, the Congressional Budget Office is finding that a robust public option, along the lines of the one recommended in the House health care bill, could save about $150 billion over 10 years--a notable chunk of the approximately $1 trillion Congress will need to finance an overhaul package.

Keep in mind, though, that the public option creates savings by driving down prices, and it can't do that nearly as effectively if it's prevented from setting below-market pay rates. But that's exactly what conservative Democrats are trying to do. At the same time, those Democrats are demanding that health care legislation do a better job of lowering health care costs. And that's just one of the contradictions inherent to the position of those attempting to scale back reform efforts.

A great nugget we missed from the portion of Doug Hampton's interview that aired last night...

Ever since the appearance last month of the famous letter Hampton wrote to Fox News -- asking for the network's assistance in exposing John Ensign's "relentless pursuit" of Hampton's wife Cindy -- there has been intense speculation that someone at Fox tipped off Ensign to the fact that Hampton was preparing to go public, prompting the Nevada senator to pre-emptively admit to the affair.

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Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) says he'd likely oppose health care reform legislation if it didn't include a public option--and that he'd have company. "I think a number of Democrats, and I among them, would have great difficulty voting for a bill without a public option," Brown told me today. "I don't want to say absolutely wouldn't. But I would have great difficulty voting for a bill without a public option."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has similarly suggested that he'd oppose legislation without a public option.

Brown co-wrote the public plan provision in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee bill with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)--a temporary member of that panel, who has nonetheless become a vocal proponent of the idea. In his capacity as a surrogate, Whitehouse has insisted that health care legislation include a government insurance option, though he hasn't come as close as his colleagues have to drawing a line in the sand.

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