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In a telling sign that the battle over health care reform may be decided by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), the nation's largest reform campaign Health Care for America Now--in conjunction with Communications Workers of America and the Main Street Alliance--has launched a week-long television, radio, and print ad buy urging Snowe to stand up to insurance companies, and asking supporters to sign this petition.

One TV ad is aimed exclusively at Snowe:

While the other targets both Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME):

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This doesn't come as a tremendous surprise at this point, but Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA)--ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee--has some pretty serious reservations about his friend Max Baucus' health care proposal.

According to CNN, Grassley objects to a fee Baucus has suggested imposing on insurance companies to help cover the cost of the legislation, as well as to the fact that the bill's bottom line is expected to hover near $900 billion. Grassley was aiming for something about $100 billion lower.

As I reported earlier, the Finance Committee's "Gang of Six" will meet later this afternoon to discuss the proposal and where Baucus will gauge whether his proposal will have any Republican support other than from moderate Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

Yesterday, we reported some of the key aspects of Sen. Max Baucus' health care proposal, now being circulated among members of the Senate Finance Committee. A more comprehensive explanation can be found in this 18-page summary. I'll have more to report on this shortly.

Baucus is meeting with the so-called "Gang of Six" at 3 p.m. today to gauge the level of support this plan has from members of the minority.

A key House liberal, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, says that a vast majority of House liberals aren't about to agree to another compromise on the public option.

"The vast majority of CPC is not prepared to wave a white flag on public option," Grijalva told Greg Sargent. "A trigger would be a surrender."

As Greg notes, a vast majority of the 60-or-so members who vowed to oppose a bill without a public option would still be enough to ensure that the bill did not pass.

By way of contrast, House Majority leader Steny Hoyer says the public option might have to go. And a knowledgeable House aide tells me that many progressives are looking at other ways to achieve "real reform."

As before, House leaders can only lose 38 votes within the Democratic caucus if a bill is going to pass.

Former baseball player Curt Schilling has a prominent friend encouraging him to run in the special election for Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, CNN reports: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

McCain's spokesperson said that the Senator initiated the conversation. Schilling has previously campaigned for George W. Bush in 2004, and for McCain during the 2008 primary and general election seasons.

One problem Schilling has is that he's registered to vote as an independent, and therefore might not be legally able to run as a Republican. If so, the GOP would have to clear the field and back Schilling as an independent with Republican support -- similar to how the Democrats have supported Bernie Sanders since 1990. It's certainly feasible, but getting there could be tricky.

Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA), the presumptive nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania in 2010, seems to really be going out of his way to shed his old image of being a right-wing fire-breather. In the latest example, Toomey's campaign has released a statement praising President Obama's back-to-school speech:

Allentown, PA - U.S. Senate candidate Pat Toomey called President Obama's speech today to school children in Arlington, Virginia "an inspiring and moving speech for students across America."

"Education is the cornerstone of our country's future," Mr. Toomey said, "and it is important that we relay that message to our young students. The President's emphasis on responsibility and the personal stories about his own education are exactly the kind of inspiring messages our children need to hear from our country's leaders."

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House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) indicated today that the House might have to push forward on health care reform without a public option.

The Hill reports that Hoyer said, "In the final analysis, we have to see what will pass. ... I think the public option is a very good choice for consumers to have. On the other hand, I've said I hope we can move a bill forward." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has said repeatedly that a bill without a public option cannot pass the house.

This isn't the first time that Hoyer, who is No. 2 in the House leadership, has come out as more lax on the public option than Pelosi. In late August he said, "I'm for a public option but I'm also for passing a bill."

Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ) said today on MSNBC that he would vote for a health reform plan without the public option if he had to, but he "would rather have the public option in it." The House Democrat has previously said reform without the option would be "toothless." Watch the video below.

Andrews seemed to hedge at first when he was asked the question, saying "I don't want to answer a hypothetical question. I want to fight for a plan that has a public option, I want to argue for it, but I want to work with the President and pass something." Andrews is Chairman of the House Education Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions.

"It needs to be something that keeps the insurance companies honest. I think the public option is the best way," he said.

At least four signatories to a July letter drawing a line in the sand over a public option have suggested that they may be willing to support a compromise proposal to "trigger" a public option only as a fallback if other reforms don't produce results on their own.

"Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, for a public option with reimbursement rates based on Medicare unacceptable," the letter read. "We simply cannot vote for such a proposal."

Among the signatories were Reps. Mike Capuano (D-MA) Jim McGovern (D-MA), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), and Sam Farr (D-CA), who now say that definitions of "public option" may vary.

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Here's a fun YouTube that's been making the rounds of the right-wing blogs, from an August 31 town hall by Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) -- in which a woman literally dared him to come down and take her money right out of her hand.

Here you see a woman describing the Dem health care proposals as an effort to "plunder" from some in order to satisfy arbitrary needs as determined by bureaucrats. "So here is my question," the woman said. "If you are so keen to forcibly take from one person to give to another, who you deem as needier than me. If you believe that it is absolutely moral to take MY money and give to someone else based on their supposed needs, then you come and take this $20 from me and use it as a down payment on this health care plan."

To Dicks' credit, he did have the beginnings of a good response in turning down the money: "I can't accept a contribution like that." The problem was that his delivery, perhaps thrown off by the cheering Tea Party types, was too weak and apologetic. If he'd been a little more sarcastic, it would have been a great snappy comeback.