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First thoughts: Back to health care

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Back to health care: Sarah Palin's in the news. So is Hillary Clinton after her "Meet" appearance. And Gates-gate hasn't completely gone away. But we begin this Monday morning with health care. Here's what we know: The House will not vote on a full bill this week, according to leadership sources. They believe they've worked out a lot of the issues with the conservative Blue Dog Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee, but markup won't be finished until Thursday (at the earliest), and they don't think it's wise to force a vote by Friday without giving members more time to understand the combined bills out of three committees. As for the Senate, it's much harder to read. But we think we'll have an idea about the plan Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus will unveil by the end of the week. It will, as Sen. Kent Conrad said over the weekend, include a "co-op" instead of a public option, and it likely will include Sen. John Kerry's plan to tax so-called Cadillac-health care plans. Kerry's plan is an easy sell for Grassley and the remaining Republicans still talking. As for the co-op deal, some Democrats in the Senate (and in the House) believe they can do many of the things with a co-op that they can do with a public option -- yet have a few Republicans in the Senate on board.

 Video: CNBC's Maria Bartiromo and Atlantic Media political director Ron Brownstein discuss the issue of whether 'effective' health care reform can be passed before the August deadline.

*** On bipartisanship: And don't forget this: Without a few Senate Republicans on board, Democrats can't keep all of their OWN senators on board. That's why they need it. They may not need (or get) a single Republican vote in the House, but it's the Senate where they need a stimulus-like bipartisanship to pull this off. That's what Nelson/Landrieu, et al need to have as cover. "Look, there are not the votes for Democrats to do this just on our side of the aisle," Kent Conrad told ABC yesterday.

*** No longer clearing the decks: As for President Obama, he touts health-care reform later this week -- a virtual town hall meeting on Tuesday, and events in Virginia and North Carolina on Wednesday -- but there's no more of a "clear the decks" mentality. For instance, today he addresses what is a VERY significant new summit with China (the administration calls it a "dialogue"). This summit features Secretary of State Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner meeting with their Chinese counterparts, and it's a meeting that is supposed to happen at least twice a year. The next time there is a high-level U.S.-China meeting will be in November when Obama visits China. As for this dialogue, don't be surprised if you start hearing the expression the "G2," as opposed to simply being members of the G20. This is an acknowledgement that these two countries are the most influential in the world now, and it's a U.S. acknowledgement that China -- not Russia or any other country -- is now America's chief rival/adversary/counterpart (choose whatever word you want).

*** Row, row, row your boat: Geithner and Clinton, in fact, have a Wall Street Journal op-ed previewing today's U.S.-China meetings. "[H]aving these strategic-level discussions with our Chinese counterparts will help build the trust and relationships to tackle the most vexing global challenges of today—and of the coming generation. The Chinese have a wise aphorism: 'When you are in a common boat, you need to cross the river peacefully together.' Today, we will join our Chinese counterparts in grabbing an oar and starting to row." Translation: with the U.S. economy and major business interests so tied to China, the U.S. needs to have these dialogues in order to understand what's going on behind the Chinese curtain. Their finances aren't exactly transparent so these dialogues might help to give us more clues as to how they manage their money.

*** The Great American Health Care Fight: Here are today's other developments in health care: Paul Krugman says the Blue Dogs' opposition confuses him… Liberal MoveOn is running a new TV ad (on DC and national cable) calling out Republicans for playing political football with health care… And liberal Americans United for Change has its own new TV ad (airing on DC cable) criticizing Republicans for advocating a take-it-slow approach on health care.

*** Hillary meets the press: A couple of things stood out from Hillary Clinton's "Meet the Press" interview yesterday. She did NOT back away from the Iran-defense umbrella comments, which some thought she would hedge more. But there was no hedging. "What we want to do is to send a message to whoever is making these decisions that if you're pursuing nuclear weapons for the purpose of intimidating, of projecting your power, we're not going to let that happen," she told NBC's David Gregory. What's more, anyone who thinks she isn't keeping up with domestic issues, think again. Clinton seemed VERY up to speed on health care, even knowing a few key talking points like how many folks were being dumped from their insurance. All in all, Clinton seemed as adept at combining the politics and policy more so than most recent Secretaries of State who also have been seen as having their own national ambitions (see Powell, Colin and Rice, Condi).

 Video: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discusses President Barack Obama's diplomatic decisions with NBC's David Gregory on "Meet the Press."

*** Classic Palin: And then there was Sarah Palin, whose farewell speech yesterday was … classic Palin. Per NBC's Norah O'Donnell, the outgoing Alaska governor blasted the media ("Democracy depends on you and that is why our troops are willing to die for you. So how about in honor of the American soldier, you quit making things up!"). She took aim at Hollywood and specifically (we think) Ashley Judd ("You're going to see anti-hunting, anti-2nd Amendment circuses from Hollywood… Hollywood needs to know we eat, therefore we hunt"). She lashed out at unnamed political opponents ("We are facing tough challenges in America with some seeming to be just hell-bent on tearing down our nation, perpetuating some pessimism and suggesting American apologetics"). And she offered her share of contradictions, like how quitting the governorship allows her to be more involved ("Now with this decision I will be able to fight even harder for you for what is right and for what is true"). Of course, the irony of Palin lashing out at the media is that without the media's fascination with her and her family, she wouldn't be who she is today.

Video: MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell and a Morning Joe panel talk about fmr. Gov. Sarah Palin's feisty final address as governor and her plans to campaign for Republican candidates.

*** Beer Fest: The Obama-Gates-Crowley beer may be coming soon, Bloomberg writes. "Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and police Sergeant James Crowley will probably join President Barack Obama for a beer within the next several days, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said."

Video: NBC's Chuck Todd and Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson discuss whether Harvard professor Henry Gates Jr. and Cambridge police officer James Crowley will be visiting the White House for beers this week.

*** McCain and Sotomayor: The Senate Judiciary Committee votes tomorrow on Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination. Perhaps the only remaining drama: How will John McCain vote when it comes before the full Senate? (He doesn't sit on Judiciary.) Remember, McCain comes from a state with a large Hispanic population, but faces a conservative primary challenge next year (from a Minuteman founder), which could become serious. Lindsey Graham went yes, which probably means McCain's headed there, too. But it's still fascinating to watch considering how the NRA decided to politicize the vote a bit more by announcing they'd use the vote for their grade; that may be why fewer Senate Republicans end up supporting her than would have normally.

*** 2009 watch: A final note: There are now less than 100 days until the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia. One thing about last week's organ sting in New Jersey -- it's going to make Christie's "clean out government" message even easier to sell.

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 99 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 463 days

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